The day of the big prisoner swap [ok, yes, it's an "egregious" term]

23:55 pm: A Tweet from Turkish journalist @MahirZeynalov says that 11, not 10, Palestinian released prisoners has arrived in Ankara: “11 released Palestinian prisoners make sajdah right after they leave the plane in Ankara’s airport. Palestinian Amb. to Turkey met them”. UPDATE: The additional person appears to be a woman — perhaps the one [or one of the ones, but I think it was in the end only one] who refused to be sent to Gaza this morning, and Egypt reportedly agreed to take her. [If so, it must be Mariam al-Tarabeen, or Tarabini...] But, perhaps Egypt agreed to take her to the Cairo airport, on the condition that Turkey would be the ultimate destination, or receiving country.

21:15 pm: At least one of the Palestinian prisoners released today, a woman who is now in Gaza, was on the hunger strike that began on 27 September — Wafa al-Bis was hospitalized in Gaza tonight, according to a report by WAFA picked up and posted here. It seems that she was one of the women prisoners who initially refused to be released into Gaza, if I correctly understood earlier Tweet by @dimaeleiwa.

19:05 pm: Just realized, listening to replay of Noam Shalit’s remarks to public in Mitzpe Hila, he said his son Gilad suffers from lack of sunlight [that was kind of obvious today], from after-effects of shrapnel wounds [how did he get these shrapnel wounds?] , and from isolation — including because he did not speak the language and could not communicate with OTHER PRISONERS. What OTHER PRISONERS was Gilad Shalit held with?

18:15 pm:: Live event in Gaza, address by Hamas’ Ismail Haniyah shouting angrily — apparently in answer to criticism that Hamas has benefitted — by saying that all factions were consulted and involved, Palestinians are one people. Al Jazeera [+ some other TV channels] break away from Haniyeh speech just after he says Chris Bandak, a Palestinian Christian [from Bethlehem] who had been serving three [3] life sentences “is now here with us”. Al Jazeera International goes directly to public remarks being made in Mitzpe Hila in northern Israel by Noam Shalit, Gilad’s father, who mentioned that his son still suffers from shrapnel injuries [shrapnel? Couldn’t have been from the operation when he was captured, could it? Was it, instead, from IDF’s Operation Cast Lead? — there were reports he had been injured] and from having been in near-total isolation…

16:30 pm: IDF says Gilad Shalit has completed medical exams and will fly to family home in Mizpe Hila soon. Arrived after 17h00 — holding up well, greeted by crowd waving lots of large Israeli flags. Meanwhile, Turkish Foreign Minister said that 10 released Palestinian prisoners are being flown from Cairo to Turkey — for 5-year stay! UPDATE: Palestinian TV reports on night news that the Turkish FM had a phone conversation today with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas.

Continue reading “The day of the big prisoner swap [ok, yes, it's an "egregious" term]”

On the eve of the prisoner exchange deal: 477 Palestinians (1st installment) for Gilad Shalit

According to a report in Haaretz, here, Hamas political leader Khaled Meshal and deputy leader Moussa Abu Marzouk “are expected in Egypt later Monday, to welcome the 40 prisoners whose release Israel has conditioned upon deportation from the Palestinian territories“.

Earalier, Haaretz reported in another story that “the spokesperson for the military wing of Hamas, Abu Obeida, said on Monday that Israeli and Egyptian representatives would meet once a year in order to estimate the status of the 40 prisoners due to be deported overseas. Abu Obeida said that, according to the deal’s terms, some of the deportees will return to the West Bank following several years abroad. He also said that Israel at first demanded that 260 Palestinian prisoners be deported, a number which Hamas narrowed down to the final 40. The Hamas official also claimed that each and every of those scheduled to be deported has agreed to the move, as well as their respective families. He claimed Hamas was successful in receiving 90% of its demands”. This is reported here.

However, Ma’an News Agency reported here that “In a statement relayed by his lawyer Elias Sabagh, [prominent Fatah prisoner Marwan] Barghouti said he had learned of the deal from media reports. Prison leaders — including Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine secretary-general Ahmad Saadat — were not involved in negotiations, Barghouti said. Further, prisoners who will be exiled under the agreement were not informed of the decision. Over 200 prisoners will not be released to their homes, but will be deported to Gaza or abroad”.

