Through force alone
With the second phase of the prisoner swap deal concluded, many Palestinians believe it is only by force that they can exact concessions from Israel, writes Saleh Al-Naami
Fatemah Al-Jarbouni, 68, is trying to be by herself as she weeps sometimes in silence and sometimes wails out loud. She has lost hope that her daughter, Lina, serving a 17-year sentence, will be released from an Israeli jail as part of the second and final phase of the deal to exchange prisoners between Hamas and Israel that took place on Sunday evening.
At the family home in the town of Araba in Al-Jaleel region in northern Palestine, family members decided not to turn on the television as Arab and Israeli satellite channels continuously report on the deal, broadcasting footage of released male and female prisoners with their families. Lina's family don't want to make it any more painful for the mother, whose daughter is one of two female prisoners who were not released because Hamas negotiators did not know that they were imprisoned, and therefore did not put their names on the list in the first phase.
Now Lina will remain in prison until 2019, when she finishes her sentence.
Hamas was embarrassed to find out that its negotiating team did not have complete information on the number and identities of female Palestinian prisoners in occupation prisons, which left the two women out of the deal. The two are also Israeli nationals and Tel Aviv usually refuses to include Palestinian Israeli nationals in prisoner exchange deals.
Hamas spokesmen have tried to explain what happened, but their justifications do not convince the families of either woman behind bars. A source in Hamas told Al-Ahram Weekly that a deal was struck between Egypt, Israel and Hamas to release the women in a special agreement later.
Tel Aviv alone holds the decision on which prisoners to release in the second phase of the prisoner exchange, and indeed the second phase of prisoner releases highlighted Israel's criteria for releasing prisoners. Essentially, that they are not members of Hamas or Islamic Jihad; none of them live in Jerusalem or are Israeli citizens; they are not convicted of killing or injuring settlers or occupation forces; and they only had a relatively short time remaining on their sentences.
The deputy chief of Hamas's politburo, Moussa Abu Marzouq, admitted that it was up to Israel to decide on who to release, but added that the prisoner exchange deal "does not include any prisoner whose sentence ends before 2013." Abu Marzouq added: "Israel decided on all the names of prisoners, but Hamas stipulated that none of them should be prisoners whose sentences ends before 2013." He stated that Israel did not include the two female prisoners, who are also Israeli nationals, although the deal also included prisoners who are children and sick.
A source in Hamas said that all 550 prisoners who were released were convicted of security crimes not felonies, and will return to their homes and not be exiled, adding that 500 prisoners are from the West Bank, 43 from the Gaza Strip, two from Jerusalem and two Jordanians. The source explained that the second phase of the prisoner exchange was the result of negotiations during three rounds of talks between Egyptian and Israeli officials. The source continued that negotiations also included the need to end punitive measures in Israeli prisons against Palestinian prisoners that began after Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit was captured. According to this source, Israel is expected to stop using solitary confinement and banning studying and visits for prisoners.
"We also asked for freedom of movement for prisoners released in phase one who were banned from travelling overseas, whether for medical or personal reasons," the source noted. He added that Israel was responsive to many of these Egyptian requests, stating that the second phase included 20 members of the Democratic Front for the Liberation of Palestine, 50 from the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP), 300 from Fatah, and the rest independents not affiliated to any group.
None of those released in the second phase belonged to Hamas or Islamic Jihad, which disheartened the families of Hamas members. Samer Abu Taher is angry that his brother Khaled, who has five years left in prison, was not released. "Khaled is a member of Hamas and was put in prison as punishment for his activism in the group's military wing," Abu Taher explained to the Weekly. "That's why we expected Hamas would exclusively be concerned with releasing its members."
Contrary to the disappointment of Abu Taher, who lives in Al-Qarara village in the south of the Gaza Strip, there are joyful celebrations at the Eissa family home a few hundred metres away. Mohamed, the family's eldest son who is a member of Fatah, was released Sunday evening as part of the deal.
Jumaa Ibrahim Abu Jowayfel, who was released in the second round of the deal after serving four years of an eight-year term in Israeli jails, declared: "Today, my joy is priceless. I cannot believe I am out of prison although I only spent a short time behind bars compared to a large number of prisoners, especially those who are still in prison." An exhausted Abu Jowayfel, who is a member of Fatah, said that by closing this deal and releasing 1,027 prisoners from Israeli jails, Hamas has proven its worthiness and effectiveness more than others. It also proves that prisoners will not be released without more soldiers being captured, he said.
"I am jubilant but my joy is incomplete because I left nearly 5,000 prisoners behind," said Moussa Abu Muammar after spending five years in prison. "I shared with them the pain and suffering of prison, as well as being away from our families and homes." Abu Moussa, a member of the PFLP, said that the exchange deal "has honoured all Palestinians without exception", and proved that "the language of force is the only effective way to deal with the Israeli occupation. A clear example of this is that [Tel Aviv] agreed to all the conditions of the Palestinian resistance and these prisoners were released."
The Ezzeddin Al-Qassam Brigades, the military wing of Hamas, said that the Israelis kept their side of the bargain by implementing the prisoner exchange deal during the first and second phase, on schedule and as per agreement, "which is a step worthy of note and an achievement for both the resistance and Egyptian mediation." At a news conference in Gaza on the eve of implementing the second phase of the deal, Abu Obeida, spokesman for Al-Qassam Brigades, said: "The adherence by the occupation to the deal is more proof that the occupation is fearful of the resistance, and is very leery of the consequences of breaching an agreement with it, although [Israel] often abrogates all its commitments in political agreements in front of the whole world since none of these agreements rely on the most effective pressure tool, namely resistance."
Abu Obeida added that some "violations" were reported in Israel's execution of the deal, especially in applying some criteria, and these violations are being revised with Egyptian mediators "to achieve the best outcome". He described the release of any Palestinian prisoner as "a victory for our people, families and resistance, irrespective of their political affiliation. We are religiously, morally and patriotically obligated to all prisoners in occupation prisons, irrespective of their factions."
Abu Obeida concluded: "As [members of the] Palestinian resistance, our ambition was, is and always will be to empty the prisons of the enemy of all our imprisoned heroes. Our proud and historic victory in this deal will not distract us from our sacred duty of liberating the free resistance activists from jail." He added that "the issue of prisoners is a priority for the Palestinian resistance, and more will follow after this immense military, security and political effort by the men of the resistance. It will be a weapon and ammunition for the courageous resistance in its future battles against the enemy, especially on the issue of prisoners."
In short, the conclusion by the majority of Palestinians is that Israel only understands the language of force, and wasting time in seeking political settlements while the balance of power remains in Israel's favour is futile