Yes, free Gilad Shalit — for God’s sake, for his (Gilad Shalit’s) sake, for the sake of the people of Gaza …
At the same time, free Palestinian prisoners, too. The fate of some 1,000 to 1,400 Palestinian prisoners in Israeli jails is also now under discussion, according to various media reports. There are currently about 10,000 Palestinian prisoners + detainees in Israeli custody, at least 300 of whom are women. They should be released — all of them — but not at the cost of accepting exile or deportation. Deportation, as we wrote here yesterday, is a violation of the Road Map, which was written a year after the deportation of 29 Palestinian men who had taken refuge in Bethlehem’s Church of the Nativity. Their deportations (some to Gaza and the rest to Europe) were supposed to last only a year and were “voluntary” — though under pressure even from then-PLO leader Yasser Arafat, in order to end the Israeli Army invasion of Bethlehem and siege of one of the holiest sites in Christianity. Seven years later, almost all of the deportees are still in exile. Luckily for them, none was killed during last winter’s IDF Operation Cast Lead in Gaza.
Haaretz reported today that “A German mediator arrived in the Gaza Strip earlier Tuesday with Israel’s response to Hamas’ offer to free Shalit in exchange for hundreds of Palestinian prisoners. Israel gave mediators its response late Monday, after marathon talks were held at Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s office. No further details were immediately available. The top-level meetings ended shortly after midnight Monday without an announcement of a decision over whether the forum of seven, comprising Netanyahu and six other senior cabinet ministers, had decided to accept or reject Hamas’ offer [sic !] … The forum of seven convened after nightfall Monday for the fifth consecutive meeting on the issue over the last two days in a frenzy of activity that suggested a deal could be close. The group was divided, however, with some ministers opposed freeing Palestinians convicted in fatal attacks, arguing they could kill again. After more than four hours of talks, Netanyahu’s office released a statement saying only that instructions were given to the negotiating team about the continuation of efforts to bring Shalit home safe and sound”.
This same article also reports that “Israel would like to see most of the Palestinian prisoners from the West Bank, especially those considered the most dangerous, expelled to the Gaza Strip or abroad”. This Haaretz article can be read in full here.
This is a terrible proposal — and it is a violation of the Road Map that members of the Quartet should not countenance, even if these deportations are depicted as “voluntary”.
Haaretz’s Gideon Levy wrote, in a separate article published today, that “Whether Israel decides to sign the deal or not, it will not change anything except the personal fate of Gilad Shalit and the Palestinian prisoners. This is the only issue on the agenda, not Israel’s security or its sovereignty. The dilemma is razor sharp – do we or do we not want to see Shalit home; alive or dead, to be or not to be, that is the only question. This is why the government must decide in favor of the deal. It’s difficult to demand that the Israelis occupied with Shalit’s captivity show consideration for the Palestinians’ feelings as well. But they should do so, or at least try. Hundreds of prisoners have been locked up for years in dire conditions, some – those from Gaza – have been imprisoned for years with no family visits, not a phone call home. And not all of them have blood on their hands. At least the possibility of their release should have raised compassion in our hearts as well, as groundless and shrill as this may sound to the obtuse Israeli ear. It is no coincidence that only the Palestinian prisoners’ families have expressed hope for Shalit’s release, beside the hope for their own sons’ release. How distressing that we hear no similar sentiment from anyone on our side, not even the Shalit family. But Shalit and the Palestinian prisoners are not alone. Seven million Israelis and three and a half million Palestinians have been imprisoned for 42 years in a dark cave due to the curse of occupation … In view of the huge (and appropriate) sensitivity and concern demonstrated by Israeli society for one man’s life and liberty, it’s time to think of applying similar sensitivity, determination, involvement and caring in regard to the fate of 10 million Israelis and Palestinians. True, they see the light of day, but their future is cloaked in darkness”. This Gideon Levy article can be read in full here.
