As Gilad Shalit finally goes home, a thousand Palestinian detainees return to a bigger prison

On Oct. 18th,  in a deal brokered by Egypt, IDF Sergeant Gilad Shalit  was released by Hamas in the Gaza Strip. At the same time, several hundred Palestinian prisoners were freed from Israeli prisons in the first phase of an agreement that will see the release of more than a thousand Palestinian captives by year end.

This prisoner exchange has been in the works for years, so why the sudden breakthrough? A few reasons might have come into play: the Arab Spring that has all but forced Israel into a corner and Mahmoud Abbas going to the United Nations last month to seek statehood for Palestine. On top of these two major events, there has been social unrest within Israel itself since the start of the summer.

The reasons for the sudden breakthrough aside, was it in Israel’s interest to go through with a deal that saw the first captured Israeli soldier be returned home alive in 26 years? Many hardline and moderate Israelis alike seem to be united in their concern that the release of so many prisoners will jeopardize Israel’s security. Once a terrorist, always a terrorist I guess.

Israelis do have a reason for concern, but I don’t think it has anything to do with the inmates that were recently released. Shortly after the official exchange, Hamas called for further abductions of Israeli soldiers in order to bargain for the freedom of the remaining five or six thousand Palestinian prisoners left in Israeli jails. You can disagree along with me on Hamas’s methods, but they are no different than the tactics of the Mossad and the  IDF who have been arresting, kidnapping and jailing Palestinians without trial for decades.

An elderly man looks at pictures of Palestinian prisoners held in Israeli jails

Between six and seven hundred thousand Palestinians have passed through the Israeli prison system since the war of 1967. That number makes up 20% of all Palestinians and 40% of all men in the occupied territories. Since September 2000, Israel has arrested and imprisoned  more than 7000 Palestinian children under the age of 18, most for doing less than throwing a rock. All Palestinians from the occupied territories regardless of age are subjected to Israeli military tribunals. In addition, a procedure known as “administrative detention” is used to imprison Palestinians without charge or trial for three month stretches.

Israeli has a tendency to not only lock up those few who actually mean to harm innocent people, but also those innocent people who simply strive to be free in their own land. The number of dangerous offenders that have gone through the system actually represents a fraction of a percent. Of course there are always exceptions such as Amana Mona & Mohammed Wael. Mona and Wael were actually convicted of aiding militants and were forced into exile instead of returning to the West Bank.

I do not condone the actions of any group of people kidnaping another human being for personal or political gain, but I do understand why it’s done as a last resort. I have no problem with the one for a thousand exchange no matter how it looks on paper, in fact Israel should have released all the political, non-violent prisoners along with the remaining children.

Israel has to start being seen making sacrifices to the Palestinians, especially in the eyes of the world. Having thousands of Palestinian prisoners in Israeli jails only adds to the resolve of Hamas and other organizations like it. When Israel and the IDF starts to treat Palestinians properly instead of like second class people, Palestinians would no longer have a use for Hamas.

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