Nov 29 2009

The prisoners’ case, a reflection on the conflict

Published by at 11:41 am under Articles,Palestinian politics

By Daoud Kuttab

If you ever want to have a single case that can illustrate all the sources of disagreement in the Middle East all you need to do is look at the Shalit prisoner exchange deal.

Legally Israel refuses to recognize the over ten thousand prisoners it is holding to be prisoners of war because that assumes that there is a war involved in the region. Nor does it accept that they are protected individuals for which the Geneva Convention applies. The Convention regulates how an occupying power is supposed to deal with civilians under its occupation. Israel doesn’t accept that it is an occupying power. Palestinians considers their lands occupied and demand an Israeli end to the occupation in order for the establishment of a Palestinian state in accordance to international commitments.

Palestinians consider their prisoners political prisoners or liberation fighters, Israel considers them terrorists that don’t deserve the same rights and equal treatment it gives to civilian inmates. Israel blasts Hamas for not allowing the International Red Cross to visit their prisoner. Palestinians denies the vast majority of the prisoners families visiting rights because you need special permits to enter Israel where they are held in violation of the Geneva Convention.

Israel propagandists decry the fact that Israel is trading hundreds of Palestinians for one Israeli, Palestinians say that Israel has and does regularly arrest as many Palestinians as they want every day, holding many without trial or charge. They also point out the lopsided number of Palestinians killed in Gaza (over a thousand) compared to the nearly ten Israelis that were killed (some from friendly fire).

Politically the exchange leaves many questions un answered. Both Israel and Hamas refuse to recognize each other, yet they have both found it convenient to negotiate via a third party (Germany and Egypt).

Palestinians complain that Israel rewards the aggressive radical Hamas while denying the moderates. They point out that repeated requests from the Palestinian president Mahmoud Abbas to end settlement activities in areas earmarked for the internationally accepted lands for a Palestinian state are rejected. Also the request to release Marwan Barghouti a well known and rather moderate Fatah leader is denied while the tough actions of Hamas has produced the exist of Israel from the Gaza strip and the acquiescence to the prisoner exchange. The moral of the story is that violence brings better results than nonviolence.

Palestinians are looking for the day when all prisoners are released not in an exchange that is forced on Israel but rather as a result of making the wrong right, ending the occupation and allowing for an independent Palestinians state alongside a safe and secure Israel.

Daoud Kuttab is a Palestinian journalist and a former Ferris Professor of Journalism at Princeton Universit.

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