Arab News (Editorial)
October 13, 2011 - 12:00am

Freedom is in the air. And no words can sum up the sentiments and emotions of thousands of Palestinian families as they anxiously await the release of their brothers, sisters, sons, daughters, fathers and mothers who have spent years and decades in Israeli prisons. Especially when so many times in the past they had come tantalizingly close to reuniting with their loved ones only to see their hopes crashed. This is a déjà vu moment they have experienced rather too often in the past, forever hanging between hope and despair.

This time around though it looks as if the Hamas-Israel deal to swap Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit with 1,027 Palestinian inmates is on course. Both Benjamin Netanyahu and Hamas leader Khaled Meshal have claimed victory although it is difficult to see how the release of more than a thousand Palestinian prisoners, a significant number of them political prisoners and freedom fighters, is the triumph of the rabid Zionist regime.

Some Western commentators have sought to link the prisoners swap deal to the Hamas leadership’s desperate attempts to steal the thunder of President Mahmoud Abbas generated with his statehood bid at the United Nations. However, the Hamas has been in touch with the Israelis for the past many years over the prisoner exchange. Indeed, at least twice it came close to winning the freedom of thousands of Palestinians in exchange for Shalit, an Israeli conscript it captured five years ago. Every time though the deal collapsed ironically over the Hamas’ insistence on the release of high-profile prisoners like Marwan Barghouti, who belongs to its rival Fatah, and Ahmed Sadaat of the Popular Front. It turns out that the valiant struggle of Barghouti, often compared to the legendary Yasser Arafat, Sadaat and many other faceless heroes will continue from behind the bars for some more time to come.

While the Palestinians have every reason to celebrate the liberation of their loved ones, this must draw the world’s attention to the plight of thousands of other Palestinians rotting away for years and decades in appalling conditions in the Israeli gulag. Amongst the 1,027 prisoners, 315 have spent more than 20 years for demanding freedom and dignity in their own homeland and protesting against the worst occupation the world has ever seen.

According to the UN, there are more than 6,000 Palestinian prisoners in Israel’s 22 jails. They have been forgotten and abandoned by the world community with all its fine institutions. Israel punishes them on a daily basis, denying basic amenities like visits by family and friends. How long will the civilized world tolerate this endless persecution of a people in their own land? Can someone please remind Israel and its powerful friends and protectors that their “democratic” ways and practices have no place in the 21st century?

Today, the winds of change and freedom are blowing all across the Middle East. In case, the Israelis failed to notice, their loyal allies and enablers next door have been thrown out by the spring cleaning of the Arab world. Right now, the region around the self-styled “only democracy” in the Middle East is undergoing dramatic transformation with freedom and people power forcing out tyranny and injustice. It’s only a matter of time before the Zionists faced the same fate. It’s Israel’s turn to reap the whirlwind it has sowed all these years.


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