AWWAD: No beauty in prisoner swap

This week marked the beginning of a long-awaited prisoner exchange that will free 1,027 Palestinian political prisoners and one Israeli soldier. While many in the United States, including Yishai Schwartz ’13 (“A beautiful absurdity,” Oct. 17), have celebrated the release of the soldier, the freed Palestinian prisoners have been neglected. But the release of over 1,000 Palestinian prisoners has been celebrated in Palestinian communities around the world. To them, the imprisonment of Palestinians is one facet of Israel’s 44-year military occupation.

The world knows that Gilad Shalit was a young man when he was captured, but who were the Palestinian prisoners? The Israeli and American presses have romanticized Shalit, despite the fact that his capture was unremarkable: He was wearing a military uniform and carrying a weapon in a conflict zone. At the same time, the press has universally characterized Palestinian prisoners — minors among them — as criminals or terrorists, whether they were civilians or combatants.

Many of the Palestinians imprisoned by Israel were unarmed civilians. In fact, hundreds of Palestinian children have been arrested for throwing stones at armored vehicles in protest of the occupation. According to B’Tselem, a leading Israeli human rights organization, “at least 835 Palestinian minors were arrested and tried in military courts in the West Bank on charges of stone throwing” between 2005 and 2010.

It is true that some of the Palestinian prisoners are suspected of involvement in armed activities, but it is also true that Israel has not granted them their right to a fair trial in accordance with international conventions. According to B’Tselem, there were approximately 5,200 Palestinians in Israeli prisons at the end of August 2011. Many of them are held under “administrative detention,” a euphemism for imprisonment by military officials without trial. Further, according to Amnesty International, Palestinian detainees are “routinely interrogated without a lawyer and, although they are civilians, are tried before military not ordinary courts.”

While American and Israeli officials routinely voiced concern about Shalit’s treatment, little concern was paid to the documented mistreatment of thousands of Palestinian prisoners by Israeli forces. Amnesty International reports “consistent allegations of torture and other ill-treatment, including of children” and Israeli courts’ acceptance of “confessions allegedly obtained under duress … as evidence .”

These abominable conditions have driven Palestinian prisoners to numerous hunger strikes, including a three week strike that ended only recently. Palestinian prisoners continue to demand an end to solitary confinement, the ban on books and college education in prisons, inhumane treatment and torture, dismal sanitary conditions, the persistent denial of family visits and inadequate medical treatment for ill prisoners.

In this context, the fact that many in the United States value the freedom of one Israeli soldier more than the freedom of 1,027 Palestinians continues a long tradition of disparity and injustice. Twenty-six of the Palestinian prisoners released this week have been incarcerated since before the birth of Gilad Shalit. As observed by Toufic Haddad, a contributor to the online magazine Jadaliyya, 10 other Palestinian prisoners to be released in the swap — Sami Yunis, Fuad al-Razem, Uthman Musalah, Hasan Salama, Akram Mansour, Fakhri Barghouti, Ibrahim Jaber, Muhammad Abu Hud’a, Nael Barghouti, and Salim Kiyal — spent more time in Israeli prisons than Nelson Mandela spent on Robben Island, yet none of them is even the subject of a Wikipedia entry.

“In contrast,” Haddad notes, “Gilad Shalit, who has spent five years in captivity, is a household name in many western countries, holds honorary citizenship in three countries, and has Wikipedia pages translated into 23 languages.”

The 1,027 Palestinians freed by this swap will probably remain faceless and nameless to many, despite the fact that they have all been incarcerated in the context of Israel’s illegal occupation of the Golan Heights, the Gaza Strip and the West Bank, including East Jerusalem. Yet I cannot help but think of them as they see their loved ones for the first time in many years.

I think of the ones Israel will immediately exile outside of Palestine or send to Gaza — an open-air prison — without any guarantees that they will not be assassinated. I think of when — or if — they will get to see their families, and of all those who have been left in Israeli prisons after the swap, and of their loved ones. Most of all, I think of the blatant bias and dehumanization exhibited by those who believe that Shalit’s freedom was worth more than the freedom of those 1,027 Palestinians and that of the thousands more that remain in Israel’s prisons.


