On Tuesday the first stage in the prisoner exchange swap between Israel
and Hamas began. While Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit was transferred to
Egypt and then to Israel, the first half of the Palestinian prisoners was
released from Israeli jails. Of the 477 prisoners released at this stage of
the deal nearly half were sent into exile. To understand the significance of
the timing of this deal, The Real News’ Lia Tarachansky spoke with
Samah Sabawi, a political adviser for al Shabaka, the Palestinian Policy
Meanwhile in Gaza the return of the Palestinian prisoners was received
with celebration. Naser Najjar reports from Gaza city about two families,
one anticipating the return of a released prisoner and one that is not.
LIA TARACHANSKY, TRNN: On Tuesday, the first stage of the prisoner exchange swap between Israel and Hamas began. While Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit was transferred from Gaza to Egypt to Israel, the first half of the Palestinian political prisoners was released from Israeli jails. Of the 477 prisoners released, nearly half will be sent into exile. To understand the significance of the timing of this deal, The Real News spoke to Samah Sabawi, a political adviser for Al Shabaka, the Palestinian Policy Network.
SAMAH SABAWI, POLITICAL ADVISOR, AL SHABAKA: The timing, really, of the prisoner swap was very interesting, because it was at a time when Mahmoud Abbas was riding high in popularity amongst the Palestinian people, just after he had delivered his moving speech at the UN, in which he was calling for a declaration and a recognition of the state of Palestine. And Hamas was not doing so well. It was actually losing popularity at that time. And, you know, the limelight was all going to Mahmoud Abbas. And then suddenly, overnight, we’ve got all the media and all the attention focused on Hamas for being able to pull off this deal. The end result is this has empowered Hamas and weakened Mahmoud Abbas and has weakened the PA. And so I found it interesting yesterday, when Mahmoud Abbas delivered his speech to the prisoners, when they brought them to the Mukataa, he stressed the fact that it is not a secret that the PA is negotiating for the release of another patch of prisoners. And it just seemed like he was trying to say, I can do this, too, I’m working on it.
TARACHANSKY: And as far as I understand, only 447 people are actually going home. The majority of them are getting exiled.
SABAWI: That’s right. Two hundred and five of them will be deported and will be exiled. Eighteen of the people who will be–who are from the West Bank and from Jerusalem will actually be transferred to the Gaza Strip for three years.
TARACHANSKY: Meanwhile in Gaza, the return of the prisoners was received with celebration. Naser Najjar reports from Gaza City about two families, one anticipating the return of a released prisoner and one that is not.
NASER NAJJAR, TRNN: This is the location of the 2006 capture of the Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit by Hamas military wing Al-Qassam Brigades. Shalit was taken several months after Israel and the international community declared a boycott on the Gaza Strip in the form of a siege on its borders, and prevented import and export, either by land, sea, or air, as a result of Hamas Party winning the 2006 elections. Following failed attempts to rescue Shalit, tensions between Israel and Gaza rose, until in 2009 Israel began a 22-day military assault on the strip, leading to 13 Israeli and over 1,400 Palestinian deaths.
DR. MAHMOUD AL ZAHAR, SENIOR LEADER, HAMAS (SUBTITLED TRANSL.): This agreement was achieved well by Hamas. The 2006 [capture] operation resulted in 550 martyrs [for Hamas]. We don’t trust the Israelis.
SABAWI: Netanyahu and Hamas both wanted to embolden once again the more militant factions in both societies and to get back on top of things, because they didn’t like the way that the statehood bid was going.
NAJJAR: This agreement was received with great joy in Gaza, as hundreds of families await the return of their family members. In exchange for Gilad Shalit, the Israeli government agreed to release 1,027 Palestinian prisoners. The Ahmad Abu Hasira family is one of the families anticipating the long-awaited return of their son, who spent 26 years in jail.
MAHER ABU HASIRA, NEPHEW OF NEWLY RELEASED PRISONER (SUBTITLED TRANSL.): We are counting down the minutes before his release. The longest hours are now as we’re waiting for him to come home. This has come as a surprise, since he’s been in prison for so long, and this is really big news for us. It’s been 35 years and suddenly he’s coming home. So we’ve started to prepare the house for his arrival. We’re going to put up a tent and have a big celebration for him. The youth put up his pictures and are raising the party flags. That’s how we’re anticipating his return. And God willing, the other prisoners will be released soon as well.
AHMED ABU HASIRA, RELEASED PRISONER (SUBTITLED TRANSL.): I spend these long years patiently hoping to be free again. God didn’t let us down, and now we are free, thank God for this. I also would like to thank all my brothers who stood by me, and our friends at Hamas’ military wing, the Izz ad-Din al-Qassam Brigades and the Saleh al-Din Brigades, and all my friends who remembered me, and everyone else involved in organizing this large and festive event.
NAJJAR: According to statistics by the prisoners rights organization Adameer, Israel holds over 7,000 political prisoners. Half of those on the list of release were counted on the condition that they be exiled. For the return of those who will make it to Gaza, Hamas organized one of the biggest celebrations in Gaza history. Aya was a new bride when her husband was arrested by the Israeli army five months after their wedding. She has been awaiting his return for the past 20 years. Her husband was not on the list of those to be released.
AYA MOSLEH, WIFE OF UNRELEASED PRISONER: I was hoping we could celebrate our anniversary, and I’m still waiting for the moment we can finally celebrate our first wedding anniversary.
NAJJAR: Aya has dedicated much of her time to fight for the rights of political prisoners.
MOSLEH: Oftentimes when I used to visit Salama, I think if we would have had a child, he wouldn’t have had a chance to know him. So when he asks me how is so-and-so, I say they’re pregnant or had children. He doesn’t realize all he’s missing while he’s in prison, and I can’t believe that sometimes I see our neighbors who now have kids, and they got married at the same time I did. Their kids are older now, they’re in high school, and I see them all grown up and I start to cry.
NAJJAR: So while hundreds of families are celebrating the return of their loved ones, including the Shalit family in Israel, thousands of Palestinian political prisoners remain in jail. For The Real News, I’m Naser Najjar in Gaza City.
End of Transcript
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