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

Video Americans, Tourists, Reflect on Meaning of Thanksgiving

VOA garnered opinions from several people soon after November 13 Paris attacks, which colored many of their thoughts

Video Thais Send Security Concerns Down the River

In northern Thailand, the annual tradition of constructing floating baskets to carry away the year’s bad spirits highlights the Loy Krathong festival

Video Tree Houses - A Branch of American Dream

Workshops aimed at teaching people how to build tree houses have become widely popular in America in recent years

This forum has been closed.
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.
Belgium-Germany Border Remains Porous, Even As Manhunt For Paris Attacker Continuesi
Ayesha Tanzeem
November 25, 2015 10:46 PM
One of the suspected gunmen in the Nov. 13 Paris attacks, Salah Abdeslam, evaded law enforcement, made his way to Belgium, and is now believed to have fled to Germany. VOA correspondent Ayesha Tanzeem makes the journey across the border from Belgium into Germany to see how porous the borders really are.

Video Belgium-Germany Border Remains Porous, Even As Manhunt For Paris Attacker Continues

One of the suspected gunmen in the Nov. 13 Paris attacks, Salah Abdeslam, evaded law enforcement, made his way to Belgium, and is now believed to have fled to Germany. VOA correspondent Ayesha Tanzeem makes the journey across the border from Belgium into Germany to see how porous the borders really are.

Video Islamic State Unfazed by Losses in Iraq, Syria

Progress in the U.S.-led effort to beat Islamic State on its home turf in Iraq and Syria has led some to speculate the terror group may be growing desperate. But counterterror officials say that is not the case, and warn the recent spate of terror attacks is merely part of the group’s evolution. VOA National Security correspondent Jeff Seldin has more.

Video Taiwan Looks for Role in South China Sea Dispute

The Taiwanese government is one of several that claims territory in the hotly contested South China Sea, but Taipei has long been sidelined in the dispute, overshadowed by China. Now, as the Philippines challenges Beijing’s claims in an international court at The Hague, Taipei is looking to publicly assert its claims. VOA’s Bill Ide has more from Beijing.

Video Syrian Refugees in US Express Concern for Those Left Behind

Syrian immigrants in the United States are concerned about the negative tide of public opinion and the politicians who want to block a U.S. plan to accept 10,000 Syrian refugees. Zlatica Hoke reports many Americans are fighting to dispel suspicions linking refugees to terrorists.

Video After Paris Attacks, France Steps Up Fight Against IS

The November 13 Paris attacks have drawn increased attention to Syria, where many of the suspected perpetrators are said to have received training. French President Francois Hollande is working to build a broad international coalition to defeat Islamic State in Syria and in Iraq. Zlatica Hoke reports.

Video US, Cambodian Navies Pair Up in Gulf of Thailand

The U.S. Navy has deployed one of its newest and most advanced ships to Cambodia to conduct joint training drills in the Gulf of Thailand. Riding hull-to-hull with Cambodian ships, the seamen of the USS Fort Worth are executing joint-training drills that will help build relations in Southeast Asia. David Boyle reports for VOA from Preah Sihanouk province.

Video Americans Sharpen Focus on Terrorism

Washington will be quieter than usual this week due to the Thanksgiving holiday, even as Americans across the nation register heightened concerns over possible terrorist threats. VOA’s Michael Bowman reports new polling data from ABC News and the Washington Post newspaper show an electorate increasingly focused on security issues after the deadly Islamic State attacks in Paris.

Video World Leaders Head to Paris for Climate Deal

Heads of state from nearly 80 countries are heading to Paris (November 30-December 11) to craft a global climate change agreement. The new accord will replace the Kyoto Protocol on Climate Change that expired in 2012.

Video Uncertain Future for Syrian Refugee Resettlement in Illinois

For the trickle of Syrian refugees finding new homes in the Midwest city of Chicago, the call to end resettlement in many U.S. states is adding another dimension to their long journey fleeing war. Organizations working to help them integrate say the backlash since the Paris attacks is both harming and helping their efforts to provide refugees sanctuary. VOA's Kane Farabaugh reports.

Video Creating Physical Virtual Reality With Tiny Drones

As many computer gamers know, virtual reality is a three-dimensional picture, projected inside special googles. It can fool your brain into thinking the computer world is the real world. But If you try to touch it, it’s not there. Now Canadian researchers say it may be possible to create a physical virtual reality using tiny drones. VOA’s George Putic reports.

Video New American Indian Village Takes Visitors Back in Time

There is precious little opportunity to experience what life was like in the United States before its colonization by European settlers. Now, an American Indian village built in a park outside Washington is taking visitors back in time to experience the way of life of America's indigenous people. Carol Pearson narrates this report from VOA's June Soh.

Video Even With Hometown Liberated, Yazidi Refugees Fear Return

While the northern Iraqi town of Sinjar has been liberated from Islamic State forces, it's not clear whether Yazidi residents who fled the militants will now return home. VOA’s Mahmut Bozarslan talked with Yazidis, a religious and ethnic minority, at a Turkish refugee camp in Diyarbakır. Robert Raffaele narrates his report.

Video Nairobi Tailors Make Pope Francis’ Vestments

To ensure the pope is properly attired during his visit, the Kenya Conference of Catholic Bishops asked the Dolly Craft Sewing Project in the Nairobi slum of Kangemi to make the pope's vestments, the garments he will wear during the various ceremonies. Jill Craig reports.

Video Cross-Border Terrorism Puts Europe’s Passport-Free Travel in Doubt

The fallout from the Islamic State terror attacks in Paris has put the future of Europe’s passport-free travel area, known as the "Schengen Zone," in doubt. Several of the perpetrators were known to intelligence agencies, but were not intercepted. Henry Ridgwell reports from London European ministers are to hold an emergency meeting Friday in Brussels to look at ways of improving security.

Video El Niño Brings Unexpected Fish From Mexico to California

Fish in an unexpected spectrum of sizes, shapes and colors are moving north, through El Niño's warm currents from Mexican waters to the Pacific Ocean off California’s coast. El Nino is the periodic warming of the eastern and central Pacific Ocean. As Faiza Elmasry tells us, this phenomenon thrills scientists and gives anglers the chance of a once-in-a-lifetime big catch. Faith Lapidus narrates.

Video Terrorism in Many Forms Continues to Plague Africa

While the world's attention is on Paris in the wake of Friday night's deadly attacks, terrorism from various sides remains a looming threat in many African countries. Nigerian cities have been targeted this week by attacks many believe were staged by the violent Islamist group Boko Haram. In addition, residents in many regions are forced to flee their homes as they are terrorized by armed militias. Zlatica Hoke reports.

Video Study: Underage Marriage Rate Higher for Females in Pakistan

While attitudes about the societal role of females in Pakistan are evolving, research by child advocacy group Plan International suggests that underage marriage of girls remains a particularly big issue in the country. VOA’s Ayesha Tanzeem reports how such marriages leads to further social problems.

VOA Blogs