FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail

Prisoners for Peace

by SAM GILBERT

Ramallah

On Tuesday August 13th,  26 “low risk” Palestinian prisoners were released to their families by the Israeli government, a  “gesture of good faith” made by Israeli Primer Minster Netanyahu to President Abbas amidst the peace talks that are set to resume in Jerusalem on Wednesday.  These kinds of prisoner releases have been commonplace in the years preceding the landmark Oslo agreement-each event garnering massive media attention and the reiteration of a narrative of Israeli benevolence and victimization.

And while many in the media have questioned the sincerity of this gesture in brokering peace, little has been said about the flaws inherent to the peace process in Israel and Palestine regarding the prisoner issue.

In the history of this conflict the release of political prisoners has consistently been presented as a concession by Israel, not an obligation- seen through the lens of Israel security needs and an assumed symmetry between apposing sides.  Conspicuously absent is any acknowledgement of the now 46 year long colonial occupation which criminalizes all forms of Palestinian resistance, and has led to the imprisonment of more than 750,000 Palestinians since 1967.

As former non-violent political prisoner Mahmoud told me:

“In the eyes of the media, internationals and especially the Israelis Palestinian’s are criminals, guilty until proven innocent…in other places I hear it goes the other way.”

Israeli Prisoner Policy and the Peace Process

Since Oslo there have been numerous high profile prisoner releases, most notably the Gilad Shalit swap that saw the return of over 1000 Palestinians for a single Israeli hostage.  The massive inequity of the exchange notwithstanding, the history of prisoner releases has questionable credentials in facilitating any kind of peace in Palestine, even though prisoner releases and amnesty guarantees have been a foundation to attaining peace in other colonial conflicts  (South Africa and Ireland).  As prisoner and human rights association Addameer sates: “Historically speaking this policy of prisoner’s releases has proven that it is not truly a “goodwill gesture” to build trust during negotiations, but rather is used as a tool by the Israeli Government to manipulate the prisoners issues and distract from their cores issues and demands.”

104 total prisoners will be freed in the coming months  “depending on progress in the talks.”  These types of “gestures” have, since 1993, seen the release of over 23,000 Palestinian prisoners, a seemingly large number until you compare it to the 80,000 that have been arrested during the same period.  During the Annapolis peace process 1199 prisoner were released between 2007 and 2008.   Yet during the same period the IDF arrested nearly 5000 prisoners, more than tripling the number originally released. It is highly questionable whether the release of these 26 will do anything to halt Israel’s policy of mass detention and arbitrary arrest, or guarantee the release of the nearly 5000 prisoners that currently reside in Military prisons inside Israel, their transfer out of Palestine illegal under international law. As a Fatah official in Ramallah said: “While we welcome this decision, we do not see how it could help the peace process, particularly in light of the fact that there are more than 5,000 Palestinians who are still in prison.”

According to Addameer’s report Reaching the ‘No-Peace’ Agreement: The Role of Palestinian Prisoner Releases in Permanent Status Negotiations  “Since the onset of the occupation in 1967 more than 750,000 Palestinian have been detained under military orders, nearly 40% of the male population.”

Administrative Detention and State Sponsored Hostage Taking

Mahmoud’s earlier comment about guilty until proven innocent is codified is Israeli law in the occupied Palestinian territories.  Since 1979 Israel has used military orders that enable the military to detain individuals without charge or trail.  From 1979 to 2000 this was done through the Emergency Power (detention) LawAmongst other things the law was used to detain hostages that were seen as valuable bargaining chips in the future (with Hezbollah in particular). The Supreme Court finally overturned the law in 2000.  Following the decision Chief Justice Barak was quoted as saying  “there is probably no State in the Western world that permits an administrative detention of someone who does not himself pose any danger to State Security.  Holding persons as bargaining cards, actually means holding them as hostages.”

Yet only two years later Israeli Knesset approved the controversial Incarceration of Unlawful Combatants law, which according to Addameer is “a means of legalizing the hostage taking policies that had been disavowed in 2000 by the Israeli Supreme Court.”  As the organizations director Sahar told me in a phone interview “there release of only 26 or the 104 is telling.  Israel uses these prisoners are bargaining chips, conditional on the PA’s good behavior.”

This coupled with Israel longstanding use of Administrative detention (renewable 6 month period of detention without charge/trail) highlights a legal system that denies Palestinian’s their fundament right to due process.  The rational of security, which legitimizes Administrative attention, also contributes to the criminalization of all forms of resistance in Palestine, expressed through the continued incarcerating of non-violent activists, scholars, children, and Palestinian athletes.   Administrative detention is used regularly by the Israeli authorities as a form of political detention, enabling the authorities to arbitrarily detain political prisoners, including prisoners of conscience, and that the practice is used to punish them for their views and suspected political affiliations when they have not committed any crime”,  statement from Amnesty International.

