Yes, rejoice for precious Shalit. Spare a thought for the 8,000 Palestinian prisoners

…but spare a thought (and do something) for the thousands of Palestinians still languishing in ’s prisons

Illustration by Carlos Latuff

I was once a national serviceman myself, drafted into the military by a barmy government. So I can’t deny that I’m pleased for Gilad Shalit and his parents. No teenage soldier, especially a conscript, should spend 5 years in anyone’s prison even if soldiering for the world’s vilest regime.

On the other hand why is there such a torrent of sympathy for Shalit when the much-hyped thousand-for-one prisoner swop leaves 8,000 Palestinians still rotting in Israeli jails, some of them having languished in captivity far longer than our Israeli hero?

And for those 8,000 it’s no picnic. A United Nations Human Rights Council report (A/HRC/WG.6/3/ISR/3)[.PDF] of December 2008 highlighted some unpalatable truths about life in Israel’s prisons…

  • use of coercive techniques to extract confessions
  • use of confessional evidence obtained illegally to convict
  • lack of effective mechanisms for investigating complaints of torture.
  • arrests and detentions are based on secret evidence to which neither the detainees nor their counsels have access
  • neither the prisoner nor his/her lawyer has the right to see the evidence against them
  • repeated extension of initial detention without evidence to justify it
  • large numbers detained without charges or any trial procedures
  • ‘administrative’ detention is grounded on ‘security reasons’ and hearings are not open to the public.
  • ‘administrative’ detention is regularly used against Palestinian children
  • seriously bad prison conditions including over-crowding, family visits denied, arbitrary transfers, torture and ill-treatment by Israeli security, soldiers and prison guards, deteriorating health conditions and increasing deaths in custody

Even when it’s a civil matter Palestinians are dealt with by Israeli military courts, which treat Palestinian children as adults as soon as they reach 16 – a flagrant violation of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child. These courts ignore international laws and conventions, so there’s simply no legal protection for individuals under Israeli military occupation.

As detention is often based on secret information, which neither the detainee nor his lawyer is allowed to see, it is impossible to mount a proper defence. And the Security Service always finds a bogus excuse to keep detainees locked up “in the greater interest of the security of Israel”. Although detainees have the right to review and appeal, they are unable to challenge the evidence and check facts because all information presented to the Court is classified.

The UN has laid bare the evil of Israel’s ‘snatch squads’ that prey on innocent Palestinian men, women, children and students, and the regime’s cynical disregard for their wellbeing while in its clutches.

It’s obvious that Israel still hasn’t emerged from the swamp, and probably never will.

Commenting on the release of Sergeant Gilad Shalit, the British prime minister David Cameron said:

“I know that people across Britain will share in the joy and relief felt by Gilad Shalit and his family today. I can only imagine the heartache of the last five years, and I am full of admiration for the courage and fortitude which Sergeant Shalit and his family have shown through his long cruel and unjustified captivity. I congratulate Prime Minister Netanyahu and everyone involved for bringing him home safely, and hope this prisoner exchange will bring peace a step closer.

“Britain will continue to stand by Israel in defeating terrorism. We remain strongly committed to the cause of peace in the Middle East – with Israel and a Palestinian state living side by side in security. We will continue to work for direct negotiations to achieve that end.”

Note that Cameron says nothing about the long, cruel and unjustified captivity of the thousands of Palestinians. And he badly needs re-educating on the subject of terrorism.

The Parliamentary Chairman of Conservative Friends of Israel, James Arbuthnot MP, said:

“I congratulate Prime Minister Netanyahu. Like every good Prime Minister he listened to what the people wanted and he made the tough decisions. He did the right thing. We must however not confuse this victory for humanity as a victory for Hamas. As Israel and the Palestinians continue to work towards peace and two states for two peoples it remains as clear as ever that Hamas cannot play a part in this process with their ideology intact. The UK must continue to ensure that the Quartet Principles are upheld and re-enforced.”

