The total Israeli refusal to ensure the release of the captured Israeli soldiers in Gaza and Lebanon through a prisoner exchange reminds not only Palestinians but also Lebanese and Jordanians of the negative Israeli approach toward prisoners in general.
When Israel unilaterally withdrew from South Lebanon it was expected to also release Lebanese prisoners. But Ehud Barak, Israeli prime minister at that time, refused, and that decision was responsible for several Lebanese attempts to capture Israelis, dead or alive, in order to ensure the release of these prisoners. But even when such a balance was achieved, Israel insisted on keeping hold of a few prisoners, which justified further Lebanese attempts at more exchanges.
An even more extreme example of this irrational Israeli attitude and approach to prisoners is the case of Jordan, which has signed a final and comprehensive peace treaty with Israel and normalized relations to an extent that even Israel has no complaints. In spite of persistent diplomatic efforts by the government of Jordan and through third parties, Israel has refused to release Jordanian prisoners who to this day languish in Israeli prisons.
The Palestinian case is another example. The Oslo agreement stipulated the necessity of releasing Palestinian prisoners. This never happened. To make matters worse, on every single occasion that required gestures of the kind that would strengthen the Palestinian public’s support for and belief in the peace process, and when the Palestinian leadership and third parties tried to convince Israel to release prisoners, successive Israeli governments refused to budge. Indeed, the opposite has happened. Israel has increased the frequency of its arrest campaigns and the number of prisoners it holds.
When Mahmoud Abbas was appointed prime minister, he tried to revive the peace process. That required injecting credibility back into the political process. To this end, he requested that Israel release prisoners. Israel refused. Israel refused again after Abbas was elected president.
It is a fact of life that the higher the number of Palestinians in Israeli prisons the greater the participation in the kind of activities that put many of those prisoners in jail in the first place, i.e., resisting the occupation. It should be noted here, however, that for those who have had direct experience of Israeli prison it is obvious that not less then half the prisoners are there for no logical reason, but rather simply out of suspicion, or for having expressed an intention or thought. It is also obvious that all those who go to prison–whether involved or not involved with political or religious organizations or in resistance against the occupation–prepare and train for resistance during imprisonment.
In other words, from the political to the practical, all indicators show that the Israeli policy on prisoners is backfiring and is being used by political, military and religious organizations to further strengthen and enhance their popularity rather than vice versa.
In addition, the nature and level of torture that prisoners are subjected to is multiplying the number of implacable enemies of Israel not only among those with first hand experience but also among their relatives and friends.
The oppression embodied in the large scale and widespread imprisonment of Palestinians together with ever more oppressive measure–including the confiscation of land, restrictions on movement, the demolishing and bombardment of homes and the indiscriminative assassinations of Palestinians including civilians–are responsible for maintaining the active rejection of and hostility and resistance to the Israeli occupation and Israel.