Israel Released Over 1,200 Prisoners in Last Four Years

1,233 Palestinian prisoners released from Israel Prison Service faculties for various political reasons; IPS source says foreign media took more interest in deals than Israeli press

When the Gilad Shalit deal was announced last week, Israel Prison Service head Aharon Franco braced himself for his first major challenge in the job. His officers, by contrast, downplayed the operation. That might be because, since July 2007, 1,233 Palestinian prisoners have been released from IPS faculties for various political reasons.

The IPS has a procedure called "Change of Direction," the code name for transferring prisoners to Gaza, the West Bank, East Jerusalem or deportation abroad. As far as IPS officers are concerned, it makes little difference if the transferee is a well-known terrorist or small fry.

Palestinian prisoner - Ilan Assayag - 17102011
Ilan Assayag

The names of most of the prisoners freed since July 2007 mean little to most Israelis, as do the names of the prisoners freed on Tuesday.

In July 2007, Ehud Olmert freed 255 prisoners as a gesture to Mahmoud Abbas. In October the same year, 87 prisoners were freed as a Ramadan gesture. That November, a further 441 prisoners were freed before the Annapolis talks. In August 2008, 198 prisoners were released as part of an effort to strengthen Abbas and apply pressure on Hamas. A month before that, Israel freed five prisoners and returned 199 bodies to Hezbollah as part of the Regev-Goldwasser deal. In December 2008, Israel released 227 prisoners as a gesture before Eid al-Adha. In October 2009, 20 female prisoners were freed in exchange for a video of Gilad Shalit speaking.

Sources in the IPS claimed the foreign media took more interest in these deals than the Israeli press. "We deal with the release of a huge number of security prisoners a few times a year," said the source, "but this time everybody shows interest because of Gilad Shalit and the high profile of some of the prisoners."