Palestinians rejoiced today in Gaza and the West Bank as 477 prisoners were released in the first phase of the exchange deal for Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit. But in an op-ed titled "Thousands Are Left Behind by the Shalit Prisoner Exchange," the general director of al-Haq, Shawan Jabarin, warned that the release of 1,000 should not mean forgetting the 6,000 political prisoners still languishing behind bars.
The release of a total 1,027 Palestinian prisoners will be completed within two months. However, 163 detainees will be exiled to Gaza and another 40 will be deported from their homeland to Turkey, Syria, Qatar and Jordan.
For detainees staying behind, worsening conditions in Israeli prisons had pushed over 2,000 Palestinian prisoners to take part in a three-week hunger strike to protest the poor conditions and lack of basic rights. According to Amnesty International, "consistent allegations of torture and other ill-treatment, including of children, were frequently reported. Among the most commonly cited methods were beatings, threats to the detainee or their family, sleep deprivation, and being subjected to painful stress positions for long periods. Confessions allegedly obtained under duress were accepted as evidence in Israeli military and civilian courts."
In an article titled "How Israel takes its revenge on boys who throw stones," Catrina Stewart offers a glimpse into the brutal treatment of Palestinian children in Israeli jails. She reports that children as young as 12 are taken from their homes at night, deprived of food and sleep, physically and psychologically abused, and forced to sign a confession they often can't even read. The article states that "Israel's policy has been successful in one sense, sowing fear among children and deterring them from future demonstrations. But the children are left traumatised, prone to nightmares and bed-wetting." And yet Palestinian minors were excluded from the first round of the prisoners' release, leading UNICEF to appeal for the release of Palestinian child detainees.
Amidst joyous celebrations in Gaza City, one Palestinian wrote that she "didn't know whether to be happy or sad…We will never stop singing for the freedom of Palestinian detainees until the Israeli prisons are emptied."