The Israeli government and the Palestinian movement Hamas today began implementing their agreement to release 1,027 Palestinian prisoners in exchange for one captured Israeli soldier. Meanwhile, PFLP leader Ahmad Saadat has been taken to Al Ramla Prison hospital due to health complications following 20 days of hunger strike.
This news came as the Israeli Prison Service (IPS) promised to end the policy of isolation of Palestinian political prisoners in its jails, following today’s prisoner swap, according to Issa Qaraqi, Minister of Prisoners in the Ramallah-based Palestinian Authority. In response, Palestinian hunger strikers have suspended their actions.
Prisoners exchange deal
Addameer Prisoner Support and Human Rights Association and Al-Haq write in a comment on the prisoners exchange deal:
Only 27 of the total 35 women currently held in Israeli prisons were included in the first list of prisoners to be released, despite agreement by Israel that all female political prisoners would be included in the exchange. Crucially, of the first 477 prisoners to be released, 205 of them will not be reunited with their families as their release has been made contingent on their deportation or transfer, both of which are in violation of international law. Of the West Bank prisoners, including East Jerusalemites, 18 will be transferred to the Gaza Strip for a period of three years while an additional 146 will be forcibly relocated there on a permanent basis. A further 41 prisoners, including one woman, will be deported outside of the oPt, to as-of-yet unknown third countries.
Release into exile is extension of isolation
Sahar Francis, director of Addameer, remarks in the comment that the exile of prisoners to the Gaza Strip or outside the OPT “effectively serves as an extension of their previous isolation from their homeland and families and in many cases can be seen as a second prison sentence”. The organizations note that these terms violate “Article 49 of the Fourth Geneva Convention, which prohibits forcible transfers and deportations of protected persons, a proscription that is part of customary international humanitarian law.”
Moreover, unlawful deportation or transfer also constitutes a grave breach of the Fourth Geneva Convention (GC IV) and qualifies as one of the most serious war crimes, according to Addameer and Al-Haq. They write:
Given the stark asymmetry in power, resulting from the belligerent occupation, between the Palestinian and Israeli parties involved, neither the potential “consent” of the prisoners nor the fact that the deal was negotiated by a Palestinian authority can serve as justification for the deportations as this contravenes the spirit of articles 7, 8 and 47 of the GC IV concerning the inviolability of the protections afforded by the Convention.
Detention of thousands of Palestinian political prisoners continues
Thousands of Palestinian political prisoners will remain in Israeli jails after the prisoners swap. Amnesty International writes in its 18 October press release :
Over 5,200 Palestinians from the West Bank – including East Jerusalem – and the Gaza Strip, which together comprise the OPT, are currently detained in facilities run by the Israel Prison Service. The vast majority are detained inside Israel. (..) The fact that they are detained on Israeli territory makes it difficult, if not impossible for their families to visit them, as the Israeli authorities often refuse to grant them travel permits. Israel suspended family visits for all prisoners from Gaza in June 2007, in a punitive policy that penalizes both the detainees and their families.
Addameer and Al-Haq add in their comment:
These political prisoners—arrested on the basis of Israeli military orders that criminalize any form of opposition to the occupation; tried by Israeli military tribunals that do not conform to international due process standards or held in administrative detention without charge or trial; and imprisoned in harsh and illegal detention conditions that have recently led them to launch an open-ended hunger strike—are entitled to justice.
Before the attention they have received as a result of the exchange deal wanes, it is imperative to demand a fair and permanent resolution to their plight, in the form of unconditional release, in compliance with international humanitarian law.”