The Israeli government recently proposed a list of Palestinian prisoners who could be released in exchange for the release of an Israeli soldier, Gilad Shalit, who was taken captive by Palestinian militants in 2006. The list of potential prisoners includes 400 men and women who have been held in Israeli prisons for years, convicted of terrorist acts or supporting terrorism.
Most of these prisoners are Palestinians from the occupied West Bank or Gaza Strip, though some are from East Jerusalem. Most of the individuals on the list have close family members in Israel, with whom they could potentially live in the event of their release.
Most of the prisoners on the list are considered to be “security threats” by the Israeli government and most have served long sentences of up to 20 years or more. In addition to these, the list also includes some prisoners who are over the age of 71 and have been declared “unsuitable for release” by the Israeli government.
The list is seen as controversial by both sides. On the one hand, Israel believes that the release of these prisoners would send a message of leniency to those who carry out acts of terrorism. On the other hand, Palestinians see the release of long-term prisoners as a sign of solidarity with their cause and a recognition of the suffering of those who have been deprived of their freedom for years.
The Israeli government has conditioned the release of the prisoners on certain security guarantees and the Palestinian Authority has indicated that it will not accept any release deal unless it includes a deal for Shalit’s release. In any event, whatever happens with respect to this list of potential prisoners, their plight has gained public attention and brought the issue of Palestinian prisoners in Israeli jails to the forefront of the conflict.