The list of Palestinian prisoners who are being released in this first installment of the two-part deal to free a total of 1027 Palestinians, in exchange for captured Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit, is posted on the website of the Israeli Prison Service, here.

The Israeli Prison Service website notes that:
– “Prisoners number 1 to 131 on the list will return to their home in the Gaza Strip.
– Prisoners 132 to 186 will return to their home in Judea & Samaria [the West Bank] or in East Jerusalem.
– Prisoners 187 to 241 will return to their home in Judea & Samaria [the West Bank] or in East Jerusalem subject to restrictions, as specified in the agreement.
– Prisoners 242 to 281 will be sent abroad.
– Prisoners 282 to 299 will be sent to the Gaza Strip for three years.
– Prisoners 300 to 444 will be sent to the Gaza Strip.
– Prisoners 445 to 450 will return to their home in Israel.
– Prisoners (female) 451 to 477 will return to their home in Judea & Samaria, in the Gaza Strip and in East Jerusalem, except prisoner 473, who will be sent to Jordan, and prisoner 474, who will be sent to the Gaza Strip”.

Only 27 out of some 35 or so female prisoners are being released.

The Defence for Children International [DCI] organization noted here, that no children, none, are being released in this first installment — contrary to initial reports and expectations. According to DCI-Palestine, there are 164 Palestinian children now in Israeli jails [and notes that “seventy-six of these children have been sentenced, whilst 88 children are being held in pre-trial detention”], while ADDAMEER has listed 176 Palestinian child prisoners.

The Israeli human rights organization B’Tselem lists its statistics here.

Two Palestinian human rights organizations issued a statement Tuesday to highlight their concerns and condemn those aspects of the deal that are fundamentally at odds with international law”.

Sahar Francis, Director of one of the groups, the Addameer Prisoner Support and Human Rights Association, noted that “of the first 477 prisoners to be released, 205 of them will not be reunited with their families as their release has been made contingent on their deportation or transfer, both of which are in violation of international law. Of the West Bank prisoners, including East Jerusalemites, 18 will be transferred to the Gaza Strip for a period of three years while an additional 146 will be forcibly relocated there on a permanent basis. A further 41 prisoners, including one woman, will be deported outside of the oPt, to as-of-yet unknown third countries”.

She said that this exile, whether in Gaza or in other countries, “effectively serves as an extension of their previous isolation from their homeland and families and in many cases can be seen as a second prison sentence”, and added that “These terms violate Article 49 of the Fourth Geneva Convention, which prohibits forcible transfers and deportations of protected persons, a proscription that is part of customary international humanitarian law. Unlawful deportation or transfer also constitutes a grave breach of the Fourth Geneva Convention (GC IV) and qualifies as one of the most serious war crimes. Given the stark asymmetry in power, resulting from the belligerent occupation, between the Palestinian and Israeli parties involved, neither the potential ‘consent’ of the prisoners nor the fact that the deal was negotiated by a Palestinian authority can serve as justification for the deportations as this contravenes the spirit of articles 7, 8 and 47 of the GC IV concerning the inviolability of the protections afforded by the Convention”.

The statement, also signed by Shawan Jabarin, Director of Al-Haq, added that “These political prisoners—arrested on the basis of Israeli military orders that criminalize any form of opposition to the occupation; tried by Israeli military tribunals that do not conform to international due process standards or held in administrative detention without charge or trial; and imprisoned in harsh and illegal detention conditions that have recently led them to launch an open-ended hunger strike—are entitled to justice. Before the attention they have received as a result of the exchange deal wanes, it is imperative to demand a fair and permanent resolution to their plight, in the form of unconditional release, in compliance with international humanitarian law”.

What will happen if the ICRC interviews these released prisoner who are supposed to be sent into exile, and asks them if they agree — but they say No? Will they be returned to prison?

Deportation is also a very grave violation of Phase One of the Road Map, adopted in 2003 by the Quartet [U.S., E.U., Russia, and the UN] which both Israel and the Palestinians are [or were] supposed to fulfill…

But Hamas has not accepted the Road Map.

