Israel has re-arrested dozens of Palestinians in the West Bank, an act a human rights group says is ‘unjustified’.
Kobar, occupied West Bank – The soldiers came for Na’el al-Barghouti at 2am.
Startled by the loud knock on the door, his wife hurriedly put on a cardigan before darting to the front door to let them in. Within a couple of hours, the Israeli forces were gone, and so was her husband: blindfolded and handcuffed, he was returned to prison, only two years after his release.
Barghouti, 57, was one of 1,027 Palestinian prisoners released in 2011 in exchange for Gilad Shalit, a soldier held by Hamas in the Gaza Strip for more than five years. Barghouti was one of a few whom Israel permitted to stay in the West Bank, while others were either exiled to Gaza or deported to foreign countries, including Qatar and Turkey.
But following the June kidnapping and murder of three Israeli settler teenagers, hitch-hiking in the West Bank, the Israeli authorities arrested approximately 1,000 Palestinians and raided hundreds of homes. Among the detainees were 58 prisoners released in the Shalit deal, including seven from East Jerusalem.
Israel blamed Hamas for the murder, and the group’s members, many of them parliamentarians, were imprisoned. Most of those arrested remain behind bars.
The arrests were made based on a 2009 military order that enables Israeli prosecutors to push for reinstating prisoners’ original sentences if they commit an offence. In these cases, neither the prisoner or lawyer are privy to evidence that can be used to incarcerate them once more.
Last year, a team of Palestinian lawyers petitioned Israel’s high court regarding Article 186 of military order 1651, the regulation that particularly affected those released in the Shalit deal. Addameer, a Palestinian prisoner advocacy group, called it an “unjustified” act that “undermines the protection of prisoners and ex-prisoners”.
So far, at least six detainees have been ordered to serve out the remainder of their original life sentences after the Israeli authorities said they had violated their parole. The rest are either under administrative detention – being held without indictment or trial – or are waiting to be brought before a military court.
Before they were re-arrested, the prisoners released in the Shalit deal remained under tight Israeli security restrictions, which limited movement from their hometowns, and included regular check-ins with Israeli police or the nearest office of the Israeli Coordinator of Government Activities in the Territories (COGAT). All had to sign documents agreeing to abide by conditions of their release.
Barghouti did just that, his wife Eman said, reporting to Israeli authorities at Beit El, an Israeli military outpost on the outskirts of Ramallah, on a bi-monthly basis.
In 1978, when he was just 20, Barghouti was sentenced to life in prison for his role in the killing of an Israeli soldier. When he left jail, he was the most veteran prisoner to be released in the Shalit exchange.
“That’s why I cannot understand why they would want to take him back to prison,” she told Al Jazeera.
Initially, Israel’s Military Advocate General’s office said Barghouti was associated with Hamas; the Palestinian faction was mulling listing him as a candidate for the post of minister of prisoners affairs in the new national consensus government.
“Then they accused him of having maintained ties with Hamas by attending a meeting for the Islamic bloc at his university,” said Merav Khoury, Barghouti’s lawyer.
So far, Barghouti has not been charged, but he still faces the possibility that he may have to serve out the remainder of his sentence. Khoury said a three-judge panel will most likely issue a verdict by the end of August – one that would be based on administrative evidence, most of it classified.
The Israeli army spokesperson’s office did not return repeated Al Jazeera requests for comment.
Israeli officials, however, have said these restrictions on released detainees are essential to their citizens’ protection, often citing the case of Ziad Awad, another prisoner from the Shalit swap, who was charged with the killing of an Israeli police officer in the West Bank in April.
“Intelligence sources estimate that 60 percent of those who have been freed in these…deals over the decades have subsequently been jailed again for terrorism,” The Times of Israel reported in June.
Naftali Bennett, Israel’s economy minister and head of the Jewish Home party, was behind a May bill to limit the possibility of prisoner swaps. The bill passed a ministerial committee for legislation, but eventually did not become law. “The state of Israel needs to stop releasing prisoners in instances like this, which we have done for 30 years… If we exchange prisoners, this cycle will never end,” Bennett told Israeli radio.
But Palestinian advocacy groups say the re-arrests of Palestinian prisoners are acts of “revenge” for the killing of the three Israeli teens.
“Re-arresting Barghouti and the others is a flagrant violation of the Egyptian-mediated exchange [in 2011],” said Qaddura Fares, the head of the Palestinian Prisoners Club. “These prisoners are not a pawn in Israel’s hands to be used whenever it wants.”