198 Palestinians Out of 11000

Sunday, August 31, 2008

Daryoush Bavar

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Israel on August 25th released 198 Palestinian prisoners out of some 11000 it holds in its jails. Among them were women and children.

Their release came just hours ahead of a Mideast visit by US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice. It was her seventh visit to the region since the November 2007 launch of the Annapolis conference, which sought to establish peace between Israel and the Palestinian Authority. Since then, all of the attempts by Rice to broker a deal between the two have been to no avail.

A large number of the released prisoners were members of the Fatah movement led by Palestinian Authority Chief Mahmoud Abbas. The Palestinian Ministry of Detainees reported that nearly half of them would have finished their prison terms in 2009.

Their release also coincided with an ongoing Israeli detention and abduction campaign. Palestinian sources have revealed that Israeli soldiers kidnapped over 300 Palestinians in the West Bank in July 2008. Nearly the same number of Palestinians have reportedly been kidnapped since the beginning of August.

According to the Palestine Monitor, Israel has detained more than 700,000 Palestinians since 1967. Since the Annapolis conference of November 2007, over 2,400 Palestinians have been arrested - three times more than the number released in the same period.

Israel currently holds several Palestinian leaders and politicians in jail. The prisoners include dozens of Hamas members from the Palestinian Legislative Council as well as ministers and mayors from various towns and cities in the West Bank. They have been jailed without being charged.

The Director of the Palestinian Center for Human Rights, Raji Sourani, says the Israeli prisoner release will not have an impact on the problem. "These 200, it takes Israel one week to ten days to re-arrest them," Sourani says.

The living conditions and treatment of Palestinian prisoners held in Israeli prisons are extremely harsh. According to human rights groups, the maltreatment of prisoners includes beating, leaving prisoners in uncomfortable postures, interrogation sessions which last 24 or 48 hours, depriving prisoners of sleep, depriving them of human dignity and making threats against the lives and property of their relatives.

In June 2008, a report by the Public Committee Against Torture in Israel revealed that there is a widespread phenomenon of violence against Palestinian detainees brought forth by Israeli soldiers.

The report, titled No Defense: Soldier Violence against Palestinian Detainees, says abuse occurs at various junctions, immediately following the arrest, in the vehicle transporting the detainees, and during the time they are held in Israeli military camps prior to their transfer to interrogation and detention facilities. At other times, abuse manifests itself in a routine of beating, degradation and additional abuse. The report added that even Palestinian minors are victims of torture and abuse.

Meanwhile, reports by Israeli human right groups, B'Tselem and the HaMoked Center for the Defense of the Individual in May 2007 accused the Israeli Security Agency of routinely abusing Palestinian detainees, saying that in some cases the ill-treatment amounted to torture. The human rights groups questioned 73 Palestinians from the occupied West Bank who were detained by Israeli forces between July 2005 and January 2006.

The issue of prisoners is an emotional one for all Palestinians. Almost all Palestinian families have at least one member that has been arrested or imprisoned by the Israeli army. Therefore, the release of prisoners, even a small number of them, brings jubilation to the streets.

Calling its decision to free 198 Palestinian prisoners a 'goodwill gesture', Israel seeks political gains from its decisions to release Palestinian prisoners; it uses the opportunity as a public relations stunt to say that it is taking steps toward peace and that it is committed to peace. The reality is that Israel holds Palestinian prisoners in inexhaustible numbers. It always has enough Palestinians to release, as its nonstop arrest campaign across the occupied lands to refill its jails continue at a very fast pace. Israel also intends to strengthen Abbas against Hamas.

On the other hand, Palestinian Authority Chief Abbas is trying to use the release to win public support for the faltering peace talks with Israel. He is trying to convince the Palestinian public that his negotiations with Israel have not been all futile.

Such moves are highly unlikely to boost the credibility of the Palestinian Authority as long as no progress is made on resolving the core issues of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, including the issue of the final borders, the status of Jerusalem (al-Quds) and the right of return of some 6 million Palestinian refugees.

A new report released on August 25th reveals that the construction of Jewish settlements in the West Bank has nearly doubled over 2007, despite Israel's pledge to freeze such activities. The report, which reflects Israel's true intentions, also indicates that the number of tenders for construction in the settlements has increased by 550 percent, from 65 units in the first five months last year to 417 in the same period this year. The number of tenders in east al-Quds has increased by a factor of 38, with 1,761 housing units this year compared to the 46 units in 2007.


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