  • Yaman

    Exactly! It is understandable that Israelis would be more concerned with Shalit’s release (although the inability of many to see the Palestinians as humans with families and lives outside of prison is part of the overall problem), but it is nothing short of racialized bias for American and European press and politicians to indulge in the same dehumanization of Palestinians.

  • JE14

    1027 people cannot have a face, its a crowd. It’s like when Steve Jobs died, people talked about it but didn’t talk about the thousands of other people who died that day. Also, maybe not all of them are terrorists, but a good portion of them are. Hamas wouldn’t ask for the release of a bunch of civilians if they can get some of their cronies out.

  • IsraeliGradStudent

    Just wanted to say thank you for using this important event to highlight the situation of the 5200+ Palestinian prisoners. Now that Palestinians hold exactly 0 Israeli prisoners, I sincerely hope everyone remembers all the Palestinians, including 172 children and dozens of leaders of the West Bank’s unarmed demonstrations, who are still suffering the most egregious restrictions on their liberty.

  • jrk17


  • mj_y13

    You bring up an important point in this article, but many of your statements are misleading.
    Shalit was not in a conflict zone upon his capture – he was in Israel.
    Abed Alaziz Salaha and Ahlam Tamimi are not just two random Palestinian prisoners. They have aided in the murder or actually murdered innocent civilians. They are terrorists. I hope that no one would be able to actually celebrate their release.
    Speaking of humanization – Israel agreed to this ridiculous exchange solely based on its humanity, while Hamas calls for more soldier captures and refuses to denounce terrorism, intent on killing more innocent civilians.
    Yes, there are many Palestinians in Israeli prisons. There are many Israelis in Israeli prisons. They are criminals, and the release of criminals should not be celebrated.

  • anotherIsraelGrad

    mj_y13 , I agree we shouldn’t be celebrating the release of murderers of innocent civilians, but I think we should also ask how come murdering innocent Israelis is a criminal act for which you go to jail, but murdering innocent Palestinians is considered a normal military act for which there is no reason to punish or imprison anyone. For instance, Ariel Sharon killed many many civilians throughout his career, including giving specific written orders to murder (e.g. Qibbiya in 1953), and got elected to be Prime Minister. Many hundreds of civilians died in the attack on Gaza in 2009, but only one soldier was punished – for stealing a credit card. It can’t be a military act when Israelis do it and a criminal act when Palestinians do it. (and please don’t tell me that when the army dropped phosphorus bombs on schoolchildren no one expected them to die).

    In addition, there are many thousands of Palestinians currently in jail who haven’t killed anyone – political activists, people who got framed by enemies, children – it’s very hard to know since this is a military judicial system that doesn’t follow any fair and transparent procedures. Non-violent resistance to the occupation also lands you in jail (e.g. Bil’in’s Abdullah abu-Rahme). It would be more effective if people worked to support such non-violent resistance instead of denouncing Hamas and praising Israel’s humanity.

  • DanK


    You really overestimate the Israeli judicial process when it comes to Palestinians. Just as an example, were you aware that Israel can and does hold Palestinians without charge for up to 90 days (three months!) and that this is often extended another ninety days (within the confines of the ‘democratic’ Israeli legal system? Or that Israel is an occupying power that systematically targets Palestinian lawyers who are not registered with the Israeli bar and closes down human rights NGOs and arrests their employees without charge? Or that several Palestinian politicians have been imprisoned for purely political reasons?

    Take off the blinders and do some research. Israel’s legal system is not quite as just as you may have been led to believe.

  • Corey1

    Great job, Hana. We should use this event as a opportunity to investigate and publicize how Israel’s judicial system as it regards Palestinians is fundamentally biased to the extent that the pursuit of justice is an impossibility. For example. criminal complaints by Palestinian victims –there are more than a thousand still ostensibly being considered from Operation Cast Lead in 2008/2009–are handled by the Israeli military justice system. As proof of the failure of the system to investigate itself, consider no senior military official has been charged criminally in the history of the occupation.

    Ultimately, the crimes committed by the Palestinian prisoners being freed must be considered in the context of the occupation. Being tried and convicted as a criminal in a court of an illegal occupying power is as farcical as the idea that Israel agreed to this deal out of “humanity.”

