Gaza truce deal: What do we know about the Palestinian detainees who will be freed from Israeli jails?

Gaza truce deal: What do we know about the Palestinian detainees who will be freed from Israeli jails?
150 Palestinian women and youths under 18 will be freed in exchange for 50 Israeli hostages held by Hamas.
5 min read
23 November, 2023
Palestinians families and supporters await the release of prisoners in Israeli jails [Getty]

Dozens of Palestinian women and teenagers held prisoner by Israel for periods ranging from a few months to several years will gain their freedom under Wednesday's deal between Hamas and Israel, in exchange for the release of 50 Israeli hostages held in Gaza by Hamas. 

The deal is part of the Qatari-brokered accord which also included Israel’s agreement to a four-day truce, the entry of aid to Gaza and the release of 150 Palestinian prisoners in return for women and children Israeli hostages.

The truce, widely expected to go into force on Thursday but delayed during the night, had been put back over "the names of the Israeli hostages and the modalities of their release", an unnamed official told French press agency AFP on Thursday. 

Another 150 Palestinian prisoners could be freed in return for another 50 hostages in days to come, according to Reuters

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A pause in Israel’s war on Gaza has since been confirmed to start on Friday morning instead, with the prisoner exchange to on both sides to be released hours later, according to mediator Qatar. 

The agreement follows weeks of indiscriminate Israeli war on the besieged Gaza Strip after Hamas broke through the militarised Gaza border on October 7 in an unprecedented attack. 

Israeli officials say about 1,200 people were killed and around 240 taken hostage. 

Relentless Israeli bombardments and a ground invasion since then have killed more than 14,000 people, mostly women and children, according to Gaza's Ministry of Health. 

Who are the Palestinian prisoners set to be released? 

Israel has issued a list of all 300 people, who were arrested between 2021 and 2023, to accommodate potential objections to certain individuals as well as the possibility that the swap could grow beyond its original scale.  

The 150 prisoners that Israel has officially agreed to release include 33 adult women and 267 youths aged 18 and under.  

The prisoners hail predominately from the occupied West Bank, while smaller groups of detainees are from East Jerusalem and Gaza.  

The 23-page document released by the Israeli Ministry of Justice on Wednesday shows that 123 children under the age of 18 are found in seven of its pages, including one woman aged 18, who was detained for 'incitement on Instagram'. 

A number of others were arrested for a range of alleged crimes such as arson and manufacturing weapons. 

The youngest Palestinian detainee expected to be released is aged 14, who joins others that have been detained but not convicted.  

Israel has agreed to eight other prisoner swaps since 1982, which started from Israel exchanging more than 4,500 Palestinian prisoners for six Israeli soldiers who were imprisoned by the Palestine Liberation Organisation (PLO). 

Israel’s most known prisoner swaps include the Jibril Agreement of 1985 and the deal under which one Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit, held by Hamas in Gaza for several years, was released in exchange for 1,027 Palestinians in 2011. 

Reports of human rights abuses against Palestinian detainees 

Palestinian detainee rights group Addameer found that Israel had launched intensifying arrest campaigns following the October 7 attack, which led to the detention of over 3130 Palestinians, including 40 journalists.  

Eleven of them have since been released, while 29 more remain in detention. 

The total number of Palestinian prisoners held in Israeli prisons has since exceeded 7,000. 

Since 1967, Israel has issued over 1,000 military orders that have long criminalised Palestinians, subjecting them to arrest for expressing their national identity and opinions.

Engaging in  political speech and even waving the Palestinian flag can lead to arrest for ‘incitement’. 

According to Israeli human rights organisation B’Tselem, 1,310 Palestinians have been held in "administrative detention" without charge or trial, as of September 2023,

Human rights group Amnesty International has urged Israel to release all arbitrarily detained Palestinian prisoners in a recent statement, adding that “the release of Palestinian detainees should not be a pre-condition for releasing hostages”. 

Amnesty highlighted research that demonstrated the effects of administrative detention as well as the mistreatment and torture of Palestinian detainees- as reaffirmed in a report by Human Rights Watch (HRW).  

Israeli rights group Public Committee Against Torture in Israel (PCATI) states that 1,300 complaints of torture, sleep deprivation and exposure to extreme temperatures by Israeli forces were filed with Israel’s ministry of justice since 2001. 

However, such complaints were reported to have led to only two criminal investigations and no indictments within the 22-year period. 

Palestinian child rights organisation Defence for Children International Palestine (DCIP) additionally highlighted the plight of children kept in Israeli detention who have undergone various forms of violence. 

“The remaining children, who are serving sentences, were prosecuted and convicted in the Israeli military court system that does not provide any fair trial guarantees,” Miranda Cleland, DCIP’s advocacy officer, told The New Arab

“[The] Israeli military court system does not provide any fair trial guarantees. Israeli forces routinely do not inform children of their rights, force children to sign statements in Hebrew, coerce confessions using methods deemed as torture by the United Nations, and do not allow a parent present for interrogation.

"Most of these children are detained from their homes in the middle of the night and are beaten, blindfolded, and hand-tied by Israeli soldiers,” she added. 

“Israel is the only country in the world to automatically and systematically prosecute children in military courts.” 

Cleland said children detained that are separated from their families have been ‘extraordinarily’ difficult for relatives who are not guaranteed visitation access in Israeli prisons. 

DCIP has reported documenting various cases of children also detained in administration detention for over a year, as Cleland stated that the detention order “may be renewed the day before they are supposed to be released”. 

“While we welcome the anticipated release of Palestinian child prisoners, we demand an end to the Israeli military detention system which has been detaining, interrogating, prosecuting, and imprisoning Palestinian children for decades,” Cleland said. 

“Violating children's rights is business as usual for Israeli forces and the international community must hold them accountable.” 

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