News / Middle East

    Palestinian Prisoner Swap Raises Questions About Justice

    Rebecca Collard

    Samud Kraja is tasting her first days of freedom. After almost two years in an Israeli prison the 23-year-old sociology student is finally sitting amongst family in her home near Ramallah.

    Samud Kraja outside her family home in the village of Saffa near Ramallah.
    Samud Kraja outside her family home in the village of Saffa near Ramallah.

    A red Che Guevara flag snaps in the wind at the edge of the family’s courtyard and a six-meter-high poster of Kraja and Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine leader Ahmed Saadat - who remains in jail - hangs from the house next to an even larger Palestinian flag. Chairs fill the courtyard ready to accommodate neighbors and friends coming to welcome Kraja home.

    “I had never seen Jerusalem. I wanted to see the city and pray in Al-Aqsa mosque,” Kraja explains.

    In October of 2009, then 21-year-old Kraja decided she must see the holy city. The trip, from her home in the village of Saffa to Jerusalem was to take just 15 minutes, via Highway 443 - a major Israeli road that cuts through the West Bank and slices the hills near Saffa.

    But Kraja, like most residents of Saffa, was not allowed to access the highway to enter Israel or reach Jerusalem.

    Lacking an entry permit, Kraja traveled to the Qalandiya checkpoint - the main exit and entry point between Israel and the West Bank. Once Israeli soldiers there established that Kraja was without permit, they attempted to apprehend her. She says she stabbed one with nail file in self-defense, but for the Israeli army it was an act of aggression and attempt on the soldier’s life.

    After over one-and-a-half years of detention she was convicted of attempted murder and sentenced to 20 years in prison.

    Did Israel set killers free?

    Under an Egyptian-mediated agreement reached earlier this month, captured Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit was freed in exchange for roughly 1,000 Palestinian prisoners, including Kraja.

    On the list of the first 477 prisoners released under the Shalit deal are top Hamas members and many with a history of violent crimes. Yehia Sinwar, considered a founder of Hamas’s military wing, was freed after serving 23 years of the four life sentences he received for his role in the organization that is held responsible for dozens of deadly attacks against Israelis.

    In a much circulated image, Abed al Aziz Salaha shows a cheering crowd his hands covered with blood of two killed Israelis (file photo).
    In a much circulated image, Abed al Aziz Salaha shows a cheering crowd his hands covered with blood of two killed Israelis (file photo).

    Also among the released are some of the most notorious Palestinian attackers. One of them is the almost iconic Abed al Aziz Salaha, who showed cheering crowds in Ramallah his blood-covered hands after the killing of two Israelis in 2001. The image of Salaha’s bloody palms held out a window became a symbol of terror and the second intifada for many Israelis.

    Amna Mona, who was serving a life sentence for luring a 16-year-old Israeli boy to his violent death via a chat room in 2001, is also free. The story of her faked online romance and manipulation of the teenager from Ashkelon still strikes fear in the hearts of many.

    “There are many families facing that their son’s murderer is going free,” says Neta Barak, a lawyer working in the pardon department of the Israeli Ministry of Justice. “It’s a very difficult decision made by our government.” Barak explains that an assessment was made of those to be released to judge the risk of repeat offenses.

    Some, like Kraja, were put under security arrangements but allowed home. But 200 others, including Salaha and Mona, were deemed too dangerous for the West Bank, and were relocated to Gaza or abroad.

    Standards of justice

    Sahar Frances is the Director of Addameer Prisoners’ Support and Human Rights Association, a group that monitors the standards of criminality and justice for Palestinians under Israeli occupation in the West Bank. The group also advocates for imprisoned Palestinians, many of whom are tried by military courts.

    "Some of these prisoners have spent more than 30 years in jail," says Frances. Of those released last week, some were in prison since before Shalit was born.

    After those years away, Frances points out that around 200 of those originally from the West Bank will not be returning home. “The mothers and wives may wait a long time before seeing them,” says Frances.

    Kraja had three hearings over the last two years. These hearings were the only time she saw her mother.

    “We are just happy to have Samud here,” says her mother Hanan. “I just want her to go back to school and get married.”

