In political terms I guess I am one of the 'usual suspects' when it comes to the Middle East. I chair the Britain-Palestine All Party Parliamentary Group and have campaigned for the rights of Palestinians for decades.
Perhaps it is especially important that people like me understand why the five year captivity of Gilad Shalit struck such a chord with millions of Israelis, and that we understand the depth of joy at his release.
Shalit is a soldier who was captured on active service during an armed conflict in which his army remains engaged. Tragic though it is when it happens, capture or, still worse, death are two of the incredibly serious risks that service personnel take on when they join up. That so many British service personnel have been killed or injured in the last decade has made people in the UK more conscious of the military covenant than at any time since World War 2 and of the massive sacrifice it involves for so many families.
But in Israel it means something even more than that. Much of Israel's army is made up of conscripts. National military service is something most Israelis regard as part of citizenship for a nation born in conflict and which has never been truly at peace for over 60 years. Nearly every Israeli Jewish family beyond the most orthodox has somebody that serves in the army at some time. The Israeli Defence Force therefore occupies a very special place in Israeli life.
Shalit was not treated as a Prisoner of War as he should have been. His family did not know of his whereabouts. He was denied access to many of the rights he should have had under the Geneva Convention. But I get the sense that, although unacceptable, this was not what really struck a chord with the Israeli public. Rather it was the sense that he was 'one of us'. The State of Israel's obligation to get Shalit back was an obligation to all Israelis.
If it is important for people like me to understand the significance of one Israeli soldier's captivity to Israeli families, so too is it important for Israel's friends abroad to understand the personal significance of Palestinian prisoners for Palestinian families across the Occupied Territories.
There are just over 3.5 million Palestinians living in the West Bank and Gaza. According to the Palestinian Central Bureau of Statistics, there were over 7,000 prisoners in Israeli jails in 2010. Rory McCarthy, the Guardian's former Jerusalem correspondent, once estimated that one-fifth of the Palestinian population of the OPTs has been imprisoned at least once since 1967. For Palestinian families, being a prisoner is being 'one of us' in much the same way as being a soldier is being 'one of us' to Israelis.
Palestinian prisoners too are daily denied access to many of their rights under the Geneva Convention. Many have been accused or convicted of heinous killings but many have not. In any case, casually using the blanket term 'terrorist' to prisoners and detainees does not absolve any state of its obligations under the Geneva Convention and other humanitarian laws. A number of Palestinian prisoners are currently on hunger strike against the conditions in which they are held. It has not had the publicity afforded to the recent prisoner exchange, but it is just as real for the Palestinian prisoners themselves and their families.
The Palestinians' one Israeli prisoner is now free. So too are 477 of the thousands of Palestinians held by Israel. Another 550 are due to be released in the next two months.
Although the prisoner exchange has been rightly welcomed by most, arguments are already circulating about why it has taken place now and about who has been included. Why has it taken so long when apparently there was a possible deal on the table over two years ago? For all their vitriol against each other, do the Netanyahu government and Hamas share a perverse interest in deflecting international attention away from the Palestinian bid for UN recognition of their state and the new found credibility it has generated for President Abbas amongst ordinary Palestinians? Does Netanyahu see doing a deal with Hamas as a way of keeping Palestinians divided? Why has Israel been prepared to release people it has convicted of murder as long as they are not very well known, but refuses to release someone like Marwan Barghouti who could play a pivotal role in bringing about a sustainable peace based on two independent states of Israel and Palestine?
It is right that all these questions should be asked in the weeks ahead but, whatever your view on them, there is another more urgent one that should be able to unite everyone for whom humanitarian values are important, irrespective of their views on Israel and Palestine. There are 164 Palestinian children currently held by Israel - most of them accused of crimes such as throwing stones. Not one of them has yet been released by Israel as part of the Shalit deal.
Discrimination against children is routine in the Israeli legal system. Israeli children accused of offences are tried by Israel in civilian juvenile courts. Palestinian children are tried by Israel in military courts. I have seen for myself some of what that institutional difference means. The sight of thirteen or fourteen year old Palestinian children shuffling into a military courtroom in leg irons is a sight I will never forget.
If the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child means anything to Israel, it must change its treatment of Palestinian child prisoners. It should make a start by agreeing to the call by UNICEF and others to release the 164 children it holds in its prisons today.