Fourteen Palestinians released in Gilad Shalit deal back in Israeli jails
Changes in military law allow IDF and Shin Bet to rearrest any released prisoner until the end of his or her original sentence, on the slightest pretext, and often relying on secret evidence.
Four hunger-striking Palestinian prisoners have managed to upset the Palestinian public more than any other element of friction created under Israeli domination.
Two of the strikers, Tarek Qa’adan and Ja’afar Ezzedine, are administrative detainees. The other two, Ayman Sharawna and Samer Issawi, were released in the Gilad Shalit deal and subsequently rearrested.
Issawi has been subsisting on water, salts and food supplements now for more than 200 days, while Sharawna has been fasting (with short breaks) for 140 days.
Concern for their fate has shunted aside discussion of the cardinal issue of the land mines created by the deal to release prisoners, which were concealed during the celebrations over their return.
Since the deal that liberated Shalit was signed in October 2011, the Israel Defense Forces and the Shin Bet security service have rearrested 14 of the prisoners released in the exchange. At the time five of them had been sentenced to between 24 and 38 years in prison. Now, they are slated to complete the remainder of their sentences − from 16 to 28 years.
The five are Issawi (who contravened the conditions of his release and left Jerusalem for the nearby neighborhood of A-Ram); Sharawna; Ibrahim Abu Hijleh; Iyad Abu-Fanun; and Ayman Abu Daud. Others, including a minor and a woman, had already been sentenced to short prison terms, and they are less the focus of public interest.
Various Israeli media reports say the rearrested prisoners supposedly returned to terrorist activity. However, the range of Israeli definitions for “terror” includes activities that the Palestinians consider simple civil acts (such as receiving a living allowance, like Abu Daud does) or normal political activities (membership in political institutions of the Palestinian Liberation Organization or participation in a meeting or a rally).
Abu Hijleh, for example − who had been sentenced to 24 years in prison for holding positions in the military wing of the Democratic Front for the Liberation of Palestine during the second intifada − enjoyed only eight months of freedom.
In June 2012, when soldiers knocked on the door of the home he shared with his wife in Ramallah, he couldn’t have imagined that he was a wanted man. The culture minister in the cabinet of Palestinian Authority Prime Minister Salam Fayyad is a member of the Democratic Front. That group is part of the PLO, which signed the Oslo Accords with Israel. Abu Hijleh didn’t think that civil-political activity was prohibited.
Beneath the surface, complaints can be heard against the Egyptian intelligence services and Hamas negotiators. They seemingly didn’t take into consideration what could have been expected to happen to the few hundred prisoners who are residents of the West Bank and Jerusalem and who were not deported abroad or to Gaza but returned home.
Hamas in Gaza enjoys the glory of being the liberator, while the PA bears the brunt of the social unrest. The Palestinian prisoners’ club and the PA Ministry of Prisoner Affairs are mainly moving ahead on the diplomatic track with the Egyptians: phone calls to intelligence chiefs, meetings in Cairo and letters to the Egyptian ambassador in Ramallah. They hope diplomatic involvement will help, when the Egyptians have the time to devote to it, anyway.
Attempts to understand from Hamas what the details of the deal were − and to what extent its representatives were aware of its restrictions − have been fruitless. The families of the prisoners released in the exchange realized the hard way that while talks were underway for Shalit’s release in 2009, changes were made in military law regarding the early release of prisoners (security order number 1677).
These amendments, and the interpretation now being given to the order, allow the IDF and the Shin Bet to rearrest any released prisoner until the end of his or her original sentence, on the slightest pretext.
In most cases, the military prosecution relies on secret evidence. Attorney Ahlam Haddad is representing Sharawna and Abu-Fanun. Sharawna was arrested on January 31, 2012, and Abu-Fanun in April 2012. Both were accused of prohibited activities, but the evidence is kept secret and both have vehemently denied the allegations.
Abu-Fanun, who was convicted in 2003 of attempted murder and membership in Islamic Jihad, served nine years of a 29-year sentence. Sharawna served 10 years out of the 38 years to which he was sentenced for involvement in a terror attack in Be’er Sheva as a member of Hamas.
On Wednesday, the High Court of Justice will hear a petition by Sharawna, written by Haddad together with Nery Ramati of Gabi Lasky’s law firm. According to the attorneys, the amended clauses in security order number 1677 “include a number of orders which, when all implemented together, create a critical mass that transforms the entire arrangement into one that clearly goes against fair process.”
In contrast to parole boards in Israel, which consist of experts like social workers, criminologists, educators and psychologists, the military committee consists only of officers deemed fit to serve as judges. These are, the petition states, members of the same system “that ordered the [initial] arrest of the released prisoners and had no part in the decision to release them.”
According to the order, the condition for release is that the prisoner commit no offense where the penalty is three months’ imprisonment or more. So, for example, a traffic violation, participation in a demonstration or illegal presence in Israel will send the prisoner back to jail for 20 or 30 years. And, as opposed to civilian Israeli parole boards, the military committee has no authority to commute the sentence of such a prisoner.
Haddad and Ramati write in the petition that, according to the order, the secret evidence presented can be hearsay presented by a Shin Bet agent. According to the attorneys, this is precisely the situation Sharawna is in.
The IDF Spokesman’s Office told Haaretz that the terms of the pardons under which prisoners had been released in exchange for Shalit specifically included “the condition that they not return to prohibited security activities.” Also, that, by law, the pardon could be revoked “due to conviction of another offense during the period of parole, or through an administrative committee authorized to examine intelligence information with only one side present to attest to the violation of the conditions.”
During the past weeks’ demonstrations in support of the hunger strikers, calls were heard to abduct an Israeli soldier as the only way remaining for the Palestinians to force Israel to treat Palestinian prisoners as POWs (and therefore be eligible for release), rather than as incarcerated criminals.
Those calling for such action are not taking into account the determination of the Israeli government and military to limit the achievements of the Palestinians in the Shalit exchange and thwart future deals.