    Now released, Kraja says she’ll return to university. She hopes to become a social worker.

    However, life will not exactly return to normal.  Before she was released, explains Kraja, she was required to sign a document promising not engage in political organizations or events for the 18 years that remained in her sentence. She’s also not allowed to leave the area near her village without special permission. Violating these conditions will mean a quick return to jail.

    Free but not reunited

    Just a 10-minute walk from the Kraja home, on the other side of Saffa, a slightly less joyful mother sits in the front room of her house.

    Zahra Falana sits at her home with a picture of her son, Ata Falana, who was relocated to Gaza after being released October 18, 2011.
    Zahra Falana sits at her home with a picture of her son, Ata Falana, who was relocated to Gaza after being released October 18, 2011.

    Zahra Falana’s son, Ata Falana, was also among those freed, after serving 20 years of a life sentence, but he is not coming home. He is among the prisoners from the West Bank and East Jerusalem that were relocated to the Gaza Strip.

    “I saw him on the television,” says Falana. This might be the only glimpse she gets of her son in the coming years.

    “I don’t know how long he will stay in Gaza and I don’t know if I can get the permission to go there,” says Falana, holding a picture of her now 45–year-old son.

    Ata Falana’s relocation to Gaza was a solution for a difficult compromise for Israel. Like many of the released prisoners he is responsible for the deaths of Israeli citizens and Israeli officials say experience has taught them many released prisoners will return to terrorist activities.

    Gaza is separated from Israel by a tall cement wall and crossing into Israel through the Erez checkpoint requires hard-to-obtain permits and rigorous security checks. Relocation to Gaza makes attacks against Israel by newly released prisoners difficult, but not impossible. For that reason, those considered even more dangerous, were sent to third countries - Turkey, Syria or Qatar.

    For example, Walid Anajas, was serving 36 life sentences for his role in bombings at the height of the second Intifada, which killed more than 30 Israelis. He was deemed too dangerous by Israel to stay in the Gaza Strip and was exiled from the Palestinian Territories.

    While Hamas agreed to the relocation of these prisoners, those released had no choice. But Israel says it was the only option to preserve security.

    “You wouldn’t want to have killers back in a position where they can harm Israelis again,” said a senior Israeli official who asked that his name not be used, pointing to the celebrations across the Gaza Strip that followed the prisoner release. “Gaza is already full of weapons and terrorists.”

    Follow our Middle East reports on Twitter
    and discuss them on our Facebook page.

    You May Like

    Ethiopia's Anti-terrorism Law: Security or Silencing Dissent?

    Yonatan Tesfaye was detained in December 2015 on charges under Ethiopia's Anti-Terrorism Proclamation; eleven statements from his Facebook page were used as evidence

    Egypt Orders Trial for Journalists Charged With Harboring Reporters

    Order targets journalists' union chief Yehia Qalash, Khaled al-Balshy and Gamal Abdel Rahim for allegedly spreading false news, harboring fugitive colleagues

    Nigerian Oil Production Falls as Militant Attacks Take Toll

    Country no longer Africa's petroleum king due to renewed militancy in its oil-producing region

    This forum has been closed.
    Comments
         
    There are no comments in this forum. Be first and add one

    Featured Videos

    Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
    New Chapter for Tunisia's Ennahdai
    X
    Lisa Schlein
    May 31, 2016 1:56 PM
    Tunisia’s moderate Islamist Ennahda party says it is separating its religious and political activities in a broader bid to mark its so-called Muslim Democratic identity. The move appears to open a new chapter for a party that bounced back from the political wilderness of Tunisia’s pre-revolution days to become a key player in the North African country, and a member of the current coalition government. From Tunis, Lisa Bryant takes a look at how Tunisians are viewing its latest step.
    Video

    Video New Chapter for Tunisia's Ennahda

    Tunisia’s moderate Islamist Ennahda party says it is separating its religious and political activities in a broader bid to mark its so-called Muslim Democratic identity. The move appears to open a new chapter for a party that bounced back from the political wilderness of Tunisia’s pre-revolution days to become a key player in the North African country, and a member of the current coalition government. From Tunis, Lisa Bryant takes a look at how Tunisians are viewing its latest step.
    Video