Media focuses on prisoner release, as hunger strike enters danger zone on 20th day

The prisoner exchange in which Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit, captured in late June 2006, by Palestinian fighters from Gaza in a cross-border raid near the Kerem Shalom crossing, and presumably held in Gaza since then, is to be exchanged for some 1027 Palestinian prisoners in two installments, with the first group of 477 of what the Israeli Prison Services called “Security Prisoners” to be released by tomorrow [Tuesday] — is going on over the heads of between 100 and 300 other Palestinian prisoners on hunger strike in Israeli jails.

There has been no independent medical visit — and no lawyers visits, either — to the Palestinian hunger-striking prisoners, who are now in their 20th day of an open-ended fast.

This is entering the danger zone. By the 21st day, a hunger strike can be life-threatening.

UPDATE TWO: Ma’an reports Tuesday here that prisoners gathered in one Israeli prison had only suspended their hunger strike for 3 days. An SMS from Ma’an just reported that although PFLP leader Ahmad Saadat was moved out of isolation into a regular cell at Ramle prison, he is continuing his hunger strike. Earlier reports, yesterday, were that Ahmad Saadat was moved to the Ramle prison hospital…

UPDATE: This evening [Monday], the Palestinian Authority Minister for Prisoner Affairs, Issa Qaraqaa, reportedly announced that the hunger strike was ending, as the Israelis have agreed to end the policy of solitary confinement… On Sunday, one of the more senior Palestinian prisoners, PFLP leader Ahmad Saadat, was moved to a prison hospital as his health reportedly deteriorated. Reuters reported that Qaraqaa “said that inmates not being released had ended a hunger strike as part of the deal after Israel agreed to return their conditions to what they were prior to Shalit’s abduction”. This is reported here.

A PLO briefing about the Palestinian prisoner’s hunger strike was held last week, in response to public restiveness over the hunger strike, which has barely, if at all, made it into the Israeli or mainstream Western media.

At this PLO briefing, the mainstream media (2 or 3 French journalists, actually) only wanted to know whether Hamas won and Abbas lost, in the prisoner exchange deal that is expected to bring Shalit back home to Israel.

In his five+ years in captivity (Shalit was 19 when he was seized), he has had no visit from any independent outside observer, including the International Committee of the Red Cross [ICRC], and had only two long-delayed exchanges of letters with his family.

Haaretz reported this evening here that “Shalit, now 25, was captured in 2006 by militants who tunneled into Israel from the Gaza Strip and surprised his tank crew, killing two of his comrades … Israel’s Prison Service has bused the 477 Palestinian prisoners under heavy guard to two holding facilities ahead of their release. On Tuesday, some of the Palestinians will be brought to Egypt’s Sinai desert, where the exchange for Shalit will take place. Some of those prisoners will be taken to the Gaza Strip and others will be exiled abroad. Shalit will be flown to an air base in Israel to be reunited with his family. A smaller group of prisoners on the release roster will be taken from Israel to the West Bank, where they will be welcomed by Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, a Hamas rival, and their families. In the second stage, expected to take place in about two months, the remaining 550 Palestinian prisoners will be freed, officials said”.

At the PLO press conference in Ramallah last week, Palestinian human rights attorney Sahar Francis [Director of ADDAMEER] said that since a deal has been made to release Gilad Shalit, there is no reason for Israel to continue the punitive reprisal measures instituted in recent months against Palestinian prisoners in Israeli jails (instituted as retaliation for Shalit’s isolation and continued captivity).

Sahar Francis said that the ICRC should in principle have access — but she added that the ICRC has told ADDAMEER that they have only one — one! — medical doctor here, who can hardly visit all 22 prisons in Israel where Palestinians are being held.

So far, Sahar said, the ICRC doctor has only gone to the medical offices at the Israeli prisons where Palestinian hunger-strikers are being held, and merely reviewed the medical records provided by the Israeli Prison Service, without any physical examination — or even seeing the patients… On top of that, the ICRC has not revealed what it found, on the basis of its usual practice of “confidentiality”, which helps the Swiss organization to maintain its neutrality, and [it believes] its access.

Some prisoners have been moved to formerly empty prisons, to isolate them during their hunger strike, she added.

