Chocolate cake, loving parents await Palestinian teen Israel might free

Ubai was arrested while receiving treatment for his elbow, which was destroyed by an Israeli bullet last year. The Israel-Hamas truce could see him being released.

Fidaa folds Ubay's clothes
Fidaa folds Ubai's clothes to put them away as she prays that her son will be released [Mosab Shawer/Al Jazeera]

Beit Ummar, occupied West Bank – Fidaa Abu Maria bustles around her simple, sparse home in Beit Ummar north of Hebron, worried then hopeful then scared, in turn.

After she makes her son’s bed, she turns to folding his freshly laundered clothes, seeming to whisper prayers to herself with each fold.

Her son, Ubai, may be coming home, and she wants to be ready, needs that little burst of hope and optimism.

His name was on an Israeli list of 300 people who may be released in an upcoming swap between Hamas and Israel. Fifty captives taken by Hamas to Gaza will be released, to be exchanged for 150 Palestinian women and child prisoners in Israeli jails – that means there is a 50/50 chance that Fidaa may see Ubai soon.

She constantly worries about him because when Ubai was arrested by Israeli forces on August 8, four months after his 18th birthday, he only had 30 percent use of one of his hands.

Ubai Youssef Abu Maria
Ubai Youssef Abu Maria [Mosab Shawer/Al Jazeera]

He had been shot in the elbow last November and had been undergoing various therapies to regain the use of his hand. But his treatment stopped once he was in the Israeli prison system.

Like many young Palestinian boys, this was sadly not the first time Ubai was arrested, he had been taken four times before that.

At the beginning of his detention, Ubai was assaulted by the prison guards, resulting in injuries to his head, and isolated for 14 days.

“His detention had so many beatings and assaults. I was so scared for his health because of the injury to his hand and because he hadn’t had a chance to get the surgery he was scheduled for. They were supposed to replace his wrist joint, but it never happened.

“Since October 7, we’ve been hearing that things got worse for prisoners in the occupation prisons, that they were all assaulted and deprived of the most basic rights such as food, clothing, things like that.”

Youssef Abu Maria weeping as he talks about his son
Youssef Abu Maria couldn’t hold back his tears when he talked about Ubai [Mosab Shawer/Al Jazeera]

Ubai’s father, Youssef, could barely hold his excitement and worry in. “We’ve been hopeful for a while now, and this morning, a friend called me. He follows Hebrew media, and he woke me up early in the morning to tell me Ubai’s name is on the list.

“I’ve been arrested before, and given the 30 times I was arrested, I see the release of my son as if he’s going to be reborn. Prisoners are attacked so much in the occupation prisons.

“We are so grateful to the people of Gaza, especially the martyrs and the wounded. All of this is thanks to God first and thanks to the valiant resistance that brought our sons out from darkness to light.”

Favourite foods and fresh linens

The Abu Maria home is sparse and very simple, neat as a pin and filled with the anxious excitement of the family members. Fidaa flits from one chore or another to sit on one of the beds in the family room to listen to the news.

Ubai's brothers and cousin
Ubai’s brothers and cousin in the neat-as-a-pin family room [Mosab Shawer/Al Jazeera]

“I’m happy. My feelings are like any Palestinian mother would have when she hears her son may be released: full of joy, but it is bittersweet because our tiny little joy is at the expense of the blood of the people in Gaza. I am grateful, so grateful.

“I’ve been cooking. I’m making his favourite food, stuffed zucchini in yoghurt sauce and the desserts he loves, homemade chocolate cakes. He prefers my baking to any other cakes because I am a home pastry chef.

“I keep saying that I will happily make him dessert for breakfast every single day, as much as he wants. I’ve set up his room and laundered his new clothes. Everybody is calling me, family and friends. Everyone is excited and wants to come share our joy and welcome him.”

Youssef helped as much as he could, then embarked on his own project, decorating the house inside and out to express the family’s almost unbearable hope and joy.

All that remained were the most difficult moments to wait for the news of the release.

Fidaa with a plate of iced chocolate cakes
Fidaa, a home pastry chef, makes her son’s favourite chocolate cake in the world [Mosab Shawer/Al Jazeera]
Source: Al Jazeera