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Gilad Shalit: A Swap Uneven in Number and Nature

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GILAD SHALIT FREE
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June 25th 2006 was a Sunday. I watched the England v Ecuador world cup game. My best friend stayed over for the weekend. I worried about finishing a personal statement for my university application. Gilad Shalit was captured by Hamas militants in a cross-border raid.

Today he was released, five years and almost four months later - a total of 1941 days in captivity during which he was deprived of International Red Cross medical care and visits, contravening the Geneva Convention.

The conditions of his release have meant that 1,027 Hamas and Palestinian prisoners will be released from Israeli prisons. My eyes have brimmed with tears of joy at the thought and sight of families reunited and homes rebuilt - whatever the background of those involved. Humans are humans, sons are sons, mothers are mothers.

But I have been following the BBC's coverage of this long-awaited event and some of the readers' comments that they have chosen to publish on their live feed have bewildered me. There is so much to say today, so many coins with so many sides, but here I will reply to an apparent misunderstanding in the nature of this prisoner swap.

The Middle East is a conflict which runs deep in many veins and on which few agree. Nabeel from Gaza, in a comment published on the BBC live feed, said that he is "deeply saddened for the 5,500 prisoners who remain in Israeli prisons" and believes that this "disgraceful" swap deal serves the Israelis better than the "disappointed Palestinians".

Faysal Mikdadi from Dorchester similarly wrote, "As a Palestininan, I am saddened that there is a perception that one Israeli prisoner is worth 1,000 Palestinians. This is a typical construct manufactured by Israel... Why shouldn't [the released prisoners] go home to Palestine as they are entitled to do under all legal and international norms?"

Abdullah Obeidat from Jordan, on the other hand, commented that "Some Palestinians were in Israeli prisons much longer than Shalit. I'm glad Shalit is out but more than happy as it is a triumph for Hamas over the Israeli government. 1000+ Palestinian prisoners for one Israeli prisoner is indeed an astounding victory."

Astounding indeed. To the people who think that there is common ground between the abduction of Gilad Shalit and the imprisonment of most of these Palestinians, read on.

Gilad Shalit was kidnapped and kept in contravention to the Geneva Convention for over five years. He was not arrested by the police under suspicion of committing a crime. He was not tried. He was not found guilty. He was not serving a prison sentence.

On the other hand, a number of the 1,027 Palestinian prisoners being released have been convicted of heinous crime. One is Ahlam Tamimi who was found guilty of involvement in the bombing of Sbarro pizzeria in 2001, in which 15 people were killed. According to Frimet Roth, the mother of 15 year old Malka who was killed in this terrorist attack, Tamimi said in an interview while in prison that "she was not sorry and had no regrets for what she did. When she was asked if she'd do it again, she said she would."

Yehia Ibrahim Al-Sinwar was convicted for his involvement in the kidnapping and murder of IDF soldier Nachshon Waxman, and for the murders of two Palestinian Authority Arab men who were thought to be cooperating with Israel. Sanwar was given five life sentences. He was on the list for release.

Walid Anajas was sentenced to 36 life sentences for participation in the Café Moment bombing of 2002, killing 11 and wounding 54, and a terror attack in Rishon Lezion. He was on the list for release.

Abed Alaziz Salaha, the man showing off his hands stained with blood from the lynching of Vadim Norzich in the famous photo that has become emblematic of the second intifada was sentenced to life imprisonment. He was on the list for release.

I could go on. Other prisoners wanted for release include Mohammed Shratkha, responsible for two counts of kidnapping and murder, who was sentenced to three life sentences; Ibrahim Shammasina, participant in the murders of two teenagers, a taxi driver and an IDF soldier; Fatkhi Abu-Sheikh, organiser of the Netanya Park Hotel suicide bombing in which 30 civilians were murdered and 140 wounded, who was given 29 life sentences six and a half years ago; Abbas el-Said, head of Hamas in Tulkarem and initiator of the bombings at the Park Hotel and the Netanya Sharon Mall, who has served six and a half years of his sentence of 35 lifetimes plus 50 years in prison; and Atiya Mohammed Warda, planner of three suicide bomb attacks in which 46 civilians were killed and dozens wounded.

It hardly seems appropriate to mention Gilad Shalit's name in the same breath as these convicted criminals.

So no, BBC reader Faysal Mikdadi. A prisoner swap of this nature is not an international norm, and the idea that one Israeli soldier is "worth" 1,000 Palestinians is not a typical construct manufactured by Israel. It is the unfortunate length that Israel must to go in its refusal to leave any man behind, even though it sets a precedent, even though it makes a mockery of the justice system, and even though it poses a great security risk to Israel. And that is why the released prisoners are not able to return to their lives as they knew them before arrest, because the ones who are being deported are convicted terrorists and murderers who were fairly tried and found guilty of killing civilians. They are not being acquitted of their crimes. They are being released from prison, as demanded, for the safe-return of a kidnapped soldier.