Lopsided Prisoner Exchange

October 26, 2011 9:48 PM IMEMC News Opinion/Analysis, Prisoners, West Bank 0

The number detained and imprisoned [Palestinians] fluctuates as more are added daily. The number of Palestinians jailed by Israel once topped 12,000 and currently stands at over 5,000.
While over a thousand Palestinian prisoners are exchanged for the return of one captured Israeli soldier, it is “business as usual” as Israeli forces captured more than a dozen Palestinians throughout the West Bank during that same week.

On Friday, October 21, in occupied Bil’in, six Palestinians were arrested; each day, more are added. The number detained and imprisoned fluctuates daily. The number of Palestinians jailed by Israel once topped 12,000 and currently stands at over 5,000.

Following six years in captivity, Gilad Shalit, was thin and pale, but nonetheless appeared in good health. Unlike the treatment Shalit received, Palestinians report different prison experiences.

Iyad Burnat was first arrested at the age of seventeen, during the first intifada. Twenty years have passed. Now, at 37, he is married and has four children. Today he is the head of the Bil’in Popular Committee and the Bil’in Friends of Freedom and Justice movement.

He recalls his first experience in prison. Soldiers, some dressed in civilian clothes, came to his house and grabbed him in the middle of the night, telling his father they only wanted to speak with him for five minutes. At the detention center, he was stripped of his clothes and left outside in the snow attached to a metal post with his hands cuffed above his head. He spent the next 20 days in solitary confinement in a small cell, hands fastened to the ceiling so he was forced to stand. At night, he was taken to a small cell crowded with 36 other prisoners. He remembers a hole in the roof where the cold winter rain and snow fell in. Every ten minutes soldiers banged on the door to keep prisoners awake. During the day, he was questioned, beaten, punched and kicked in attempts to persuade him to sign a confession of throwing stones at soldiers. They kept asking for the names of resistance members and, though he insisted he knew nothing about political affiliations, after 21 days of torture, he said he “cracked” and signed the paper. Two years later, he was released and served an additional year under house arrest.

The same week the prisoner exchange was taking place there were 47 separate Israeli invasions. Israeli militia forces abducted 12 Palestinians including two children. In addition, three Palestinian civilians, including a child, were abducted at checkpoints in the West Bank. And in Bil’in, Citizen Ashraf Abu Rahma was kidnapped while standing peacefully with his flag.” Common charges are for stone throwing (at tanks and soldiers in body shields), organizing demonstrations and for incitement. Many people are held without charges.

In 2005, villagers began non-violent demonstrations protesting the Wall and settlements built on their land. Kidnappings (aka arrests) and detentions of Bil’in residents began in earnest. Protesting, villagers say that the wall is not for security, but is for stealing their land to expand illegal Israeli settlements. Israeli military forces retaliate with violence, house raids and kidnappings.

Abed Khaled, Iyad’s second son, is ten. His childhood memories are those of armed Israeli soldiers who roam his village streets and raid his home at night, smashing things and keeping him and his brothers and sister from sleeping. The children live in constant fear of soldiers breaking in. Sleepless, the boy listens to the nightmare cries of his brothers and sister. Abed Khaled fears for his father’s safety when he is away from home and busy with Committee activities opposing occupation and confiscation of their farmland. Iyad says he seeks peace and a future of justice and freedom for his children.

The non-violent demonstrators persevere. And so do the arrests. Joined by internationals and Israeli sympathizers, increasingly more supporters risk being taken or forced to leave. Some people are detained for a short time; others remain in custody indefinitely, often without charge.

Shalit will return to his family, his home and community; his crime, that of being a soldier. Many returning Palestinian prisoners will not go home but, as part of the agreement, will be exiled to other countries or to Gaza where they have never lived and know no one. Their crimes vary, but underlying all is the “crime” of defending their homeland and resistance to colonial occupation.

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