[By Uri Avnery, long-time Israeli peace activist who in the 1940s was an anti-British terrorist. To subscribe to his blogs, write email@example.com and write in the subject line: [[subscribe me]] (double square brackets will make sure it is dealt with immediately.) ]
Gush Shalom Press Release October 18, 2011
Avnery: It is possible to move from a prisoner exchange agreement to forward to a full peace agreement
The release of Palestinians prisoners could be part of building trust between the two peoples
“Like every Israeli citizen today, I welcome Gilad Shalit with all my heart on his return home. I am happy for his parents, who have conducted such a dedicated and persistent, touched the heartstrings and moved the government and did the impossible - to return their son home” says former Knesset Member Uri Avnery, Gush Shalom activist.
“On this day I can also feel happy for hundreds of Palestinian families who get back their sons, some after decades in prison. Many among us find it difficult to understand how people who are considered in Israel as heinous murderers are regarded on the other side as heroes. This is not the first time in history that people are considered despicable terrorists by one side and as freedom fighter by the other. The Etzel and Lehi undergrounds carried out numerous operations in which civilians were killed. I myself joined the Etzel (Irgun) at the age of fifteen, in protest against the execution of Shlomo Ben Yosef, who had fired on a civilian bus full of Palestinians women and children, with the intention of indiscriminately killing its passengers. In the State of Israel, Shlomo Ben Yosef is considered a hero, for whom streets are named and whose picture appeared on postage stamps.
In recent days the media was full of demagogic assertions that ‘undoubtedly’ prisoners released now would resume taking part in violent acts against Israel. This is definitely not pre-ordained, and to a considerable degree it depends on us, too. Indeed, if we continue to insist on not achieving peace, if we continue the occupation and oppression of the Palestinians, then the conflict would continue and mutual bloodshed would go on – whether or not we release prisoners. But if we manage to pass onward from an agreement on prisoner exchange for a peace agreement between the State of Israel and the State of Palestine, it might be possible to make the release of prisoners, carried out today, into as part of building trust between the two peoples. Let us not forget that many Palestinians prisoners learned Hebrew in prison, and they know Israel better than almost any other group among Palestinians. Many prisoners who were freed after the Oslo Agreements became known among their people as outstanding adherents of peace.
In the framework of a peace agreement, it would be possible to reach an agreement on freeing all the Palestinian prisoners - not as ‘a heavy price’ to be paid with despondency and among a controversy, but as an act of opening a new page between the two nations - as in South Africa, where all prisoners from all sides were released at the end of Apartheid. Nelson Mandela - who himself spent twenty-eight years in prison for on charges of terrorism - signed upon his election as President also the pardons of white racists who had murdered blacks. “
Adam Keller, Gush Shalom Spokesperson +972-54-2340749