The Palestinian NGO working to support the release of Palestinan prisoners, Ad-Dameer, has just released a new report, and in an email announcing its publication, Ad-Dameer says that “Israel still holds 330 Palestinian political prisoners who were arrested before 13 September 1993, the cutoff date for arrests that determined which prisoners would be eligible for inclusion in subsequent releases. Approximately 95 of these political prisoners have spent more than 20 consecutive years in Israeli prisons. Today, Israel holds a total of more than 7,120 Palestinian detainees. What’s more, large numbers of Palestinians are still arrested by Israel on a weekly basis. The Israeli military judicial system imposed on the occupied territory, criminalizes every aspect of Palestinian life and continues to de-politicize Palestinian national aspirations. In policy and in practice, Palestinian activities against the military occupation are never deemed ‘political’ by Israel – and acts that would or could constitute ‘political offenses’ have never been defined”.
Ad-Dameer says, further, that “In a negotiated peace settlement, amnesties are often a necessary condition for putting an end to a conflict. Prisoners often play a central role in post-conflict politics and can be instrumental in addressing past grievances and in seeking justice and reconciliation. Israeli authorities however, have remained unwilling to explore a shift in discourse regarding the identification of ‘political offenses’ or to even acknowledge Palestinian political motivations. To the contrary, those whom in any other post-conflict situation would become partners in peace are still considered ‘security’, rather than ‘political’ detainees. Moreover, Israeli legislation and court decisions have long enabled the State to hold detainees as ‘bargaining chips’, held for their potential value in hostage or political negotiations, disregarding their status as political actors and denying them fundamental human rights protections. Addameer contends that Israel has systematically failed to act in accordance with many of its obligations under the Oslo Accords and related Israeli-Palestinian peace agreements, particularly in regards to prisoner releases. Instead, Israel treats the issue as a public relations opportunity and a means to achieve political gains. Working within such constraints, the Palestinian leadership has been forced to negotiate with the Israeli government over the numbers of prisoners included in releases, and has failed to develop a strategy to challenge the military courts system in the OPT that defines all Palestinian resistance to Israeli occupation as ‘security offences’.”
Just to illustrate one of the points Ad-Dameer made, here is a selection of news reports here over the past three days:
(A) Israeli forces seize 9 in night raids – Published by Ma’an News Agency on 22/12/2009 at 11:50: “Israeli forces detained nine Palestinians during overnight raids in the West Bank, the military reported on Tuesday … A military spokesman said that one person was detained in the town of Anabta, east of Tulkarem, three from Beit Duqqu, southwest of Ramallah, and five from Al-Arrub Refugee Camp, north of Hebron. The other detainees were not immediately identified. The military spokesman said they were arrested because they were ‘wanted’, and were taken for interrogation”. This was posted here.
(B) IDF arrests 4 wanted Palestinians in West Bank – Published by the Jerusalem Post on Dec 21, 2009 6:14 | Updated Dec 21, 2009 8:04: “IDF forces arrested four wanted Palestinians in the West Bank overnight Monday. The detainees were transferred for interrogation”. This was posted here. Ma’an News Agency’s version was: “A military representative said one ‘wanted’ person was detained from the village of Jalbun, east of Jenin, one from Ramallah, and two from Beit Ummar, north of Hebron. Residents of Jalbun, a village adjacent to the Israeli separation wall, said soldiers entered the village in several vehicles and then surrounded the house of Yousef Abu Al-Rab, 32, a school teacher. The troops searched the house before taking Abu Al-Rab to an unknown location. The sources added that the Israeli soldiers threw stun grenades during the operation … In Beit Ummar, Palestinians also confirmed that two young men were arrested after soldiers stormed their houses. Muhammad Sa’id Abu Ayyash, 24, and Muntaser Ibrahim Ibreighith, 19, were both detained during the operation, according to Muhammad Awad, the spokesman of the Palestine Solidarity Project. He added that soldiers assaulted the men and their families during the raid”. This was posted here.
(C) And, on Saturday [19/12/2009 (updated) 20/12/2009 19:15], Ma’an News Agency reported that: “A Palestinian from the Salfit and a second from the Hebron district were detained by Israeli forces, the information office of the Palestinian police said Saturday. The men were identified as 22-year-old Izzat Suleiman from the village of Marda near Salfit, detained by Israeli soldiers as he passed through the Huwwara checkpoint, which separates the northern from the central West Bank. He was taken to an unknown location. The second detention came during a raid on Ithna village south of Hebron, where soldiers detained 33-year-old Ziad Al-Masri. He was also taken to an unknown location”. This was posted here.