A History of Israeli-Palestinian Prisoner Exchanges

Arrangements for prisoner exchanges between Arab governments and Israel date back to 1948. During the early 1980s, the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) and Israel exchanged prisoners, the most famous of which is known as the “Jibril Deal” in May 1985. Through third-party negotiations, Israel and Hizballah carried out three prisoner exchanges starting in 1996. Attempts to secure the release of Palestinian political prisoners through negotiations often failed because Israel regularly suspended talks over prisoners or renegotiated established criteria for their release. When negotiations resulted in an agreement, Israel ignored deadlines for the releases, released nonpolitical prisoners and claimed it had fulfilled its obligations, or simply dismissed agreements.

Israeli-Hizballah Prisoner Exchanges

To date, there have been three prisoner exchange deals between Israel and Hizballah, the details of which follow.

In July 1996, Hizballah released the remains of two Israeli soldiers, Joseph Fink and Rahamim Alsheich, in exchange for the remains of 123 Lebanese soldiers. On the same day, Hizballah released 25 members of the South Lebanon Army (SLA), an army loyal to Israel. In exchange the SLA released 25 Lebanese prisoners from the Khima Prison in south Lebanon.

In June 1998, Hizballah returned the remains of Sergeant First Class Itamar Ilya in exchange for the remains of 40 Hizballah soldiers, among them the body of Hizballah leader Sheikh Hassan Nasrallah’s son who was killed in 1997. The deal also included the release of Lebanese prisoners. The bodies of the Hizballah soldiers were transported by a French aircraft.

In January 2004, in the largest prisoner exchange, Israel released a total of 436 prisoners including 400 Palestinians; 23 Lebanese; two Syrians; three Moroccans; three Sudanese; a Libyan; and a German Muslim. Israel also returned the remains of 59 Lebanese soldiers. Israel received the remains of three Israel soldiers and the release of Elhanan Tennenbaum who Hizballah claimed was an Israeli intelligence officer. Sheikh Abdel Kareem Obaid, who Israel kidnapped from Lebanese territory in 1989, and Sheikh Mustafa Dirani, kidnapped in 1994, were among those released by Israel in exchange for its three soldiers and intelligence officer.

Israeli-PLO Prisoner Exchanges

The most famous prisoner swap between Israel and the PLO was in May 1985. In exchange for three Israeli soldiers held by the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP), Israel released 1,150 Palestinian political prisoners. Among them was Fateh activist Jibril Rajoub who, under the Oslo Accords with Israel, established and headed the powerful West Bank branch of the Palestinian Preventive Security force and forged strong security arrangements with Israel. The exchange was called the “Jibril Deal.”

Jordanian and U.S. Intervention

In an assassination attempt on Hamas’ Damascus-based Khaled Mashaal in September 1997, the Israeli Mossad, under orders from Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu injected Mashaal who was living in Jordan at the time with a toxic substance. Two Mossad agents were arrested and the Israeli covert action was revealed. Jordan’s King Hussein demanded the antidote and Israel, after pressure from U.S. President Bill Clinton, provided the antidote. In exchange for the two Mossad agents, Israel released Sheikh Ahmed Yassin, the founder and spiritual leader of Hamas who was serving a life sentence in Israel. Israel assassinated Yassin in the Gaza Strip in 2004.

Israel and Hamas

About twelve years before Hamas’ 25 June 2006 capture of Israeli Corporal Gilad Shalit in Gaza, Israeli soldier Nachshon Wachsman was taken prisoner in October 1994. Like today, Israel said it would not negotiate a release with Hamas. Then-Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin decided on a military option to free the Israeli soldier. The Israeli commando raid on a house in Bir Nabala near Jerusalem not only left the Hamas captors dead but with them Wachsman.

Hamas has demanded the release of all female and minor Palestinian prisoners held by Israel in exchange for Shalit.

Palestinian Political Prisoners

According to the Ramallah-based Mandela Institute for Human Rights, there are 9,600 Palestinian political prisoners in Israeli jails and detention centers, among them 130 Palestinian women. Defense for Children International puts the number of Palestinian children in Israeli custody at 388.

According to a recent poll by the Jerusalem Media and Communication Center (JMCC), 69 percent of Palestinians insist on an exchange for Shalit’s release. The high support for a prisoner exchange stems from the sensitivity of the prisoner issue within Palestinian society. The vast majority of Palestinians have been directly or indirectly affected by Israel’s policy of arbitrary or blanket arrests and hold deep resentment for political violations of their leaders’ authority and autonomy.

