Palestinian prisoners are not bargaining chips: Welcome to the released prisoners, struggle until all are free

8720994Samidoun congratulates the Palestinian people and the prisoners’ families on the release of every prisoner who walks out of the doors of the occupation prisons, and today, the release of 26 veteran prisoners. We did not previously address the announcement that prisoners would be released because Israel has shown, time and again, that it regularly reneges on agreements with Palestinians and particularly with prisoners, and manipulates the issue of the prisoners – the over 5000 hostages behind bars – in an attempt to barter the lives and freedom of the prisoners for Palestinian concessions on land and rights.

The 104 prisoners whose release has been announced, allegedly in stages of 26 prisoners at a time, conditioned upon what Israel has labeled “progress” in the negotiations, are pre-Oslo prisoners, arrested prior to the implementation of the Oslo Declaration of Principles and the establishment of the PA on May 4, 1994. These prisoners have been categorized as “abandoned” by the newly established Palestinian Authority from the time of Oslo’s signing in 1993. These prisoners’ release have been promised on multiple occasions, including in the Sharm el-Sheikh negotiations memorandum of 1999, which noted that “The Government of Israel shall release Palestinian and other prisoners who committed their offences prior to September 13, 1993, and were arrested prior to May 4, 1994.”

The years since Oslo in 1993 have been years of unfulfilled promises, for the prisoners as for Palestinians as a whole. Repeatedly, the release of Palestinian hostages has been held out as a “confidence-building” or “goodwill” measure. However, these same time periods have been characterized by mass arrests, nighttime raids, the wide use of administrative detention without charge or trial, and ongoing mass imprisonment. As Addameer notes, “Indeed, over 23,000 Palestinians have been released since 1993 as “goodwill measures” during various negotiations and peace talks. However, in that same period, at least 86,000 Palestinians have been arrested, including children, women, disabled persons and university students.”

Many of those arrested are former prisoners who were released; the re-arrest of freed prisoners has become a given in any discussion of such releases. The Israeli cabinet (as noted by Addameer) included in its agreement to this release that “The State of Israel reserves the right to take any means necessary against any of the released prisoners if they commit any terrorist and hostile activities as well as returning them to serve the remainder of their sentence, as will be decided by the relevant authorities.” Over 12 prisoners from the prisoner exchange in October 2011 currently are threatened with the re-imposition of their sentences. This phrase means that the prisoners are not released but instead paroled, and can be rearrested at any time at the whim of the occupation. It must be noted that Israeli definitions of hostile activities include participation in demonstrations and marches, “incitement” in speeches and writings, and membership or affiliation with Palestinian political parties.

Israel’s conditioning of the release of the 104 prisoners on the grounds of progress in the negotiations is particularly dangerous. It is clear that the Israeli state considers “progress” to be the building of settlements, expropriation of Palestinian land, and concessions of Palestinian inalienable rights, including the right of return. Palestinian prisoners cannot and will not be used as a bargaining chip on the table of negotiations. They have fought with dignity inside the occupation’s prisons for decades, during which time the so-called “peace process” has accrued no benefits to Palestinian prisoners and indeed, has seen the conditions of confinement deteriorating and under continual pressure to undermine the achievements of the prisoners’ movements over the years.

The heroic Palestinian prisoners will not be used as hostages to silence the Palestinian opposition to negotiations or to broker the concession of inalienable Palestinian rights. Those who marched against the negotiations in Ramallah – and were assaulted and attacked by PA police for challenging those negotiations – include former prisoners and the family members of prisoners and the organizers of countless marches and rallies in support of the hunger strikers and the prisoners’ movement.

Since Oslo, the so-called “peace process” has brought neither peace nor justice to Palestinian prisoners or the Palestinian people as a whole. On the contrary, the struggle of Palestinian prisoners, through hunger strikes, political leadership, and continued dignity, strength and political commitment – has always indicated an alternative path of steadfastness in the face of a relentless occupying power.

Welcome to the released prisoners, heroes of the battle for freedom. We will not rest until every one of your sisters and brothers is free, including the brave hunger strikers, the suffering ill prisoners, and the Palestinian children behind bars.

The names of those released today follow (translations via Addameer)

  • Fayez Mutaweh Hammad, arrested November 29, 1985, from Gaza, serving a life sentence
  • Maqdad Ibrahim Ahmad Salah, arrested June 14, 1993, from Nablus, serving a 32-year sentence
  • Sameer Nayef AbdulGhafar Al-Na’neesh, arrested March 5, 1989, from Nablus, serving a life sentence
  • Yousef Abdelhameed Yousef Arsheed, arrested March 5, 1993, from Jenin, serving a life sentence
  • Mustafa Othman Omar Al-Haj, arrested June 20, 1989, from Salfit, serving a life sentence
  • Salameh Abdallah Salameh Misleh, arrested October 9, 1993, from Gaza, serving a life sentence
  • Atiyeh Salam Ala Abu Mousa, arrested March 30, 1994, from Gaza, serving a life sentence
  • Salah Mahmoud Zayid Maqlad, arrested July 14, 1993, from Gaza, serving a life sentence
  • Mohammad Abd-AlMajeed Mohammad Sawalha, arrested December 2, 1990, from Nablus, serving a life sentence
  • ‘Atef ‘Azat Sh’aban Sha’ath, arrested March 15, 1993, from Gaza, serving 29 years
  • Yousef Sa’eed Odeh Abdel-Aal, arrested February 20, 1994, from Gaza, serving 22 years
  • Madhat Fayez Rajeb Burbukh, arrested January 21, 1994, from Gaza, serving a life sentence
  • Ala Ibrahim Salem Al-Ra’i, arrested April 9, 1994, from Gaza, serving a life sentence
  • Mohammad Jaber Yousef Nishbet, arrested September 21, 1990, from Gaza, serving 25 years
  • Sameer Haseen Ghanem Murtaja, arrested October 29, 1993, from Gaza, serving 20 years
  • Husni Faregh Ahmad Sawalha, arrested December 2, 1990 from Nablus, serving a life sentence
  • Faraj Salah Abdallah Al-Ramahi, arrested July 14, 1992, from Gaza, serving a life sentence
  • ‘Alaa Aldeen Ahmad Sa’eed Abu-Sitta, arrested January 3, 1994, from Gaza, serving a life sentence
  • Ayman Taleb Mohammad Abu-Sitta, arrested January 24, 1994, from Gaza, serving a life sentence
  • Ismat Omar Abd-AlHafeed Mansour, arrested October 29, 1993, from Ramallah, serving 22 years
  • Khaled Mohammad Ahmad Askara, arrested May 1, 1991, from Bethlehem, serving a life sentence
  • Nehad Yousef Radwan Jandiyeh, arrested July 14, 1989, from Gaza, serving 25.5 years
  • Mohammad Mahmoud Awad Hamdiyeh, arrested July 14, 1989, from Gaza, serving 25.5 years
  • Jameel Abd-AlWahab Jamal Al-Natsheh, arrested December 15, 1992, from Hebron (al-Khalil) serving 21 years
  • Taher Mohammad Taher Ziyad, arrested February 6, 1993, from Jenin, serving 21 years
  • Burham Abd-Hammad Sbeih, arrested February 18, 2001, from Jenin, serving a life sentence (note: it is not clear why Burham Sbeih is included in this release, described as of pre-Oslo prisoners)

Recommended resource: Addameer factsheet on negotiations and pre-Oslo prisoners

Reference: Palestinian diaspora statement against negotiations