A day later, ADDAMEER issued a statement of extreme concern about the condition of Palestinian prisoners on hunger strike during 3-day shut-down from Thursday 13 October, for Jewish holiday of Sukkot + Jewish Shabbat weekend, saying that “until at least Sunday 16 Oct, there will be no independent monitoring of, or contact with, hunger striking prisoners”, and that until Sunday at the earliest “it will be impossible to verify if salt has been returned to prisoners”. ADDAMEER therefore urged “the ICRC to intervene with the Israeli Prison Service to allow them to visit prisons during the Sukkot holidays”. That apparently did not happen.

Physicians for Human Rights-Israel said they had tried without success to make medical visits to Palestinian prisoners on hunger strike in Israeli jails, and that 26 Israeli physicians + 16 interpreters volunteered to examine Palestinian prisoners on hunger strike, but their formal request [submitted 4 October] to enter prisons was denied [on 11 October] — but will be resubmitted. “We call on the Israeli Prison Service [IPS] to refrain from causing further harm to prisoners participating in hunger strike” + closely monitor their medical conditions. PHR-Israel said that the Israeli Prison Service should provide professional medical assistance to hunger-strike prisoners “as needed + as agreed by the individual”. According to PHR-Israel: over 300 Palestinian prisoners are now on open hunger strike with no fixed end date, who will continue “until demands are met or lives are lost”.

These are strong and dire warnings from ADDAMEER and from Physicians for Human Rights-Israel about the situation of Palestinian prisoners now on hunger strike in Israeli jails.

PHR-Israel noted that hunger strikes bring ethical dilemmas, including the issue of force-feeding shackled prisoners, and dual loyalty of physicians employed by the Prisons Service. Dr. Ruhama Marton, who founded PHR-Isr, said the organization was trying to ensure there won’t be force-feeding of Pal prisoners on hunger strikes. She added that “Though hunger strikes contrarary to our principles as MDs dedicated to saving lives, we respect patients will”…

Yesterday (Sunday), the first day of the Israeli work week, PHR-Israel said they were still being denied access to the Palestinian prisoners on hunger strike.

The demands of the Palestinian prisoners on hunger strike were for a repeal to the punitive reprisal measures, in particular an end to solitary confinement, strip searches, use of force [including tear gas and beatings] against prisoners, and a return of the prior conditions (meaning to be allowed again to pursue educational studies, have books and reading materials, etc.)

After four years, ICRC goes public with criticism of Israeli policy preventing visits of families from Gaza to Palestinian detainees in Israel

In its own special way, the ICRC has gone public with criticism of Israeli policy that has prevented family visits — for fully the past four years — to Palestinian detainees from Gaza being held in Israel prisons.

A media announcement has been released (this is going public) and a somewhat stilted video has been released (part of it viewable from the ICRC website here).

On the same webpage, the ICRC gives this explanation: “Gaza detainees barred from family visits: In June 2007, the Israeli authorities announced the suspension of family visits for Palestinians from Gaza who were being held in Israel. This decision, which was made a year after Palestinian armed groups captured the Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit, deprives both the detainees and their relatives of an essential lifeline, and cuts detainees off from the outside world. In the past four years, over 700 families from Gaza have been prevented from seeing their detained relatives”.

Almost simultaneously (though I didn’t see this until later), the ICRC Director-General Yves Daccord issued a statement in Geneva saying that “The total absence of information concerning Mr Shalit is completely unacceptable … The Shalit family have the right under international humanitarian law to be in contact with their son … Hamas has an obligation under international humanitarian law to protect Mr. Shalit’s life, to treat him humanely and to let him have contact with his family”.

The statement noted that “The ICRC continues to make every possible effort to gain access to Mr Shalit or at least to establish contact between him and his family”.

Continue reading “After four years, ICRC goes public with criticism of Israeli policy preventing visits of families from Gaza to Palestinian detainees in Israel”

Rumors about imminent Israeli-Hamas prisoner swap deal are premature

Despite a spate of leaks this morning, all indications are, now, that the reports of an imminent prisoner swap involving a deal to free IDF Corporal Gilad Shalit — held somewhere in Gaza since late June 2006 — are completely premature.

One good source in Ramallah says maybe next week something will happen… An answer is awaited from Israel, he says.

There is still a debate over 125 to 150 of the 450 names that Hamas has submitted, in an exchange that is supposed to involve the release of 1,000 Palestinian prisoners held in Israeli jails.

