The Israeli-Hamas prisoner swap is not a measure of life value, but rather an illustration of the asymmetrical conflict.
It doesn't take long to meet a prisoner family in Palestine. With more than 6,000 Palestinians incarcerated by Israel right now and more than 700,000 in jails since Israel's 1967 occupation of the Palestinian territories, those stories soon come into the frame - mention of a father, a brother taken away; a swallowing of pain; a distant gaze determined to bring a beloved, absent face into focus.MIDEAST Palestinian Refugees Consider a Model for Return
Now Israel has cut a deal with Hamas to release the soldier Gilad Shalit, five years after his capture, in exchange for more than a thousand Palestinian prisoners, these figures allude to the reality of mass Palestinian imprisonment.
With 20 per cent of the population jailed at some point, prison is a feature of Palestinian life under occupation. From the routine night raids that drag family members away, to the opaque military trials, the detention of children (7,000 since the year 2000) and the torture reported by Amnesty to take place in Israeli prisons, it all adds up to a system of control and debilitation.
TEL AVIV, Oct 16, 2011 (IPS) - In a new project that has tackled one of the most divisive issues plaguing the Palestinian-Israeli conflict, a diverse group of academics, architects, urban planners and Palestinian and Israeli human rights groups are examining how the right of return of Palestinian refugees can be implemented on the ground. "Based on the right of return, we developed since 2008 a project of thinking practically about return. It’s not so much about the right itself, but more about the possibilities, once there will be the right, of how it could be implemented," Eitan Bronstein, founder and spokesperson of Israeli organisation Zochrot told IPS.
Working to raise awareness among Israelis about the Palestinian Nakba, the forced expulsion of 750,000 Palestinians before and during the foundation of the state of Israel in 1947-48, Zochrot has launched an exhibit titled ‘Towards Return of Palestinian refugees’ in Tel Aviv. From the re-imagined layout and step-by-step return processes for the Palestinian villages of Kufr Bir’im and Miska, to video testimonials from Palestinian refugees themselves, a handful of detailed models, simulations and other projects were put on display. "We believe that if people would be exposed to such projects this would show Israelis that there are possibilities of return. None of the projects talk about expelling anyone. We’re talking about how to return, but based on the rights of people who are living here to live here, and all the refugees and their descendants to return," Bronstein told IPS. "We are kind of inventing a new language that hasn’t existed until now, of thinking about the return itself and not continuing to say no, it’s not possible."
Palestinians constitute the largest refugee population in the world, with approximately six million refugees and their descendants scattered throughout the Middle East and around the world. Akhram Salhab is the communications officer at Badil, the Resource Centre for Palestinian Residency and Refugee Rights, which organised workshops with Zochrot to develop the practicalities of return project. He stressed that any discussion about the Palestinian right of return must involve the input of the refugees themselves. "For the past 62 years, most international initiatives related to the refugees have taken place against the will of the refugees. In all respects, the refugees have been left out of planning their own lives. For the project to be successful, it must be viewed as legitimate by them. Our key objective is to include refugees themselves in the planning process," Salhab told IPS. MORE