[News] History of Israeli-Arab Prisoner Exchanges

Anti-Imperialist News news at freedomarchives.org
Fri Jul 14 08:49:15 EDT 2006

Information brief: History of Israeli-Arab Prisoner Exchanges
Samar Assad, The Palestine Center, 13 July 2006



Syrian Mubashir TV images of the aftermath of the Israeli bombing of 
one of the highway bridges connecting the north and south of Lebanon. 
Around the Arab world, people were glued to their television sets in 
horror at Israel's decimation of the civilian infrastructure. (EI)


Arrangements for prisoner exchanges between Arab governments and 
Israel date back to 1948. During the early 1980s, the Palestine 
Liberation Organization (PLO) and Israel exchanged prisoners, the 
most famous of which is known as the "Jibril Deal" in May 1985. 
Through third-party negotiations, Israel and Hizballah carried out 
three prisoner exchanges starting in 1996. Attempts to secure the 
release of Palestinian political prisoners through negotiations often 
failed because Israel regularly suspended talks over prisoners or 
renegotiated established criteria for their release. When 
negotiations resulted in an agreement, Israel ignored deadlines for 
the releases, released nonpolitical prisoners and claimed it had 
fulfilled its obligations, or simply dismissed agreements.

Israeli-Hizballah Prisoner Exchanges

To date, there have been three prisoner exchange deals between Israel 
and Hizballah, the details of which follow.

In July 1996, Hizballah released the remains of two Israeli soldiers, 
Joseph Fink and Rahamim Alsheich, in exchange for the remains of 123 
Lebanese soldiers. On the same day, Hizballah released 25 members of 
the South Lebanon Army (SLA), an army loyal to Israel. In exchange 
the SLA released 25 Lebanese prisoners from the Khima Prison in south Lebanon.

In June 1998, Hizballah returned the remains of Sergeant First Class 
Itamar Ilya in exchange for the remains of 40 Hizballah soldiers, 
among them the body of Hizballah leader Sheikh Hassan Nasrallah's son 
who was killed in 1997. The deal also included the release of 
Lebanese prisoners. The bodies of the Hizballah soldiers were 
transported by a French aircraft.

In January 2004, in the largest prisoner exchange, Israel released a 
total of 436 prisoners including 400 Palestinians; 23 Lebanese; two 
Syrians; three Moroccans; three Sudanese; a Libyan; and a German 
Muslim. Israel also returned the remains of 59 Lebanese soldiers. 
Israel received the remains of three Israel soldiers and the release 
of Elhanan Tennenbaum who Hizballah claimed was an Israeli 
intelligence officer. Sheikh Abdel Kareem Obaid, who Israel kidnapped 
from Lebanese territory in 1989, and Sheikh Mustafa Dirani, kidnapped 
in 1994, were among those released by Israel in exchange for its 
three soldiers and intelligence officer.

Israeli-PLO Prisoner Exchanges

The most famous prisoner swap between Israel and the PLO was in May 
1985. In exchange for three Israeli soldiers held by the Popular 
Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP), Israel released 1,150 
Palestinian political prisoners. Among them was Fateh activist Jibril 
Rajoub who, under the Oslo Accords with Israel, established and 
headed the powerful West Bank branch of the Palestinian Preventive 
Security force and forged strong security arrangements with Israel. 
The exchange was called the "Jibril Deal."


Syrian Mubashir TV images of the Israeli bombing of Beirut 
International Airport. Around the Arab world, people were glued to 
their television sets in horror at Israel's decimation of the 
civilian infrastructure. (EI)

Jordanian and U.S. Intervention

In an assassination attempt on Hamas' Damascus-based Khaled Mashaal 
in September 1997, the Israeli Mossad, under orders from Israeli 
Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu injected Mashaal who was living in 
Jordan at the time with a toxic substance. Two Mossad agents were 
arrested and the Israeli covert action was revealed. Jordan's King 
Hussein demanded the antidote and Israel, after pressure from U.S. 
President Bill Clinton, provided the antidote. In exchange for the 
two Mossad agents, Israel released Sheikh Ahmed Yassin, the founder 
and spiritual leader of Hamas who was serving a life sentence in 
Israel. Israel assassinated Yassin in the Gaza Strip in 2004.

Israel and Hamas

About twelve years before Hamas' 25 June 2006 capture of Israeli 
Corporal Gilad Shalit in Gaza, Israeli soldier Nachshon Wachsman was 
taken prisoner in October 1994. Like today, Israel said it would not 
negotiate a release with Hamas. Then-Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak 
Rabin decided on a military option to free the Israeli soldier. The 
Israeli commando raid on a house in Bir Nabala near Jerusalem not 
only left the Hamas captors dead but with them Wachsman.

Hamas has demanded the release of all female and minor Palestinian 
prisoners held by Israel in exchange for Shalit.

Palestinian Political Prisoners

According to the Ramallah-based Mandela Institute for Human Rights, 
there are 9,600 Palestinian political prisoners in Israeli jails and 
detention centers, among them 130 Palestinian women. Defense for 
Children International puts the number of Palestinian children in 
Israeli custody at 388.

According to a recent poll by the Jerusalem Media and Communication 
Center (JMCC), 69 percent of Palestinians insist on an exchange for 
Shalit's release. The high support for a prisoner exchange stems from 
the sensitivity of the prisoner issue within Palestinian society. The 
vast majority of Palestinians have been directly or indirectly 
affected by Israel's policy of arbitrary or blanket arrests and hold 
deep resentment for political violations of their leaders' authority 
and autonomy.

Israel's imprisonment and detention of Palestinians is an example of 
its failure to abide by international law and the Fourth Geneva 
Convention. Administrative detentions, imprisonment without due 
process and imprisonment inside Israel are both illegal under the 
Fourth Geneva Convention.

Furthermore, Palestinian prisoners are routinely tortured by Israel 
and held in detention centers and prisons that do not meet the 
minimum international standards and are routinely denied visitation 
rights by their legal representation and family members. The vast 
majority of Palestinian prisoners are held without trial. According 
to Amnesty International, the trials that do take place often fall 
short of international fair trial standards.

Israel's failure to release Palestinian political prisoners and its 
continued arbitrary arrest of Palestinian civilians serves only to 
highlight Israel's belief that it is above the law and that the 
Palestinians are beneath it.

The Freedom Archives
522 Valencia Street
San Francisco, CA 94110
(415) 863-9977
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