Sunday, September 10, 2006

Free them, now

By Gideon Levy

"Neither war nor sieges will free your children. The only way to free them is to free many Lebanese and Palestinian prisoners. Does Noam Shalit, father of Gilad, think the bombing of bridges and the power station in Gaza advanced the release of his son in any way, or does he know it caused only more suffering and hatred? Does Shlomo Goldwasser, father of Udi, believe the destruction and siege of Lebanon will bring about the release of his son?

The Lebanese movie about the abductees broadcast last week held a mirror up to Israeli society. Suddenly it was possible to see that there are anxious and loving parents on both sides of the border. Not only in Israel do the families weep, but also in Lebanon and the occupied territories, and with the same terrible pain. There are abductees from both sides. We and they both use the same methods to try to free the boys. Hezbollah and Hamas abducted Israeli soldiers, Israel abducted Lebanese civilians. Hassan Nasrallah said in the movie that kidnapping the soldiers at Har Dov was the only way left to him to bring about the return of the abducted Lebanese. What other route did he have? Israel abducted, Hezbollah abducted, both hid information about the fate of the abductees. The vicious cycle must be broken.

The issue of the security prisoners is not supposed to come up only in the context of freeing the abducted soldiers. Israel has long had an interest in freeing them. More than 9,000 Palestinians are in Israeli jails nowadays; it is a nightmarish number. Anyone who knows the Shin Bet security service and the military justice system can safely assume a significant proportion of them are imprisoned for no reason. Israeli society doesn't even ask why so many are jailed. Some 750 of them have been held in prison without trial for months and years as administrative detainees, a scandal unto itself. The number of minors is also nightmarish: some 300 boys and youths, about half of whom have never been put on trial. A democratic society cannot exist if it denies freedom to so many prisoners, whose main fault was that they fought the occupation with the means used to fight occupations everywhere, including by us in the past. In the eyes of many in the world, at least some of them are rightly considered political prisoners. What are the imprisoned Palestinian parliamentarians if not political prisoners?"

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