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No problems with Zionist’ ideology then, Sir James?

It hasn’t yet dawned on Arbuthnot that no self-respecting Palestinian wants any part of the discredited “process” he eagerly recommends. Besides being a devoted Israel flag-waver he is, worryingly, chairman of our Defence Select Committee and, laughably, a member of the posh-sounding ‘Top Level Group of UK Parliamentarians for Multilateral Nuclear Disarmament and Non-proliferation’, where one presumes he pleads Israel’s case for not signing.

The remarks of both men, rejoicing for Shalit while showing no concern whatever for the thousands still languishing in Israel’s jails, demonstrate a lack of humanity that’s quite obscene.

Apparently 60 MPs and other Parliamentarians, including Arbuthnot of course, were sufficiently befuddled to sign the following CFoI petition…

FREE GILAD SHALIT PETITION

We the undersigned call for the immediate release of Corporal Gilad Shalit. On June 25 2006, Shalit was abducted by Hamas militants in a pre-meditated cross-border terrorist attack inside Israel. Captured at the age of 19, the young solider has been held in isolation ever since and is neither permitted to send or receive messages from his family.

Shalit’s detention is a serious violation of international humanitarian laws governing the treatment of prisoners of war, as enshrined by the Third Geneva Convention. Throughout his captivity Shalit has been denied the most basic of rights. This cruel and inhumane treatment is a blatant and direct contravention of the Third Geneva Convention.

We, insist that Hamas immediately release Gilad Shalit, and before it does so, afford him the right of communication with his family and unfettered access for the International Committee of the Red Cross to ensure his well-being.

I doubt if this made the Hamas resistance sit up and take notice. Many of their leaders, including Haniyeh and al-Zahar, have seen the inside of Israeli prisons and all their lives have been on the receiving end of non-stop mega-violations of international humanitarian law, as indeed has the entire Palestinian population.

Shalit, we’re told, was a tank-gunner deployed on the Gaza border, a teenager playing with big boys’ lethal toys. Those tanks make frequent incursions into Gaza to shell civilian targets. How many innocent Palestinians did Shalit shred and how many homes did he blast? How much infrastructure (paid for by British taxpayers’ aid money) did he blow to smithereens?

How many notches on his big gun barrel? Or did he keep a bung in it?

Like the rest of Israel’s army of illegal occupation his job was to terrorise the Palestinians in pursuit of the Zionist regime’s land-grabbing masterplan.

Hard-core depravity

Last night I watched a TV interview in which the Israeli government’s propaganda chief Mark Regev called the Palestinian prisoners “hard-core killers”. Tell you what, Mr Regev: killing doesn’t come more hard-core than tanks, helicopter gun-ships, F-16s, armed drones and warships taking pot-shots at tightly packed civilians in the most crowded strip of land on earth. Or Israel’s vicious blitzkrieg called Operation Cast Lead. Or the murderous assault on the Mavi Marmara bringing desperately needed humanitarian aid to illegally blockaded Gaza.

The kill-rate is disgustingly hard-core – Israelis slaughtering Palestinians at the rate of 11 to 1 (over 14 to 1 when it comes to children) – according to B’Tselem’s statistics since the start of the Second Intifada in 2000.

And it’s not just the dead. Israel’s Cast Lead Operation against the Gazans is reported to have left some 5,450 injured and maimed. It also destroyed or damaged 58,000 homes, 280 schools, 1,500 factories and water and sewage installations. And it used prohibited weapons like depleted uranium and white phosphorus shells. That’s hard-core depravity, Mr Regev.

And here’s something else. Young Gilad Shalit was born and brought up on Palestinian territory which Israel was never entitled to. The UN allocated it to the Arabs in the 1947 Partition Plan and it was stolen and ethnically cleansed by hard-core Jewish/Israeli terror squads in 1947/48.

* Stuart Littlewood is author of the book Radio Free Palestine, which tells the plight of the Palestinians under occupation. Read other articles by Stuart.

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