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Palestinian MKs slam Knesset approval of 'Shalit Law'

May 23, 2010 6:53 P.M. (Updated: May 24, 2010 2:37 P.M.)
Bethlehem - Ma'an/Agencies - The Knesset's Ministerial Committee passed a bill on Sunday that would sanction the worsening of conditions of Hamas affiliates in Israeli jails, in a bid to pressure the movement into releasing captured Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit.

Palestinian Members of Knesset were quick to denounce the move, with MK Talab As-Sana of the United Arab List-Ta'al, saying the law would not expedite Shalit's release, but lead to an intifada, the Israeli daily newspaper Yedioth Ahronoth reported.

"The decision regarding the Palestinian prisoners is irresponsible. It delays Shalit's release and encourages a third intifada – a prisoners' intifada," he said.

"The Israeli government must decide whether it abides by international law or whether it is a gang that bases its conduct on vengeance ... Hurting the Palestinian prisoners will lead to riots in jails that will reach Palestinian villages and cities," the daily quoted the Palestinian MK as saying.

Fellow United Arab List-Ta'al MK Ahmad Tibi said releasing the captured soldier would only be achieved in "an exchange deal in which Palestinian prisoners will be released in exchange for Shalit ... a state which is a member of international conventions cannot behave in such a way," he told the daily.

The law would see Hamas affiliates barred from their right to family visits and access to a lawyer, but the specifics of the conditions have yet to be defined. However, Gaza residents currently detained by Israel are withheld the right to family visits since the Hamas takeover of the coastal enclave, with human rights groups pointing to a contravention of the Geneva Convention on the Treatment of Prisoners.

The accord, to which Israel is a signatory, stipulates that Prisoners of War and political detainees are not to be withheld their right to family visits. However, Israel denies that Palestinian prisoners should be treated as Prisoners of War, despite international law defining many Palestinian detainees as such.

One of the bill's creators, MK Danny Danon said "It's time to put an end to the VIP conditions Hamas prisoners enjoy," Yedioth Ahronoth quoted him as saying. "Every day that they receive family visits while (kidnapped soldier) Gilad Shalit doesn't receive any visits – even by the Red Cross – is wasted."

Palestinian prisoners societies voiced their concern over the law, warning that Palestinian prisoners of war, detained for resisting the occupation will be treated like violent and dangerous criminals under the proposed Israeli bill.

Director of the Prisoners' Studies center Rafat Hamdouna issued a public statement of concern last Thursday over what he called a retributive bill that pins the conditions of Palestinian detainees in Israeli custody on the release of captured Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit, held by a group of militant factions in the Gaza Strip since 2006.

The further restrictions on movement and action inside Israeli prisons, and the planned cessation of family visits will "bring the conditions inside Israeli facilities to a boiling point," Hamdouna said, worrying about possible fights erupting between detainees, or prison riots giving an excuse to guards to shoot and kill prisoners.

On top of the thousands of charges of medical neglect against the Israeli prison administration, Hamdouna said, Israel wants to create a hell for Palestinian citizens to live in when they try to fight the occupation. He called on rights organizations to intervene and make sure the regulations do not pass.

Meanwhile, a prisoner swap deal that could potentially secure the release of thousands of Palestinians in Israeli jails in exchange for Shalit, who was captured in a cross-border raid in Gaza in June 2006, between Israel and Hamas, brokered by a German mediator, remain at a standstill with both sides launching accusations at one another for the talks' failure.

Shortly after Shalit's capture, Israel launched a detention operation targeting recently elected Hamas affiliates within the Palestinian Legislative Council, in an attempt to pressure the movement to reveal the soldier's whereabouts. Many of them remain in Israel's custody, effectively stalling the PLC's ability to function as the Palestinian lawmaking body.
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