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The Prisoner Issue and the Israeli Arrogance

There are currently 11,000 Palestinian and Arab activists suffering inside Israeli prisons and detention locations.

Those people sacrificed their freedom and spent brief or lengthy imprisonment terms for the sake of independence of Palestine and the liberation of their people from Israeli occupation. Those prisoners are at the forefront of Palestinian conscience and memory.

There issue has been, or should be, a top public and official priority and ahead of any agenda of negotiations held with the Israeli side.
It is a custom that the releasing of conflict prisoners has been always the logical starting point of any peace process, even before implementing peace agreements. There is no logic or humanity in keeping prisoners inside detention cells deprived of freedom while the sides negotiate the details of peace deals. That is the real criterion of the seriousness of the occupying side, and proof of their good intentions toward ending the conflict in a way that respects the occupied side, which suffered the cruelty for so many years.
Modern history recorded many examples of final peace agreements, or even interim ones, preceded by release of prisoners, some of them virtually participated in drafting peace agreements. That happened on the eve of the Evian deal between France and the Algerian Liberation Front in 1961. It was repeated ahead of the Paris negotiations between the parties involved in the Vietnamese war. Many similar examples could be cited.
Yet Israel, as its tradition in dealing with all Palestinian issues, breached these rules through its policy of keeping Palestinian and Arab prisoners as hostages in its jails. This only leads to more complexities and further distances all potentials of ending the conflict and perpetuates the current tense situation.
More important is that keeping the prisoner file open throughout the last decades gives the Palestinians and the global community a negative impression – to the effect that Israel has not been serious with regard to its attitude toward peace.

That impression would be enhanced when we assess the implications of the Israeli refusal to freeze settlement expansion, the demolition of Palestinian houses in East Jerusalem and the West Bank in general and the eviction of Palestinian families from their houses in front of the entire world.
Hundreds of prisoners who were jailed even before the Oslo Accords and its executive supplements have been imprisoned ever since. They should had been released a long time ago, from legal and human perspectives, as an Israeli good-will gesture, before the signing of the accords in Washington, or their supplement in Cairo by the then Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin.
Israel, nevertheless, went on its crackdown of Palestinian activists, arresting thousands of them. It even detained parliamentarians and ministers to use them as bargaining chips for releasing its captured soldier, Gilda Shalit, acts that go in contradiction of international laws and the principles of modern state-behavior required from every civilized government.

Palestinians will never change their views about Israel’s negative attitude toward the peace process unless it closes the prisoner file.

That might put an end to the ordeal of their families and community. If the Israeli society suffers once as a result of Shalit’s imprisonment, Palestinians are suffering this pain more than eleven thousand times- the number of their prisoners in Israeli jails.

Releasing prisoners should be an undivided package. The humanity on which Israeli authorities shed crocodile tears and introduce in every statement issued after meetings with Palestinian and international figure, must include the suffering of that sector of the Palestinian people, nearly forgotten in the Israeli prisons for so many years. Or is it that there are two levels of humanity- one applies to Israel, and the lower one is restricted for the Palestinians in that weird world of ours?