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Group: Israel must release all Palestinian prisoners

By Charlie Hoyle

October 29, 2013

BETHLEHEM (Ma'an) -- Israel must release all Palestinian prisoners as a precondition for peace talks with the Palestinian Authority, Addameer prisoner rights group said Tuesday, as 26 detainees prepared to leave Israeli prison custody.

The prisoners were due to be released late Tuesday as part of a four-stage deal to coincide with a return to peace negotiations in July. All 26 were convicted of killing Israelis, with most of the attacks occurring before the 1993 Oslo Accords.

A first group of 26 prisoners were freed on Aug. 13.

Randa Wahbe, an advocacy officer for Addameer prisoner rights group, told Ma'an that there has been no change in Israeli policy toward Palestinian detainment and imprisonment, despite the latest release.

"We know that Israel is saying that this is a goodwill gesture, but on the ground we cannot put confidence in negotiations until we see a true attempt at releasing prisoners."

Over 1,100 Palestinians have been detained since US Secretary of State John Kerry announced a return to peace talks in July, including the arrest of students and members of the Palestinian Legislative Council, Wahbe said.

"If you look at other returns to negotiations which included prisoner releases, such as Northern Ireland or South Africa, the unconditional release of all prisoners happened before the start of negotiations and since 1993 Israel has time and again promised to release prisoners and constantly reneged on their promises."

After a 2011 swap deal which saw over 1,000 Palestinians freed in return for captured Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit, Israel arrested over 477 people between October and December, and Wahbe says that in 2013 there are on average around 400 arrests per month.

Under military order 1651, an Israeli military committee can cancel a prisoner's amnesty based on secret charges and evidence that even the detainee's lawyer is not permitted to see.

Samer Issawi was rearrested under military order 1651 in 2012 after being freed in the Shalit deal and subsequently went on hunger strike to demand his release.

Israelis protest release

In Israel, the move has sparked tensions within Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's coalition, and around 2,000 Israelis rallied outside Ofer prison on Monday chanting "Death to terrorists!" and raising placards reading: "Are we crazy? We're releasing murderers."

Among the demonstrators was Israeli Housing Minister Uri Ariel, a hardliner from the far-right nationalist Jewish Home party, who vowed to ramp up settlement construction in response to the release.

Media reports suggest Israel is planning to announce the construction of 1,500 new housing units in the coming days, up to two thirds of them in annexed East Jerusalem.

The undersecretary of the PA Ministry of Detainee Affairs, Ziad Abu Ein, told Ma'an Tuesday that he welcomed the latest release of 26 detainees and believes it will give "belief and power to the peace process."

In August, Palestinian Authority Minister of Detainees Issa Qaraqe said Israel's decision to release the prisoners was an important step for promoting peace.

But Shawan Jabarin, the general director of the Palestinian human rights group Al-Haq, told Ma'an the PA had made serious compromises in agreeing to the release of 104 prisoners.

"I think the Israelis have played the game for their own interpretation and own interests. In this round there is no-one from Jerusalem and no-one from inside Israel, the 48 area, which means that Israel has delayed this group until the end," he told Ma'an.

"The price that the Palestinians pay for this, the promise to the Americans that they will not join any international institutions like the ICC, it's a high price. They compromised rights with rights, it is the right of prisoners to be freed and the right of Palestinians to join the ICC."

There are 5,007 Palestinian prisoners in Israeli prisons, including 137 administrative detainees, 12 women and 180 children, according to Addameer.

AFP contributed to this report.


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