My Word: Prisoner releases and swaps

I can’t see how the EU denying funds to Israeli researchers who have even the faintest ties to institutions outside the pre-1967 borders makes the world a better place.

By
August 15, 2013 21:45
Palestinians celebrate in Ramallah over the release of prisoners by Israel, August 13, 2013.

ramallah prisoner release 370. (photo credit: Hadas Parush)

"Think out of the box,” I have often urged various governments.

This week an idea hit me straight from my inbox as I took a second look at some of the accumulated emails that I had only skimmed during a short vacation.

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The email came from Amnesty International, which is probably why I hadn’t dealt with it on my break – I’m more used to the international human rights body criticizing Israel than condemning Hamas, but as it happens, it wasn’t about us.

The email, which I received on August 8, starts out: “The Hamas authorities in Gaza must halt several executions they say they plan to carry out after this week’s Muslim religious festival of Id al-Fitr, Amnesty International has urged.

“Hamas Attorney General said last week that several convicted ‘criminals’ are set to be executed in public as a ‘lesson’ to others.”

As I read on, I could see the potential for one of those so-called “confidence building” measures that the international community is so keen on ahead of the “diplomatic process.”

When it comes to creating more trust ahead of the talks – and doing so by releasing prisoners – I have decided to come out firmly in favor: Instead of executing those currently languishing in Hamas jails in Gaza, they should set them free – in Fatah-controlled Palestinian territories in the West Bank.



After all, Hamas and Fatah certainly need to reconcile – or officially part ways – if we’re meant to somehow reach a peace agreement with “the Palestinians.” Currently, the differences between the two organizations and two geographic areas are greater than the those between Israel and the Palestinian Authority based in Ramallah.

Some of the Hamas prisoners seem to be right up Mahmoud Abbas’s dark alley, although others have – rightly or wrongly – confessed to collaborating with Israel.

“One of those at risk is a 27-year-old man known as ‘H.M.A.’ who, while detained in relation to another case, was apparently tortured to ‘confess’ to the rape and murder of a six-year-old boy allegedly committed when H.M.A. was under 18,” read the press release.

“He was later sentenced to death in violation of both international standards and Palestinian law, which do not allow capital punishment for killings committed by people under 18.

“A 23-year-old prisoner known as ‘F.A.’ is also said to have signed a ‘confession’ under torture.

“He was sentenced to death on 24 March 2013 for ‘collaboration with an enemy entity’ by the Central Military Court in Gaza City.”

His lawyer said he had been hung by his wrists and ankles and beaten during interrogation.

His appeal at the Military High Court was due to be heard as I write these lines and his case has been taken up by the UN and lawmakers in Western countries.

According to Amnesty International, at least 40 prisoners are under sentence of death in Gaza, “where torture and other ill-treatment against detainees in the custody of Hamas security agencies are widespread and systematic.”

Not that life in Fatah prisons – where there have been several mysterious deaths of detainees recently – is a picnic. And Israeli jails are so bad that Palestinian prisoners have been known to go on hunger strike, begging for the return of free university studies, more frequent conjugal visits and rights, and access to Arabic-language cable stations – privileges that were removed to put pressure on their leaders as part of the effort to gain the release of abducted IDF soldier Gilad Schalit when he was still missing without any rights at all for five years in Gaza.

Amnesty also mentioned a prisoner, Na’el Jamal Qandil Doghmosh, who was executed on July 17, 2012, having apparently “confessed” to murder. His family said that during interrogation in 2010 his nails were torn out and they saw burns and bruises on his body.

You might not remember – because it was a couple of years and some 100,000 deaths ago – that the Syrian uprising was initially triggered when a group of teenagers from the town of Deraa was similarly tortured for spray-painting anti-Assad graffiti on the wall of their school.

Israeli hospitals are now treating scores of Syrian victims of the civil war, by the way.

THE 26 Palestinian prisoners released by Israel this week – a gesture apparently necessary simply to get back to the negotiating table – have been described as having “blood on their hands.”

It’s a better phrase than “deaths on their conscience,” because, no matter how many times they have washed and showered since they killed innocent Israelis, you can still imagine the blood of their victims staining them. It’s much harder to imagine that they have suddenly acquired a conscience.

Some of the spilled blood belonged to people I knew. Or children of people I know, which is even worse.

Ahead of the disproportionate swap which eventually saw Schalit’s release – some 1,000 Palestinian prisoners for the liberty of our collective son – I noted the reactions of those whose lives have been forever changed by murderers such as these.

One mother campaigned against the deal; another was in favor; a father – a public figure – didn’t let his views be known; and a bereaved brother once told me he has tried to avoid knowing the sentence and fate of his sister’s killers so that he wouldn’t have to wonder about their eventual release.

Looking over the list of the killings committed by those released this week, I was doubly disturbed by two aspects – the brutality of many of the acts – committed with knives, axes, iron poles etc. – and the realization that these were the “soft” crimes from the pre-Oslo period. Following the signing of the peace agreements in the mid-1990s, and during subsequent peace talks, the killings became even more frequent and carried out on a mass scale. Blowing up buses, cafes, discotheques and malls became the mode favored over the bloodied hands-on beatings and stabbings. Perhaps Israeli prison life – even with cable TV – can’t compete with the presumed pleasures provided by 72 celestial virgins awaiting the “martyrs” who carried out suicide bombings.

Anyway, Israel released the first 26 Palestinian prisoners in the early hours of August 14, and the world didn’t come to an end. On the contrary, the world carried on just as it was before, pressuring Israel for more concessions in the name of peace and basically threatening to boycott its academic research, however widely respected, and many of its super-successful technological developments.

Hundreds of Egyptians were killed the same day, so many that for a few hours the world could ignore the ever-mounting death toll in Syria – except, perhaps, for the announcement that Islamist rebels had killed a Catholic priest who disappeared there last month. Iran, meanwhile, quietly continued its race for nuclear arms.

But as far as the world is concerned, global peace relies on Israel releasing Palestinian terrorists and withdrawing from any area it has built on after unexpectedly winning the wars that were meant to destroy the Jewish state.

I can’t see how the EU denying funds to Israeli researchers who have even the faintest ties to institutions outside the pre-1967 borders makes the world a better place or how releasing terrorists and murderers from Israeli jails makes the world safer. And I can’t see how Abbas is going to build a Middle Eastern version of Australia with the type of convicts he so determinedly seeks. But, for all our faults, I’m more than happy to be on Israel’s side of the border – I’m proud of it.

The writer is the editor of The International Jerusalem Post.

liat@jpost.com


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