Israel has published a list of 477 Palestinian prisoners who are to be released in exchange for an Israeli soldier, Staff Sgt. Gilad Schalit. Schalit was seized in June of 2005 by a joint force of Palestinian militants and is believed to have held in Gaza since, held by Hamas, the Palestinian faction which rules the Gaza Strip.
Israel’s justice ministry released the the list of Palestinian prisoners, 450 men and 27 women, on Sunday.The 477 prisoners are to be set free on Tuesday; 550 more are to be released after Schalit returns home. He will be transferred from Hamas’ custody in Egypt before being returned to Israel.
Late on Sunday, the Israeli prison authority began transferring the prisoners to two prisons in southern Israel. On Tuesday, they will be transported to military checkpoints between the Israeli and Palestinian territories after which they will be brought to Egypt. Most of the Palestinian prisoners will be returned to their homes in the Gaza strip or the occupied West Bank; some will be sent “aboard.” Many were convicted of plotting suicide bombings inside restaurants and buses or shooting attacks that resulted in the deaths of many Israelis:
- Ahlam Tamimi, a reporter for a local television station before joining Hamas. She was given 16 life sentences for helping choose sites for suicide attacks and was accused of taking bombers to some places including a Jerusalem pizzeria in 2001, where 15 people were killed.
- Mohammed al-Sharatha, a leader of the Hamas special elite fighting unit “101″ which kidnapped two Israeli soldiers in 1989. Both were killed and Al-Sharatha was arrested in 1989 and sentenced to three life terms and a separate 30-year-term.
- Nasser Iteima, who was behind the bombing of a Netanya hotel in 2002 in which 30 people died and 140 were wounded.
- Walid Anjes, who was sentenced for planning a bombing at the Moment cafe in Jerusalem in which 11 people died and dozens were maimed in 2002
Many in Gaza “expressed surprise at the extent to which Hamas had conceded to Israel,” noting that only one member of the “top brass,” Yihia al-Sinwar, is on the list. Three key figures who were not on the list are:
- Marwan Barghouti – militant leader serving multiple life sentences for attacks on Israelis
- Abdullah Barghouti – Hamas bomb maker also serving multiple life sentences
- Ahmed Saadat – jailed for role in assassination of Israeli Tourism Minister Rehavam Ze’evi in 2001
More than 6,000 Palestinians are currently imprisoned in Israel now. Writes Rachel Shabi in Al-Jazeera:
With 20 per cent of the population jailed at some point, prison is a feature of Palestinian life under occupation. From the routine night raids that drag family members away, to the opaque military trials, the detention of children (7,000 since the year 2000) and the torture reported by Amnesty to take place in Israeli prisons, it all adds up to a system of control and debilitation.
Noting that there have been some “absurd comments” about the exchange of “one Israeli, whose name the world knows, for 1027 faceless Palestinians,” Shabi says
…it is clearly more approachable a task to keep one soldier’s name in people’s hearts and in the headlines, than it is with countless thousands of Palestinian men. And the undertaking is smoothed by a media skew on the subject: taking part in a panel discussion on reporting the conflict last year, I heard a European journalist explain that Shalit was an easier pitch because he seemed innocent and blameless, while Palestinian prisoners didn’t generate the same assumptions. Meanwhile, the cold exchange rate of a thousand prisoners to one Israeli obviously doesn’t mean that Palestinians morally agree with this equation; it just points to the brutal asymmetry of forces and capacity in this struggle.
The deal to release Schalit was announced just last Tuesday, after years of on and off negotiations. Israeli President Shimon Peres has reportedly already received the files for hundreds of prisoners, whose pardons he is expected to sign. Israelis who object to any of the prisoners being released have 48 hours to petition Israel’s highest court to intervene, but it is unlikely that the deal will be blocked as it has garnered widespread public support.
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Photo by M. Hassona