  • Arafat

    These comments remind me of what passes for reasonableness on the floor of the UN, and as parodied in the following short comedy routine…

  • 1980

    Under Awwad’s logic, it would have been less demeaning to the Palestinians if only one or two prisoners had been released, instead of over 1000.

    Also, when people talk about Israel as an “occupying power”, they are not only talking about Gaza or the West Bank. They are talking about the legitimacy of Israel’s establishment as a country in 1948. The Palestinians at that time could have become partners in a new country. Instead, their Arab neighbors Egypt and Syria decided to declare war.

  • DanK

    Quite mistaken 1980. The legitimacy of Israel has nothing to do with this discussion. Not sure why you’re trying to direct the discussion in that direction. The prisoners discussed are those from Gaza, the West Bank, and East Jerusalem: The 1967 agreed-upon Palestinian territories that Israel continues to expand into and occupy.

    Not to mention that your comments about Awwad’s point are in no way accurate. Her point was that in the Israeli and Western press, these prisoners are dehumanized and collectively described as criminals, while we know that a large number of them never committed a criminal act. Can you name any of the innocent Palestinian civilians released by Israel the same way you can name Gilad Shait or those two/three Palestinian terrorists whose names serve as the Likudnik talking points?

  • ckonscider

    Thanks for this article — a great appeal to common humanity and human rights. Hopefully some day a Palestinian life will be seen everywhere as just as precious as an Israeli. Until then, keep writing, thinking, speaking out, and speaking up for the inhumanity of the Israeli occupation. Well done.

  • DT

    If you think these people should get coverage or wikipedia pages, you are an IDIOT. I’m sorry.

    Here is the kind of person you are praising:,7340,L-4136916,00.html

    You should be ashamed of yourself Miss.
    Let me remind you Israel is a democracy, in fact the only one in the middle east. In Israel women are actual people and gays have rights. We don’t put people in jail for nothing, despite what u mint so firmly believe. And let me tell you if these people where caught with this in arab countries or with their own people they would be treated in ways that are nothing like they are in Israel. If you think Amnesty International is a reliable source too, do some research before you speak.

    Do you know how seriously israel takes this? do u that we severely punish any of our soldiers who dares disrespect or treat badly an innocent palestinian? u go to jail for that in Israel . Israel puts its own soldiers in jail if they abuse or humiliate innocent palestinian people.

    I can assure you, these people were in jail for a reason, whether its high profile terrorism or lower criminal actions.

    If you think we should give them some kind of recognition, i repeat you are an idiot. Lets see it happen to people you love. These victims where not going to war. Some of them, including the one killed by this ‘woman’ :

    Yeah, she killed a woman sitting in a coffee shop in jersualem.

  • DT

    oh and You are from Ramallah too, says it all about what u stand for, people should read this with GREAT precautions

  • Ivory_Tower

    UNDERSTATEMENT of the year:

    > “It is true that some of the Palestinian prisoners are suspected of involvement in armed activities…”

    NO, it’s true that many of the prisoners WERE involved in terrorism against Israel, including some of the worst terrorist attacks in Israel’s history. This kind of obfuscation by Awwad makes clear the kind of propaganda she’s spouting. Here’s just a sample of some of the murderers that were or are being released:

    I’d be happy to create Wikipedia pages for these individuals so the world can know the kind of “heroes” that Palestinian society celebrates. I wonder if Awwad celebrates these murderers as well…

  • Undergrad13
  • mj_y13

    It seems like you lament the fact that prisoners such as Sami Yunis, Uthman Musalah, Hasan Salama, Akram Mansour and Ibrahim Jaber have spent a long time in prison. They are all MURDERERS. How can you or anyone else actually celebrate their release (and maintain a conscience)? Thanks to Julie Shain for not letting these released terrorists remain nameless:
    Awwad, it would be nice to hear you recognize their horrible crimes and show an understanding for the reasons why they were in jail in the first place.

  • MarjorieR

    Isn’t it amazing how healthy those poor mistreated Palestinian prisoners looked in comparison with Gilad Shalit, who was pale, close to fainting, and skin and bones?

  • yalemoderate

    DT: your comment is not only insulting and narrow minded, but in such poor taste that I would sooner take your warning with a LARGE grain of salt.