They are accused of throwing stones with the intention to kill. If the youths are convicted, they could remain in prison until their early forties
Hopes for an ultimate settlement between Israelis and Palestinians have risen as US-brokered negotiations continue. However, Israel has undertaken a strategy that deepens mistrust among Palestinians. On the one hand, the Israeli administration decided to release some Palestinians arrested before the Oslo Accords, however, on the other hand it continues to imprison Palestinian children.
The continuation of this arrest campaign against Palestinians in the West Bank suggests that there has been no change in the Israeli stance despite the negotiations. Some children are among the detainees for attending the incident in the village of Hares on 14th March, which was labeled as a terrorist act by Israeli media. A Jewish man who lives in a settlement in the West Bank maintained that his car collided with a truck due to a stone that was thrown under his car. Despite the lack of concrete evidence showing they had a role in the incident; five Palestinian youngsters aged between sixteen and seventeen were detained after a police raid at midnight. The youths were transferred to the Megiddo prison in Israel after being tried in the Jalame military court, an act clearly violating the Geneva Convention which details the rights and protection of non-combatants. Israeli authorities denied their right to access lawyers and infringed their right to communicate with their families. The children were tortured to sign confession documents written in Hebrew. They are accused of throwing stones with the intention to kill. If the youths are convicted, they could remain in prison until their early forties.
The Israeli decision to release 104 Palestinians ahead of the peace negotiations as a trust-building measure stimulated debate on the Palestinian side. Israel holds a firm stance on Jewish settlements in occupied territories as well as those inside their pre-1967 borders. Therefore the Palestinians are unlikely to be satisfied with the mere release of prisoners. After a long debate in Knesset, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu won thirteen votes from his twenty-two member cabinet. Seven members opposed and two abstained. The Israeli government’s decision received harsh criticisms within the country. Bibi’s coalition partner, Naftali Benet, known for his far right views, rebuffed the conclusion in the parliament and claimed previous negotiations with the Palestinians had failed even when Israel took steps back in border disputes. The Palestinian side set the release as a precondition to re-launch peace negotiations for which the US Secretary of State John Kerry has contributed remarkable efforts to initiate. Following the Knesset’s approval, the Israeli intelligence Shin Bet started to work on the names of the prisoners who would be released. After the Israeli cabinet approved the names, they were announced on the prisons’ website and twenty-six Palestinian prisoners were released. Furthermore, the rest of the 104 prisoners in Israel’s Ayalon and Ramla prisons were sent to Red Cross officers for a medical check-up before being released.
As preparation for release continued, some Israeli groups protested in front of the prisons and tried to stop the buses carrying the Palestinians. The prisoners were carried to the Ofer prison and handed over to the Palestinian authorities that brought them to the West Bank. Palestinian officials said Israel aimed to avoid attracting too much attention by releasing the prisoners late in the night. The families of the released prisoners were relieved to see their relatives who were not expected to come home in the near future. The prisoners first visited Mahmood Abbas in the Muqata presidential palace. Abbas said “You are the first group of people to be released by Israel. This will continue. I will not rest until the last Palestinian prisoner is emancipated.” Although the initial release of 104 prisoners is viewed as a short-term success for the Palestinian side, there are almost 4500 Palestinians who were arrested after the Oslo Accords still in Israeli prisons.
No Jerusalem resident among released prisoners
After the release, the relatives of the Palestinian prisoners who either have Israeli citizenship or reside in Jerusalem held a press conference in the city. The representative of the Association of Palestinian Prisoners in Jerusalem, Nassir Kuus, urged the Palestinian Liberation Organization(PLO) to engage more actively in the Palestinian cause, adding that Palestinian prisoners who are from Eastern Jerusalem, a Palestinian land occupied by Israel in 1967, should also be released along with the others.
Families are complaining that many Palestinians from the West Bank, Gaza and Eastern Jerusalem have not been released yet. Ahmad Abu Hussein, one of the relatives of the prisoners said “My son Bilal was sentenced to thirty-eight years. His arm is broken and he has serious health problems with his back. He was supposed to be released after the Oslo Accords but he remains in prison. If you noticed, there is no one from Jerusalem among those who were released. While Israel claims this is a show of good will, it still continues to arrest people. They are continuing to occupy our lands including Eastern Jerusalem.”
Turkish Prime Minister Tayyip Erdoğan slammed Israel’s reluctance to release Hamas members. Prior to an official visit to Turkmenistan Erdoğan stated in a press conference that Israel arrested some senior Hamas members immediately after Hamas’s election victory in Gaza in 2006. “Members of the cabinet and some deputies were detained by Israel and they are still in prison. Thirty deputies including Hamas members have spent almost eight years in prison. They won the election but they were not given the right to rule the people. Most of my citizens are not familiar with this situation,” he said.
Ediz Tiyanşan – Kuzey News Agency
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