    Video New Mobile App Allows Dutch Muslims to Rate their Imams

    If a young Dutch-Moroccan app developer has his way, Muslims in the Netherlands will soon be able to rate their imams online. Mohamed Mouman says imams rarely get feedback from their followers. He believes his app can give prayer leaders a better picture of what's happening in their communities — and can also keep young people from being radicalized. Serginho Roosblad reports from Amsterdam.
    Video

    Video Moscow Condemns NATO Plans to Beef Up Defense in Eastern Europe, Baltics

    NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg said Monday an upcoming "landmark summit" will enhance the alliance's defensive and deterrent presence in eastern Europe and the Baltics. He is visiting Poland ahead of the NATO Summit in Warsaw. Zlatica Hoke reports
    Video

    Video Tech Startups Showcase Wares at Amsterdam Conference

    More than 20,000 tech enthusiasts, entrepreneurs and lovers of digital technology came together in Amsterdam recently at the Next Web Conference to discuss the latest developments in digital technology, look to the future and, of course, to connect. In recent years, there has been an explosion of so-called startup businesses that have created devices and applications that have changed the way we live; but, as Serginho Roosblad reports for VOA, there are pitfalls for such startups as well.
    Video

    Video US Military's Fallen Honored With Flags

    Memorial Day is a long weekend for most Americans. For some, it is the unofficial start of summer -- local swimming pools open and outdoor grilling season begins. But Memorial Day remains true to its origins -- a day to remember the U.S. military's fallen.
    Video

    Video Rolling Thunder Rolls Into Washington

    The Rolling Thunder caravan of motorcycles rolled into Washington Sunday, to support the U.S. military on the country's Memorial Day weekend
    Video

    Video A New Reading Program Pairs Kids with Dogs

    Dogs, it is said, are man's best friend. What some researchers have discovered is that they can also be a friend to a struggling reader. A group called Intermountain Therapy Animals trains dogs to help all kinds of kids with reading problems — from those with special needs to those for whom English is a second language. Faiza Elmasry has more on the New York chapter of R.E.A.D., or Reading Education Assistance Dogs, in this piece narrated by Faith Lapidus.
    Video

    Video Fan Base Grows for Fictional Wyoming Sheriff Longmire

    Around the world, the most enduring symbol of the U.S. is that of the cowboy. A very small percentage of Americans live in Western rural areas, and fewer still are cowboys. But the fascination with the American West is kept alive by such cultural offerings as “Longmire,” a series of books and TV episodes about a fictional Wyoming sheriff. VOA’s Greg Flakus recently spoke with Longmire’s creator, Craig Johnson, and filed this report from Houston.
    Video

    Video Chinese-Americans Heart Trump, Bucking National Trend

    A new study conducted by three Asian-American organizations shows there are three times as many Democrats as there are Republicans among Asian-American voters, and they favor Hillary Clinton over Donald Trump. But one group, called Chinese-Americans For Trump, is going against the tide and strongly supports the business tycoon. VOA’s Elizabeth Lee caught up with them at a Trump rally and reports from Anaheim, California.
    Video

    Video Reactions to Trump's Success Polarized Abroad

    What seemed impossible less than a year ago is now almost a certainty. New York real estate mogul Donald Trump has won the number of delegates needed to secure the Republican presidential nomination. The prospect has sparked as much controversy abroad as it has in the United States. Zlatica Hoke has more.
    Video

    Video F-35 Fighter Jet Draws Criticisms as Costs Mount

    America’s latest fighter plane, the F-35, has been mired in controversy. Critics cite cost, faulty design, and the attempt to use it to fill multiple roles. Even the pilot’s helmet is controversial. VOA’s Bernard Shusman reports from New York.
    Video

    Video Concerns Over Civilian Suffering as Iraqi Forces Surround Fallujah

    Thousands of residents are trapped inside the IS-held city ahead of a full scale Iraqi offensive aimed at retaking it.

    Special Report

    Adrift The Invisible African Diaspora