“Empty the prisons of all inmates.” Hamas wants to give signs of openness to negotiation... But not at any price. The Palestinian Islamist organization declared on October 28 that it was ready to release the Israeli hostages it is currently holding, in exchange for the release of all Palestinians incarcerated in Israel. “If the enemy wants to close this case of detainees in one fell swoop, we are ready to do so,” said Abou Obeida, Hamas military spokesman, in a video recording broadcast by the Hamas television channel. , Al-Aqsa. “If he wants a step-by-step process, we are ready too.”
The question of prisoners remains a burning issue in the resolution of the conflict between Israel and Hamas since the attack by the Islamist organization against the Hebrew state on October 7, which left 1,400 dead on the Israeli side, and led to intensive bombing. from the Gaza Strip. Hamas claims to currently hold 230 hostages, whom it would like to release in exchange for thousands of Palestinians incarcerated in Israeli jails.
Concretely, Israeli prisons today hold Islamist Hamas fighters as well as Gazan workers or politically oriented criminals, whose very diverse profiles make their unconditional negotiation even more complex. The exact number of these detainees would exceed 10,000, according to several associations defending Palestinian rights.
According to the Israeli human rights association Hamoked, 5,192 “safe” prisoners would be held in Israeli jails in October 2023. These prisoners with a specific status are defined by Israel as having been “convicted and sentenced for having committed a crime” or “suspected of having committed a crime which, due to its nature or circumstances, was defined as a security offense or whose motive was nationalistic”, according to the Israeli Prison Service (IPS) .
In fact, these 5,192 security prisoners are therefore incarcerated because they threaten the security of the Jewish state, and therefore include Islamist Hamas fighters, as well as politically motivated criminals. Among them in particular is Marwan Barghouti, politician and leader of a Palestinian armed group. Often presented as the most popular Palestinian leader and the rival of Mahmoud Abbas, Marwan Barghouti is currently serving five life sentences in Israeli jails for his involvement in the second intifada.
Also read: Israel: what will become of the hostages captured by Hamas?
Among these 5,192 detainees, there are 2,140 prisoners convicted by the courts, 1,463 defendants awaiting trial, and 1,319 individuals in administrative detention - that is to say without charge or trial. In these specific cases, the Israeli army incarcerates these detainees for a maximum period of six months, renewable indefinitely. This administrative detention corresponds to a 2002 Israeli law on “illegal combatants”. “Persons who have participated directly or indirectly in hostile acts against the State of Israel, or are members of a force carrying out hostile acts against the State of Israel” are considered as such.
These detentions are deemed “arbitrary” by the UN, which already criticized the conditions of Israel's incarceration in a report dating from June 2023. “Palestinians are often presumed guilty without proof, arrested without warrant, detained without charge or trial and brutalized in Israeli prisons,” criticized the organization.
In addition to these security prisoners, 4,000 Gazan workers are currently detained by Israel, says the UN. These workers are part of the 18,500 Palestinian residents, originally from Gaza, who held work permits issued by the Israeli authorities and worked in Hebrew territory. However, they had these authorizations revoked following the deadly Hamas attack on October 7. This revocation made these Gazan workers “illegal aliens” on Israeli territory. Since then, 4,000 of them have since been arrested by the Israeli army and placed in detention centers in Israel and the occupied West Bank.
In total, the number of prisoners held by Israel would therefore be around 10,000 people, "and could even be higher", diagnoses Jessica Montell, president of the Hamoked association, in Le Figaro, while the number of Islamist Hamas fighters arrested by Israeli law enforcement has not yet been communicated. This figure of 10,000 was also reported by the Commission for Palestinian Prisoner Affairs (which reports to the Palestinian Authority).
In Israel, the issue of the release of prisoners is all the more flammable since a hostage exchange with Hamas in 2011 saw Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit, detained by the Palestinian movement, be released in exchange for 1,027 Palestinians. A choice which did not fail to raise questions at the time, when a part of the political class, rather on the right, refused to negotiate for fear of showing weakness in the face of Hamas terrorists. Today, “if Palestinian prisoners are released, the security psychosis risks amplifying, rightly so given that the Israelis have the feeling of not completely controlling the situation,” asserted Étienne Dignat on October 12. , doctor in political science, at Le Figaro.