Israel’s imprisonment and detention of Palestinians is an example of its failure to abide by international law and the Fourth Geneva Convention. Administrative detentions, imprisonment without due process and imprisonment inside Israel are both illegal under the Fourth Geneva Convention.

Furthermore, Palestinian prisoners are routinely tortured by Israel and held in detention centers and prisons that do not meet the minimum international standards and are routinely denied visitation rights by their legal representation and family members. The vast majority of Palestinian prisoners are held without trial. According to Amnesty International, the trials that do take place often fall short of international fair trial standards.

Israel’s failure to release Palestinian political prisoners and its continued arbitrary arrest of Palestinian civilians serves only to highlight Israel’s belief that it is above the law and that the Palestinians are beneath it.

SAMAR ASSAD is the Executive Director of The Palestine Center. This information brief may be used without permission but with proper attribution to the Center.



More articles by:
Weekend Edition
March 23, 2018
Friday - Sunday
Roberto J. González
The Mind-Benders: How to Harvest Facebook Data, Brainwash Voters, and Swing Elections
Paul Street
Deplorables II: The Dismal Dems in Stormy Times
Nick Pemberton
The Ghost of Hillary
Andrew Levine
Light at the End of the Tunnel?
Paul de Rooij
Amnesty International: Trumpeting for War… Again
Jeffrey St. Clair
Roaming Charges: Coming in Hot
Chuck Gerhart
Sessions Exploits a Flaw to Pursue Execution of Meth Addicts
Robert Fantina
Distractions, Thought Control and Palestine
Hiroyuki Hamada
The Eyes of “Others” for Us All
Robert Hunziker
Is The EPA Hazardous
Stephanie Savell
15 Years After the Iraq Invasion, What Are the Costs?
Aidan O'Brien
Europe is Pregnant 
Matthew Stevenson
Why Vietnam Still Matters: Was Khe Sanh a Win or a Loss?
Dan Corjescu
The Man Who Should Be Dead
Howard Lisnoff
The Bone Spur in Chief
Brian Cloughley
Hitler and the Poisoning of the British Public
Brett Wilkins
Trump Touts $12.5B Saudi Arms Sale as US Support for Yemen War Literally Fuels Atrocities
Barbara Nimri Aziz
Iraqi Landscapes: the Path of Martyrs
Brian Saady
The War On Drugs Is Far Deadlier Than Most People Realize
Stephen Cooper
Battling the Death Penalty With James Baldwin
CJ Hopkins
Then They Came for the Globalists
Philip Doe
In Colorado, See How They Run After the Fracking Dollars
Ali Mohsin
A Disheartening Week for American Death Penalty Opponents
Binoy Kampmark
John Brennan’s Trump Problem
Nate Terani
Donald Trump’s America: Already Hell Enough for This Muslim-American
Steve Early
From Jackson to Richmond: Radical Mayors Leave Their Mark
Jill Richardson
To Believe in Science, You Have to Know How It’s Done
Ralph Nader
Ten Million Americans Could Bring H.R. 676 into Reality Land—Relief for Anxiety, Dread and Fear
Sam Pizzigati
Billionaires Won’t Save the World, Just Look at Elon Musk
Sergio Avila
Don’t Make the Border a Wasteland
Daryan Rezazad
Denial of Climate Change is Not the Problem
Ron Jacobs
Flashing for the Refugees on the Unarmed Road of Flight
Missy Comley Beattie
The Age of Absurdities and Atrocities
George Wuerthner
Isle Royale: Manage for Wilderness Not Wolves
George Payne
Pompeo Should Call the Dogs Off of WikiLeaks
Russell Mokhiber
Study Finds Single Payer Viable in 2018 Elections
Franklin Lamb
Despite Claims, Israel-Hezbollah War is Unlikely
Montana Wilderness Association Dishonors Its Past
Elizabeth “Liz” Hawkins, RN
Nurses Are Calling #TimesUp on Domestic Abuse
Robert Koehler
Normalizing Violence
Paul Buhle
A Caribbean Giant Passes: Wilson Harris, RIP
Mel Gurtov
A Blank Check for Repression? A Saudi Leader Visits Washington
Seth Sandronsky
Hoop schemes: Sacramento’s corporate bid for an NBA All-Star Game
Louis Proyect
The French Malaise, Now and Then
David Yearsley
Bach and the Erotics of Spring