Sunday, April 15, 2007
By Uri Avnery
"At this moment, negotiations on a prisoner exchange are in full swing.
The term 'negotiations' is really inappropriate. 'Haggling' seems more fitting. One could also use an uglier expression: 'trafficking in human beings'.
The planned deal concerns living people. They are being treated like goods, for which the officials of the two sides are bargaining, as if they were a piece of land or a load of fruit.
In their own eyes, and in the eyes of their spouses, parents and children, they are not goods. They are life itself.
Immediately after the signing of the Oslo agreement in 1993, Israeli human rights group Gush Shalom publicly called on the Prime Minister, Yitzhak Rabin, to free all the Palestinian prisoners.
The logic was simple: they are in reality prisoners of war. They did what they did in the service of their people, exactly like our own soldiers. The people who sent them were the chiefs of the Palestinian Liberation Organization (PLO) with whom we have just signed a far-reaching agreement. Is there any sense in signing an agreement with the commanders, while their subordinates continue to languish in our jails?
When one makes peace, prisoners of war are expected to be released. In our case, this would not only be a sign of humanity, but also of wisdom. These prisoners come from all the towns and villages. Sending them home would release an outburst of joy all over the occupied Palestinian territories. There is hardly a Palestinian family that does not have a relative in prison.
If the agreement is not to remain just a piece of paper, we said, but be imbued with content and spirit - there is no wiser act than this.
Unfortunately, Rabin did not listen to us......
Fourteen years later, nothing has changed. Prisoners have been released after completing their sentence, others have taken their place. Every night, Israeli soldiers capture a dozen or so new 'wanted' Palestinians.
At any one time, there are some 10,000 Palestinian prisoners, male and female, from minors to old people.
All our governments have treated them as goods. And goods are not given away for nothing. Goods have a price. Many times it was proposed to release some prisoners as a 'gesture' to Mahmoud Abbas, in order to strengthen him vis-à-vis Hamas. All these suggestions were rejected by Ariel Sharon and Ehud Olmert......."