After 5 years of pressure coming from several Israeli campaigns on its government, on Tuesday 18th of October, a prisoner exchange between Israel and Hamas, or rather the release of “Gilad Shalit” commenced. Such ‘negotiations’ between both parties had been mentioned a few years ago, but proved to be a dead end. And now, the governing power of Gaza, Hamas, has succeeded in freeing 1027 Palestinians at the expense of a single Israeli soldier they had held captive for 5 years.
For this deal, Netanyahu’s only choice was to work with the conditions set by Hamas, which has angered many Israelis and Zionists alike. “He’s releasing terrorists, murderers! People who have killed our sons and families!” was a common sentiment of the public, as most were imprisoned before and during the first and second intifada. Nevertheless they forget Gilad Shalit was taken in Gaza where he was assigned as a tank gunner. I could not help but be reminded of what a local Palestinian man in the village of Nabi Saleh had said to me after his friend, a volunteering medic was arrested by an Israeli soldier during a Friday demonstration, “We Palestinians look like we’re always losing against them. But you see, we’re destined to fight, so how can we possibly lose?”
Looking at the 1 Israeli for 1027 Palestinians sentiment made me wonder who had won this time around. Who should be be laughing in celebration? Both, one of the two, or neither? Watching the joyous scenes on al-Aqsa TV and al-Jazeera, from Gaza and Ramallah, families and relatives crying, embracing those they have not seen for decades, children who had no memory of these relatives hugging on tightly, many of the prisoners throwing themselves to kiss the earth they had been separated from, such scenes cannot help but suggest some sort of victory. But can we truly see the release of 1027 Palestinian prisoners as a victory, when it is against international law for them to even be held by the occupying power, Israel, in the first place?
Basic human rights are guaranteed through the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the Geneva Conventions and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. In 1990, the United Nations made clear that prisoners retained many of those same rights, in a resolution titled, Basic Principles for the Treatment of Prisoners. The violations start with where they are held. Article 76 of the Fourth Geneva Convention forbids occupiers from transferring prisoners outside of their own territory. Yet the vast majority of Palestinian prisoners are held in Israel — making it impossible for many family members to visit. The Convention also explicitly states that “Protected persons accused of offences shall be detained in the occupied country, and if convicted they shall serve their sentences therein” thus illustrating that imprisoned Palestinians in Israel were never a matter of ‘negotiation’. Negotiation is a beloved keyword shared between both Abbas and Netenyahu, though it is amusing to see that he ‘negotiated’ with the governing power of besieged Gaza, Hamas – the same Hamas that Israel recognises as a terrorist organisation, the same Hamas that Netanyahu has slandered as murderers, the same Hamas he said he will never negotiate with.
So far only 477 Palestinians have been released as phase one of the deal, and of course Gilad Shalit has been released in this phase one and a further 550 prisoners will follow within two months. Whilst Gilad Shalit gets to go home to his family, 200 released Palestinian prisoners haven been exiled into other countries including Turkey and Qatar. Not to forget the 163 exiled to Gaza, leaving one prison to be found in another.
As happy as I am for the released prisoners, also known as the living martyrs, there are still over 5,000 Palestinian in Israeli prisons. When tens of thousands of Palestinians are prosecuted in Israel’s military courts under military law, including 700 children a year, which should come by no surprise, we cannot expect a fair and just law system from a state that legitimises apartheid and occupation for 63 years and counting. To date, 134 Palestinian children are imprisoned. Again, a complete violation of the Fourth Geneva Convention and the Convention on the Rights of the Child. Not that it matters to the State of Israel, shamelessly known for breaking over 72 UN resolutions with the international community’s silent permission.
Nevertheless there are other questions at hand. Gilad Shalit ever since his release has been shielded by a dark curtain. He has not released any statements, neither has the Israeli government on his behalf. It is assumed he is being debriefed about his captivity and his captors, though the length of time this has taken does raise concern. Additionally Abbas had mentioned making prisoners a priority after the UN bid for a Palestinian state in Ramallah on his welcome speech for the released prisoners, when it is the right of return that is always the ignored priority. There are approximately 7.3 million Palestinian refugees worldwide, including the West Bank and Gaza, making one in three refugees worldwide Palestinian. And when Abbas pursues a 1967 state without the right of return, which is both legal under international law and sacred to Palestinians, justice will continue to be a lost cause. Until the occupation and siege of Palestine is ‘swapped’ for freedom and basic rights – which isn’t a matter of negotiation, neither its people nor its land, peace is a lost cause, and resistance is the only way.
For more of Selin’s writing, visit her blog
Views expressed in articles are the author’s and do not represent Comment Middle East
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