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Prisoner release conditions prove Israel not acting in 'goodwill'

Dec. 30, 2013 4:11 P.M. (Updated: April 22, 2015 4:35 P.M.)
By: Charlie Hoyle

BETHLEHEM (Ma'an) -- Conditions attached to the release of Palestinian prisoners prove that Israel is not serious about the peace process, the director of rights group Addameer said Monday as 26 Palestinians prepared to be freed from Israeli jails.

Israeli authorities are expected to release the veteran Palestinian prisoners after midnight in the third stage of a phased agreement to free 104 detainees in line with commitments to US-brokered peace talks, which began in July.

In October, Israel released a group of 26 Palestinians detained before the 1993 Oslo Accords, while a first group was freed on Aug. 13.

Sahar Francis, general director of rights group Addameer, said that while any release of prisoners is welcome, strict Israeli conditions on freed detainees undermine "hope" and "trust" in the peace process.

"Israel has showed it is putting conditions on prisoner releases and the US supports these conditions. Prisoners held before 1993 should have been released 20 years ago, and not today," she told Ma'an.

Francis says that Israel restricts the freedom of movement of Palestinians freed as part of political agreements, with residents of East Jerusalem banned from visiting the West Bank or Gaza Strip following their release.

West Bank residents are banned from leaving their district for months, and in some cases up to a year, following a return to civilian life, while released prisoners are also prohibited from leaving the country for varying periods of time depending on their sentence, with some permanently banned.

Any involvement in political activities can be also grounds for rearrest and imprisonment by Israeli authorities.

"These practices show that the Israelis are not really seeking justice and a lasting peace with the Palestinians," Francis said.

"If the Israelis really had good intentions to end the conflict and grant Palestinians basic rights under international law they should release all Palestinian prisoners and stop arresting Palestinians in the occupied territories."

Israel treats Palestinians like 'terrorists'

In past prisoner releases, Israel has rearrested dozens of ex-detainees under Military Order 1651, which Francis says violates the most "basic rights" of Palestinian prisoners.

The order, which was implemented in 2009, allows for an Israeli military committee to sentence detainees to serve the remainder of their previous sentence under secret information not made available to lawyers.

Francis says the order was implemented by Israel to prepare "legally" for the release of prisoners which Israel would be reluctant to free and to impose conditions which would allow them to be rearrested in the future.

Israel has also violated international law by stipulating that freed detainees be deported to the Gaza Strip, or abroad, as part of the conditions of their release, Francis said.

Both Samer Issawi and Ayman Sharawna were rearrested by Israel under Military Order 1651 after being freed in the 2011 prisoner swap deal between Israel and Hamas, with Sharawna eventually deported to Gaza for 10 years after agreeing to end hunger strike action.

Hana Shalabi was also rearrested under the military order and subsequently deported to Gaza for three years under the conditions of her release.

These new procedures represent "serious violations" of human rights and prove that the Palestinian community can see little hope in the future of the peace process, Francis says.

Furthermore, Israel continues its policy of daily arrests in the occupied West Bank, which has increased in recent months, and has never committed to stopping the mass arrest of Palestinians while negotiations are taking place, Francis says.

"Israel recognizes Palestinians as terrorists and not as people seeking their independence and self determination, and this makes the whole difference in the treatment of prisoners in the political channel."

"We are happy that these 26 prisoners who spent years of their life in jail are being freed, of course the sadness is in thinking of the remaining 5,000 prisoners who are suffering behind bars."
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