Bring Back Our Boys

Bring Back Our Boys.

By Mohammad al-Herbawi

On their 50th day of the longest mass hunger strike in Palestinian history, Palestinian prisoners in Israeli jails received news of the three Israeli soldiers who went missing in the occupied West Bank with hopes that they were captured by the Palestinian resistance, and held for a future prisoners’ swap deal. The news has breathed life into their emaciated bodies that atrophy day by day throughout their open-ended hunger strike.

In light of the unjustified rush of several official bodies and International organizations to condemn the capture of the Israeli soldiers, it is unjust and illogical to take that action out of its context. In fact, it should be examined in the context of its backgrounds and causes that led up to it.

Palestinian Prisoners at a Glance

Israel has used the detention of Palestinians as a tool of deterrence to counter any form of resistance levelled against its unlawful occupation of the land of Palestine. Over 800,000 Palestinians have been detained by Israel since 1967. This staggering number amounts to around 20% of the Palestinian population, and approximately 40% of the Palestinian male population. Put simply, there is no single Palestinian family that is not touched or directly affected by the prisoners’ cause and dilemma.

According to Al-Dameer Institution, there are currently over 5,200 Palestinians in Israeli jails, including 190 held under administrative detention with neither charge nor trial, on the basis of “secret files” that cannot even be revealed to detainees’ lawyers. Among the Palestinian prisoners, there are over 200 children, 17 women, 100 elderly, 1,400 ill and 20 Palestinian Members of Parliament (PLC) as well as its Speaker and several former Palestinian ministers and officials.

Prisoners in Israeli jails face every conceivable form of humiliation and ill-treatment including strip searches, prolonged solitary confinement, aggravated abuse and vindictive medical negligence. Over 150 Palestinians died in Israeli jails since 1967, three of them were tortured to death in the past year alone.

Palestinian administrative detainees decided to carry out several protest measures to force Israel to end its arbitrary administrative detention, beginning with the boycott of Israeli military courts, followed by boycotting prisons’ clinics, then carrying out a partial mass hunger strike. Their protests intensified – due to Israeli neglect to their demands – culminating in an open-ended mass hunger strike that began on April 24th and is still ongoing.

Failure of Peace Process

In July 2013, the Palestinian Authority (PA) accepted the resumption of negotiations with Israel, dropping its major precondition of freezing Israeli settlement construction, and accepting to replace this requisite condition with the release of 104 Palestinian prisoners who had been detained before the Oslo Agreement, and who were supposed to be released upon the signing of the agreement in 1993. However, with Israeli stubbornness and Palestinian official negligence of their cause, Israel kept them in its jails for 20 more years, as revealed by Israeli president Shimon Peres in his personal diary.

Israel accepted to release the 104 prisoners in four stages within nine months of negotiations to win more time to further its expansion agenda beneath the umbrella of the “Peace Process.” However, the Israeli promise was reneged upon, where only three batches of the prisoners were released, with the fourth one, which was kept in limbo, consisting of prisoners serving the highest sentences as well as prisoners from Jerusalem and the 1948 occupied lands. The release was halted by Israel to pressure the PA into giving more concessions in the peace process.

Finding an Alternative

While Israel continues its arbitrary detention of Palestinians, placing them in inhuman conditions, and refusing to release them even through the political peace process, the Palestinians have been forced to search for alternatives to free their fellow brothers from Israeli jails.

Capturing Israeli soldiers and exchanging them with Palestinian prisoners proved to be the most effective form of resistance to pressure Israel into releasing them. Throughout the past few decades, Palestinian resistance succeeded in securing the release of thousands of Palestinian prisoners through swap deals. The most famous deals are the following:

– In 1983, Israel released over 4,800 Palestinian and Arab prisoners in return for the release of 8 Israeli soldiers who were captured by Fatah and the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine-The General Command.
– In 1985, Israel released 1,150 Palestinian and Arab prisoners in return for the release of 3 Israeli soldiers who were captured by the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine-The General Command.
– In 2011, Israel released 1,027 Palestinian prisoners including 500 prisoners with life sentences in return for the release of the Israeli soldier “Gilad Shalit” who was captured by Hamas and held for 5 years in the Gaza strip.

On the other hand, throughout 25 years of peace process negotiations, Israel has released few hundred Palestinian prisoners as a goodwill gesture to the PA, arguably to deceive the international public opinion, whereby most of the released prisoners were nearing the completion of their prison sentences, which literally amounted to a few months or days in most cases.

In this regard, it is clearly seen that Israel has never made any concession willingly; furthermore, it has been proven time and time again throughout the past decades that Israel concedes under the pressure of resistance alone.

A Double Standard

Since the capture of the three Israeli soldiers, several pro-Israel organizations have launched a media campaign with the hashtag “#BringBackOurBoys,” claiming that Palestinian terrorists have “kidnapped” Israeli teenagers or boys.

It is a clear act of double standards when many international media outlets and organizations adopt the Israeli narrative and refer to the missing Israelis as “teenagers,” blinding their eyes to hundreds of Palestinian children who are being kidnapped and held in Israeli jails, dozens of them are below 16 years old. According to the Palestinian Prisoners’ Ministry, over 10,000 Palestinian children were detained since the outbreak of the Second Palestinian Intifada in the year 2000.

On the other hand, the missing Israelis are soldiers in the first place, and serving in 1967 lands which are occupied lands according to UN resolutions; the question, therefore, arises as to what were these “boys” doing in an occupied territory?

Resistance in all its forms, diplomatic, popular or armed, is a legitimate right for all peoples suffering from occupation until they restore their land, rights and freedom. Simply put therefore, it is Israel that should bring back our boys.

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