Hamas has not specified the names of the other 550 prisoners who must be released. Israel can decide who they will be — out of the more-than-6000 prisoners Israel is holding — but they must be in categories chosen by Hamas, such as children, oldest or longest-held prisoners, and women etc.

Of the 125 or 150 names under active debate, a “small number” (it is not clear if it would be as many as 40) will probably be deported.

Hamas is trying to limit the number of those to be deported, but it apparently agrees in principle — even though deportation [carried out by Israel] is a specific violation of Phase One of the Road Map.

In this case, it is very convenient that Hamas is not yet a member of the PLO and not bound by its prior agreements, so it is not bound by the Road Map…

Continue reading “Rumors about imminent Israeli-Hamas prisoner swap deal are premature”

Round-up

Monday 21 June 2010

Ram Cohen, principal of the Aleph High School in Tel Aviv, was summoned to appear before the Knesset Education Committee and the Minister of Education, Mr. Gideon Saar, today, as Cohen explained in an article published in YNet, “following my unequivocal words to my students, condemning the 43 year-old occupation and rule over the life of the Palestinian people …

Continue reading “Round-up”

Israel will not loosen naval blockade of Gaza

As we reported earlier, Israel will maintain its naval blockade of the Gaza Strip even as it accedes to international demands to ease the military-administered sanctions it imposes on the coastal territory.

Israel’s security cabinet met on Sunday, as did the full cabinet. A decision was taken to allow into Gaza (via land crossings only) all materials which are not weapons or “materials used to make weapons” (this could be a very broad list, including sugar).

But boats will not be allowed to travel directly to Gaza.

Continue reading “Israel will not loosen naval blockade of Gaza”

Human Rights Watch on blockade + on Shalit

Human Rights Watch has just sent out an email that started out by criticizing the weak mandate that it said undermines the credibility of the three-member panel appointed by the government to look into the Freedom Flotilla and also at the Israeli naval raid on the Flotilla at sea (in which at least 9 Turkish nationals were killed).

In the statement, Human Rights Watch said that this panel “is not a full commission of inquiry as set out in Israeli law and cannot subpoena witnesses or officials. Under its mandate, the panel must instead rely on requests for documents and ‘summaries of operational investigations’ conducted by the Israeli military itself to determine what military personnel did or were ordered to do during the May 31 interdiction of the flotilla”. And Sarah Leah Whitson, Middle East director at Human Rights Watch, stated that “Israel claims the panel is independent, but insists that it accept the military’s version of events”.

Continue reading “Human Rights Watch on blockade + on Shalit”

Israel lining up options to deal with Freedom Flotilla

The Freedom Flotilla says its rendez-vous in international waters offshore Gaza will be on Saturday, there are reports of Turkish-Israeli contacts, and the Israeli Ministry of Foreign Affairs calls this big operation a “publicity stunt”.

(Do you use military force against a publicity stunt?)

Israel is lining up its options to deal with the situation.

Continue reading “Israel lining up options to deal with Freedom Flotilla”

Israeli military now allows 81 items into Gaza Strip — for 1.5 million people

According to the new list, Israel’s military now allows 81 items into the Gaza Strip. Israel addressing the needs of 1.5 million Palestinians who are trapped in the small coastal strip.

This is up, somewhat, from the list of 10 or so categories of essential items that Israeli allowed to enter Gaza in November 2007, as we reported at the time here: According to an AP report from Gaza today, “Israel allows in 10 basic items — cooking oil, salt, rice, sugar, wheat, dairy products, frozen vegetables, frozen meat, medical equipment and medicine”..

The BBC reported that it obtained the latest list, together with several other documents the Israeli military recently submitted to court.

The new list is posted here.

What’s new, in April (this has been previously reported elsewhere, but not quite so starkly) is that wood (“for doorposts and window frames”), aluminum, and kitchenware, are now being allowed back inSoi.

What was added in March was: tahini (sesame paste), combs + brushes, clothes + shoes.

Mineral water was permitted in February 2010.

Since an Israeli government decision on 19 September 2007 (three months after a Hamas rout of Fatah/Palestinian Preventive Security forces), the Israeli military has been administering — without any supervision — a blockade affecting 1.5 million human beings in the Gaza Strip.