The Peace Talks

If the prisoner release has been viewed as a figurative  “pat on the back” from Netanyahu to Abbass, then the announcement of 3000 new settlement units since last Thursday can only be described as slap in the face.  This dichotomous action is entirely consistent with Israeli policy since the Oslo agreement whereby prison releases are coupled with continued settlement construction and mass imprisonment of the occupied population.  Since the Oslo Accords some 23000 Palestine prisoners have been released as goodwill gestures to facilitate peace. Yet during the same period 80,000 Palestinian were arrested, while the settler population in East Jerusalem and the West Bank has more than doubled since 1993, standing at 500,000 today.  Considering settlements are physically undermining the viability of a future Palestinian state, and 5000 still languish in Israeli jails, the importance of Netanyahu’s goodwill gesture to release 26 prisoners is questionable.

As Addameer director said “Prisoner releases are of central importance toward a lasting peace, yet Israel continued to treat the issues a public relations opportunity and a means to achieve political gains.”

The Essential Terrorist

In Ramallah, Palestine a jubilant crowd greeted the 14 West Bank prisoners freed on Tuesday.  On the opposite side of the wall Israelis gathered to protest the release of the prisoners described by the media as murderers, Arab terrorists,” and men with  “Jewish blood on their hands.”  And while the violence perpetrated by these men is lamentable even horrific, it is stripped of its context- obfuscated from its origins-occupation and the Israeli settler project that continues unhindered today.   The condemnation of these crimes is accurate, but they need to be contextualized, as the violence in in other Settler colonial states (South Africa, Algeria, or Ireland) has been.  And in a conflict that has lasted nearly half a century and taken the lives of 8000 Palestinian and 1500 Israelis since 1988, it is hard to imagine what the release of 26 men might do for peace.

Sam Gilbert is a journalist based in Ramallah.

Weekend Edition
February 12-14, 2016
Andrew Levine
What Next in the War on Clintonism?
Jeffrey St. Clair
A Comedy of Terrors
Ismael Hossein-Zadeh – Anthony A. Gabb
Financial Oligarchy vs. Feudal Aristocracy
Paul Street
When Plan A Meets Plan B: Talking Politics and Revolution with the Green Party’s Jill Stein
Rob Urie
The (Political) Season of Our Discontent
Michael Welton
Lenin, Putin and Me
Pepe Escobar
It Takes a Greek to Save Europa
Gerald Sussman
Why Hillary Clinton Spells Democratic Party Defeat
Carol Norris
What Do Hillary’s Women Want? A Psychologist on the Clinton Campaign’s Women’s Club Strategy
Robert Fantina
The U.S. Election: Any Good News for Palestine?
Linda Pentz Gunter
Radioactive Handouts: the Nuclear Subsidies Buried Inside Obama’s “Clean” Energy Budget
Manuel García, Jr.
Fire in the Hole: Bernie and the Cracks in the Neo-Liberal Lid
Thomas Stephens
The Flint River Lead Poisoning Catastrophe in Historical Perspective
David Rosen
When Trump Confronted a Transgender Beauty
Will Parrish
Cap and Clear-Cut
Victor Grossman
Coming Cutthroats and Parting Pirates
Ben Terrall
Raw Deals: Challenging the Sharing Economy
David Yearsley
Beyoncé’s Super Bowl Formation: Form-Fitting Uniforms of Revolution and Commerce
David Mattson
Divvying Up the Dead: Grizzly Bears in a Post-ESA World
Matthew Stevenson
Confessions of a Primary Insider
Jeff Mackler
Friedrichs v. U.S. Public Employee Unions
Pete Dolack
More Unemployment and Less Security
Christopher Brauchli
The Cruzifiction of Michael Wayne Haley
Bill Quigley
Law on the Margins: a Profile of Social Justice Lawyer Chaumtoli Huq
Uri Avnery
A Lady With a Smile
Katja Kipping
The Opposite of Transparency: What I Didn’t Read in the TIPP Reading Room
B. R. Gowani
Hellish Woman: ISIS’s Granny Endorses Hillary
Kent Paterson
The Futures of Whales and Humans in Mexico
James Heddle
Why the Current Nuclear Showdown in California Should Matter to You
Michael Howard
Hollywood’s Grotesque Animal Abuse
Steven Gorelick
Branding Tradition: a Bittersweet Tale of Capitalism at Work
Nozomi Hayase
Assange’s UN Victory and Redemption of the West
Patrick Bond
World Bank Punches South Africa’s Poor, by Ignoring the Rich
Mel Gurtov
Is US-Russia Engagement Still Possible?
Dan Bacher
Governor Jerry Brown Receives Cold, Dead Fish Award Four Years In A Row
Wolfgang Lieberknecht
Fighting and Protecting Refugees
Jennifer Matsui
Doglegs, An Unforgettable Film
Soud Sharabani
Israeli Myths: An Interview with Ramzy Baroud
Terry Simons
Bernie? Why Not?
Missy Comley Beattie
When Thoughtful People Think Illogically
Christy Rodgers
Everywhere is War: Luke Mogelson’s These Heroic, Happy Dead: Stories
Tony Christini
Death by Texes (A Satire of Trump and Clinton)
Ron Jacobs
Springsteen: Rockin’ the House in Albany, NY
Barbara Nimri Aziz
“The Martian”: This Heroism is for Chinese Viewers Too
Charles R. Larson
No Brainers: When Hitler Took Cocaine and Lenin Lost His Brain
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail