What's Missing in the Palestinian Prisoner Discourse

Discussion on the release of Palestinian prisoners is lacking even a modicum of compassion and humanity.

Gideon Levy
Gideon Levy
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Gideon Levy
Gideon Levy

I long to see Karim and Maher Younis, Walid Daka and all the 14 other Arab-Israeli prisoners who have been incarcerated since before the Oslo Accords get out of jail. Daka, for instance, I know, and I know how outrageously unjust it would be to keep him behind bars. His release, and the release of the others, will not be just a difficult day but also a holiday – for them, their families and, primarily, for justice and equality.

There are few acts of injustice on a par with their continued detention; few acts of discrimination bigger than those they’ve faced. After 30 years (the Younis cousins) and 27 years (Daka), the time for compassion and humanity has finally arrived for them as well. The time for their release has arrived (long ago).

The public discourse over releasing Palestinian prisoners has everything, save a modicum of compassion and humanity. Dehumanization reaches its peak here: they’re all murderers, monstrous people with blood on their hands; it doesn’t matter what they did and how long they’ve served. It doesn’t matter what other peoples have done while fighting for freedom or beliefs, including our own people - like the Jewish terror from before 1948 or the settler terrorists since then.

The slanderous campaign against the Palestinian prisoners is well aimed: it is meant to remind Israelis that Palestinians aren’t people. When prisoners are in question, it’s very easy to fan the flames of these vile emotions.

Their release would hurt the families of their victims most. That’s natural, understandable and justified. But it’s the state, not the victims’ families, that makes the call. The slanderous campaign against the Palestinian prisoners makes use of the bereaved families only to arouse passion. This show only has room for one voice – and that’s the voice of opposition. Even the bereaved families who feel otherwise do not get any consideration. It is forbidden to remind people that murderers also have rights, that even a life sentence has limits, that a society is judged on the treatment of its prisoners, and that prisoners also deserve to be shown compassion and humanity.

But the Israeli public is shrieking – some with authentic feelings, others for considerations such as ratings or “look at us” protests - to show what price we pay for peace and what peace advocates we are.

There are, perhaps, some prisoners that should not be released. Most of them should have been released long ago, but the public has placed them all in one big basket of hate - with the public most hateful toward those prisoners who are also Israeli citizens. Israel has created another taboo for itself.

Perhaps the outrage against Israeli citizens who joined their own people’s struggle can be understood. But if they were given a different sentence than their Palestinian brothers, in another Israeli attempt to divide and conquer, then they should be treated like Jewish security prisoners. One ruling for Palestinian and Israeli Arab prisoners, and one ruling for Israeli security prisoners, Jews and Arabs both. Israeli Arabs don’t get either.

Daka has not been on a single furlough throughout his 27 years in prison.

When his father was on his deathbed, Daka was not even allowed to say goodbye on the phone. There is not a single Jewish prisoner who received such a harsh punishment, effectively being stripped of rights. Daka was convicted of kidnapping and murdering a soldier; Ami Popper was convicted of murdering seven workers. Popper gets furloughs only because he is Jewish.

Yoram Skolnik, who murdered a Palestinian in 1993, was set free long ago. It even took years for them to determine Daka’s actual sentence - 37 years - with a minimal chance of it being reduced by a third. Even Yitzhak Rabin assassin, Yigal Amir, got to spend time with his wife. Daka hasn’t. Just because he’s Arab.

Now there’s a chance to put things right. Releasing 14 prisoners, who have all served more than 20 years, is not just an act of justice toward them, but a step in the right direction toward the Arab-Israeli community, which faces discrimination in prison as well. Release them as well – not because of American or Palestinian pressure – but because it’s the just and humane thing to do.Gideon Levy / Slander against prisoners

A Palestinian security prisoner at Megiddo prison in Israel.Credit: Itzik Ben-Malki

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