After ruling against court challenges by a group of Israeli and Palestinian human rights groups led by the Tel Aviv-based organization, GISHA, the Israeli Supreme Court permitted the restrictions on condition that the Israeli military not allow a “humanitarian crisis” to develop.

GISHA went back to court in January to try to get more information about the military-administered sanctions.

Since its unilateral “disengagement” in 2005, the Israeli government maintains that it is no longer occupying Gaza — but many international organizations, international law experts, and other countries disagree.

The BBC reported that “Israel has never published a list of banned items, saying it approves requests on a case-by-case basis. Items allowed have changed over time, which has left humanitarian organisations and commercial importers constantly attempting to guess what will be approved … In one document, Israel describes the import curbs as ‘a central pillar … in the armed conflict with Hamas’. It also confirms estimates were made of how many calories Gazans need, but says these were not used for policy-making … The Israeli authorities also confirm the existence of four documents related to how the blockade works: how they process requests for imports into Gaza, how they monitor the shortages within Gaza, their approved list of what is allowed in, and a document entitled ‘Food Consumption in the Gaza Strip – Red Lines’ which sets out the minimum calorie intake needed by Gaza’s million and a half inhabitants, according to their age and sex. This paper was however, the state insists, just a draft power-point presentation, used for ‘internal planning work’, which ‘never served as a basis for the policy of the authority’. But while the first three documents promise a great deal of detail, that detail is not delivered. In each case, the state argues that disclosure of what is allowed in and why would, in their words, ‘damage national security and harm foreign relations’. It offers, instead, to reveal the contents of the documents to the court in a private session with the judge”. This report can be read in full here.

As Juan Cole reminds us, on his Informed Comment blog, here, half of the population of Gaza are children. and almost half of the adult population is unemployed.

He also linked to the most recent Operational Update, published on 29 April, from the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) which reported that “In Gaza, the blockade imposed nearly three years ago continued to severely hinder transfers into the Strip of essential medical equipment, thus putting at risk the immediate treatment and long-term health of thousands of patients … The run-down state of medical equipment in Gaza makes it very difficult to provide adequate care. Because of the blockade imposed on the Strip, broken or damaged machines or tools can seldom be replaced or repaired … Meanwhile, a lack of coordination between the health ministries in Ramallah and Gaza, coupled with complex and lengthy Israeli procedures for transferring goods into Gaza, severely limited the supply of medicine and disposables such as colostomy bags. Stocks of 110 essential drugs and supplies have been exhausted and can no longer be found in Gaza hospitals. In its regular deliveries of supplies to the hospitals, the ICRC has endeavoured to meet the most urgent needs, for example by providing skin disinfectant and fluorescent dye used in ophthalmologic examination … Moreover, reserves of industrial fuel continued to dry up, resulting in electricity being available only 60 per cent of the time. Power cuts were unpredictable and frequent, and jeopardized the proper functioning of hospitals. All of these factors contributed to a worrisome pattern of declining health-care services. ‘It is the sick and the wounded who are paying the price of restrictions imposed on medical spare parts. It is also they who are suffering from patchy cooperation between the ministries of health in Ramallah and Gaza’, said Pierre Wettach, the ICRC’s head of delegation in Israel and the occupied territories. ‘We call on all parties to assume their responsibilities and act quickly to ease the transfer of drugs, disposables and medical spare parts needed for medical treatment’.” This ICRC Operational Update is pubished here.

The ICRC also noted, in its update, that it has still not been allowed to visit Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit, captured in a cross-border raid in June 2006, and reportedly held in Gaza since then — nor has the ICRC been able to arrange ofr an exchange of messages between Shalit and his family. “The ICRC has again lodged a request at the highest level of Hamas for the exchange of Red Cross messages to be allowed between captured Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit and his family, who have not had direct contact with him since he was captured in June 2006. Both this request and requests to visit Mr Shalit have been repeatedly turned down”.

After Israel’s major military operation in Gaza, Operation Cast Lead (27 December 2008 to 18 January 2009), government and military leaders said that the crossings into Gaza would not be opened, and the blockade against would be maintained, until Gilad Shalit was safely returned home from Gaza.