Of course, the big news for today is that Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu has reportedly agreed to a prisoner swap with Hamas, exchanging 1,027 Palestinian prisoners for the Israeli IDF soldier Gilad Shalit who was taken by Hamas in 2006. Negotiations for Shalit’s release have fallen through on a number of occasions, but officials from both Israel and Hamas have confirmed the agreement. While there is always time for a deal between Israelis and Palestinians to fall through, hopefully this one sticks.
The exchange will release a number of Palestinian prisoners that previous Israeli governments had refused to include, namely Ibrahim Hamed, the chief of Hamas’s military operations in the West Bank, Abdullah Barghouti, a Kuwaiti national, Mohammad Arman, who had enlisted the Silwan terror squad, Hassan Salameh, Marwan Barghouti, a prominent Fatah field commander and member of the Palestinian legislative council.
Marwan Barghouti is perhaps the most intriguing Palestinian prisoner on that list. Arrested for his actions in the (First and) Second Intifada, Barghouti was tried and convicted of murder without presenting a defense, arguing that the trial was illegal and illegitimate. He received 5 life sentences. Barghouti is a well-known political figure throughout Palestine and is regarded by many as a man who could potentially unite a struggling cause. Supporters of Barghouti often point out that Israel violated Barghouti’s diplomatic immunity as a member of the PLC, that he was arrested in Ramallah, where Israel has no jurisdiction and that he was transferred from occupied territory (West Bank) to the territory of the occupier (Israel proper) which is a violation of the Fourth Geneva Convention.
If, in fact, this prisoner swap is concluded, there will be many happy families throughout both Israel and Palestine. Clearly the families of the Palestinian prisoners will be thrilled to be reunited and Gilad Shalit has become a sort of national symbol in Israel; his release will be celebrated by many. Yet, after the transfers, there will still be nearly 6,000 Palestinians in Israeli jails, held generally without a fair trial. Many are children accused of throwing stones and many have spent years languishing in Israeli jails. The Institute for Middle East Understanding sent me the following factsheet concerning Palestinian prisoners:
PALESTINIAN PRISONERS IN ISRAEL
General Facts & Figures
- Since Israel began its military occupation of the West Bank, East Jerusalem, and the Gaza Strip following the 1967 War, Israel has imprisoned upwards of 700,000 Palestinians, or about 20% of the population.
- According to the Israel Prison Service, at the end of August 2011 there were approximately 5200 Palestinians being held in Israeli prisons, including 272 who were being held in administrative detention without charge or trial. According to the Palestinian Center for Human Rights the number of Palestinians in Israeli prisons is actually more than 6000.
- Those who are charged are subjected to Israeli military courts that human rights organizations have criticized for failing to meet the minimum standards required for a fair trial.
- According to Amnesty International’s 2011 Annual Report on Israel and the Occupied Palestinian Territories: “Palestinians in the [occupied territories] subject to Israel’s military justice system continued to face a wide range of abuses of their right to a fair trial. They are routinely interrogated without a lawyer and, although they are civilians, are tried before military not ordinary courts.”
- The same Amnesty report states: “Consistent allegations of torture and other ill-treatment, including of children, were frequently reported. Among the most commonly cited methods were beatings, threats to the detainee or their family, sleep deprivation, and being subjected to painful stress positions for long periods. Confessions allegedly obtained under duress were accepted as evidence in Israeli military and civilian courts.”
- 2000 Palestinian prisoners recently began a hunger strike to protest the conditions in which they are being held.
- Israel uses a procedure known as administrative detention to imprison Palestinians without charge or trial.
- There are currently about 270 Palestinians being held in administrative detention.
- Although there are none currently being held in administrative detention, Israeli authorities have in the past used the procedure against Palestinian children as well as adults.
- Since September 2000, Israel has arrested and imprisoned more than 7000 Palestinian children.
- Like all Palestinians from the occupied territories, they are subjected to Israeli military tribunals.
- As of August 2011, there were 180 Palestinian minors being held in Israeli prisons. Of those, 34 were between the ages of 12-15.
- Palestinian children are frequently arrested in the middle of the night by Israeli soldiers, taken away without their parents, and roughly interrogated without a guardian or lawyer present.
- According to a recent report by the Israeli NGO No Legal Frontiers, which followed the cases of 71 Palestinian children as they made their way through the Israeli military court system:
- The most common offense was throwing stones and Molotov cocktails. In most cases the object was not actually thrown, did not hit a target, or cause any damage. In no case was serious harm caused.
- In 94% of cases the children were held in pre-trial detention and not released on bail.
- In 100% of cases, the children were convicted of an offense.
- 87% of them were subjected to some form of physical violence while in custody.
- Under pressure from human rights organizations and children’s rights advocates, the Israeli army recently announced that it would raise the age that Palestinians are treated as adults from 16 to 18 years of age, however, critics complain that the are still subject to the same unjust and abusive treatment accorded Palestinian adults.
For more information on Palestinians in Israeli jails, the Palestinian not for profit organization Addameer (Arabic for conscience) has focused on the rights of Palestinian prisoners since 1992 and is a wonderful resource (everyone should be a part of their Free Manal and Nour campaign, which is pushing for the release of Manal and Nour Ghanem. Manal gave birth to Nour immediately after her arrest in 2003. Both are still held in Israeli jails.)
A special thanks to Chris and Ismail at IMEU for the factsheet. You can follow IMUE on Twitter @theimeu or on Facebook. While at it, don’t forget to follow NFAM on Facebook and Twitter or subscribe to our RSS feed.
Photo from Your Politics, My Politics