Prisoner Release Party

Playing the ‘Get Out of Jail Free’ Card Means More Settlements, Not Freedom or Peace

Will releasing Palestinians convicted of murder bring peace? Matt Surrusco says no, and asks, when they are released, are they really free?

Releasing convicted murderers from prison won't bring peace. This is assuming their convictions were wrought from hard evidence or admission of guilt, not from intimidation, torture or some other form of a forced confession. If someone chose violent resistance to military occupation over non-violent resistance, however positively or negatively people in different circles may view the act, the person must suffer the consequences of his or her actions. Life in prison is a punishment that I believe fits the crime of murder, especially of civilians (I don’t support the death penalty, but that’s another story).

Some argue that releasing Palestinian prisoners who killed Israelis fits the Israeli government’s narrative. Those who oppose the prisoner release will say that this is what the Palestinian and U.S. negotiating teams ask of Israel, to free bloodthirsty killers in the name of peace.

Besides, it’s hard to imagine 19 or more years in prison softened the views toward Israel of any of the 26 Palestinians released this week. Despite the fact that many Palestinians see them as political prisoners and even heroes, releasing people who chose to kill in order to resist the occupation will be no victory for peace.

But from the Palestinian perspective, the more salient question is this: Are released Palestinians really even free when they get out of prison? Do Israeli intelligence services not keep tabs on them and their families, their movements, speech and associations? How often are they arrested again?

“Israel insists that any prisoner who resumes hostile activity will be arrested and incarcerated to serve the remainder of his sentence,” the Associated Press reported. After 1,027 Palestinian prisoners were released in October 2011 in exchange for a single Israeli soldier, Gilad Shalit, who was kidnapped by Hamas in 2005, several Palestinians were re-arrested. As of August 2013—when the first group of 26 other prisoners were released as a result of renewed peace negotiations spurred by U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry—12 of those released in 2011 were back in Israeli prisons.

According to Addameer, a Palestinian prisoners’ support organization, freed prisoners “are not granted amnesty for their previous convictions by the State of Israel, but instead, their sentence is considered ‘parole’ and they are subject to re-arrest.”

What's more, think about where the second set of 26 prisoners were released to this week. Yes, to the arms of waiting family members and loved ones, and a hero’s welcome, but also back into the occupied West Bank or blockaded Gaza Strip, both sorts of prisons, different from Ofer. It’s a deceptive promise of freedom at best.

Freedom of movement and travel is routinely denied. Palestinians suffer daily humiliations, few opportunities to advance economically or socially and the constant threat of being scooped up into a military-justice system that looks at them as terrorists rather than as suspects deserving of a fair trial in civilian courts.

But here’s the cherry on top of the revived peace talks delusion sundae: the prisoner release scheme meant to appease the Palestinians was paired with a settlement expansion proviso meant to mollify Naftali Bennett of Israel’s governing coalition. “In other words, built into the negotiations nominally aimed at two states was a condition that made two states less likely,” Elisheva Goldberg wrote for Open Zion yesterday.

“This prisoner release would seem an inspiring validation of the [peace] process,”

Matt Learner wrote for Open Zion this week. But it’s not, he added, because there’s a catch: more settlements beyond the Green Line.

For the sake of peace, maybe some prisoners are better off left to serve out their sentences. Leave resistance to the occupation to those who have committed themselves to a means that more people, internationals and Israelis, can get behind: nonviolence. (For those who argue nonviolent efforts have failed in Palestine, I welcome your criticisms and ask for examples of when or how violent resistance has benefited Palestinians in the long-term.)

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The nine-month negotiation timetable calls for two more sets of Palestinian prisoners to be released, the next set in two months. This means there are more settlement construction plans to be announced, all in good time, during this so-called détente period.

Let’s hope Kerry can pull the bullet out of his foot—embedded there when he agreed to renew two-state talks based on a prisoner release-settlement building deal—before Israel releases any more convicted murderers or builds any more settlements on occupied land.