The history of Palestinian/Israeli prisoner swaps

Palestinian prisoners sit during visiting at Gilboa prison
Palestinian prisoners sit during a visit at Gilboa prison. (File photo: Jordan News)
AMMAN — Resistance movements in Palestine have engaged in prisoner exchange deals with the Israeli occupation for decades, between 1968 and 2011 there were many notable deals made. اضافة اعلان

These operations successfully led to the release of thousands of Palestinian prisoners, including those with life sentences and high convictions, as well as prisoners from the occupied Palestinian territories since 1948.

As the Qatari Emir flies to Cairo to negotiate a possible future prison deal, the team at Khaberni took a deep dive into past exchanges.

1969 Exchange DealIn August 1969, Leila Khaled and Salim Issawi of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP) hijacked an American passenger plane traveling from Los Angeles, USA, to Tel Aviv. The hijackers forced the pilot to fly over Haifa at a low altitude, allowing Issawi and Khaled to see their forcibly abandoned hometown. The plane then headed to Syria, landing in Damascus, where its 116 passengers disembarked before the plane was detonated.

A prisoner exchange operation took place between Israel and the PFLP, resulting in the release of Palestinian fedayeen imprisoned by the occupation and two Syrian pilots who had made an emergency landing in Palestine.

1971 Exchange DealIn January 1970, a cell of nine Fatah members carried out an operation near the northern borders of Palestine. Their goal was to place explosive devices on the wall of the "Metula" settlement adjacent to the Lebanese border. However, the cell settled for kidnapping a guard. Four days later, Fatah announced that the guard was their captive and demanded the release of 100 Fatah prisoners from Israeli prisons in exchange for his release.

Negotiations between the Israeli government and Fatah, mediated by the Red Cross, resulted in a prisoner exchange deal, with Israeli soldier Shmuel Fais released on January 28, 1971, in exchange for Palestinian prisoner Mahmoud Bakr Hijazi, facing a death sentence, marking the first Palestinian prisoner release in the contemporary Palestinian revolution that began in 1965.

1979 "Litani Operation" Exchange Deal
In March 1978, the Israeli occupation forces conducted a military operation in southern Lebanon known as the "Litani Operation," occupying extensive areas in southern Lebanon, reaching the Litani River, the outskirts of Tyre, and the Rashidiyeh Palestinian refugee camp, as well as part of the eastern sector.

During the Israeli invasion, the Popular Front – General Command set up an ambush for an Israeli truck near Tyre on April 5, 1978, resulting in the death of 4 Israeli soldiers and the capture of a reserve soldier named Abraham Omer.

Through the Red Cross, a prisoner exchange deal took place in Cyprus between the Popular Front and the Israeli occupation on March 14, 1979. The Israeli soldier was released in exchange for the release of 76 Palestinian detainees from various resistance factions, including 12 Palestinian girls.

1980 Exchange Deal
"Fatah" detained Amina Al-Mufti, who was discovered while working for Israeli intelligence in Lebanon, providing information about Palestinian resistance organizations and their leaders. Al-Mufti, of Jordanian nationality and belonging to a Muslim Circassian family, converted to Judaism and married a Jewish pilot in Austria. She settled with him in Israel. During the October 1973 war, her husband's plane was shot down over Syrian territory. Unable to find him, she returned to Austria, where Israeli intelligence offered her the role of a spy.

On February 13, 1980, an exchange operation took place through the Red Cross in Cyprus, leading to the release of Amina Al-Mufti in exchange for the release of detainees Mehdi Bessiso "Abu Ali" and William Nassar.

1983 Exchange DealIsrael waged a war on Lebanon in 1982 under the slogan "Operation Peace for Galilee," invading cities, villages, and camps. Palestinian and Lebanese resistance inflicted losses on the occupation army, capturing eight Israeli soldiers from the "Nahal" special forces on September 4, 1982, in the "Bhamdoun" area in Lebanon.

On November 23, 1983, an exchange operation took place between "Fatah" and the Israeli government, facilitated by the Red Cross, in the port of Tripoli in northern Lebanon. Six Israeli soldiers held by "Fatah" were handed over.

Israel released all detainees from the "Ansar Camp" in southern Lebanon, who numbered 4,700 Palestinian and Lebanese detainees. Additionally, 65 prisoners from Israeli prisons were released, and archives belonging to the Palestine Liberation Organization, seized by Israeli forces during the invasion of Beirut in 1982, were returned.

The total number of prisoners released exceeded 5,000, with 3,500 choosing to remain in Lebanon, while the rest were transported to Algeria via French planes through Lod Airport.

During the exchange deal, Israel violated the agreement by kidnapping about 100 detainees from the "Ansar Camp" during their transfer from the prison to Lod Airport. Israel kept them and retained some detainees in other prisons who were part of the exchange deal.

1991 Exchange DealOn June 11, 1982, the General Command captured Sergeant First Class "Hazi Yishai," an Iraqi Jew, during the Battle of Sultan Ya'qub while he was leading one of the tanks in an Israeli tank convoy. Yishai chose a different path, and the tank was hit. He attempted to escape, but the General Command managed to capture him.

The Red Cross continued communication with the General Command to reach an agreement. The General Command insisted on knowing the fate of the missing members of the Palestinian revolution from all its factions. Israel provided a list of 128 names of prisoners missing in the 1983 deal, who were transferred to Israeli prisons in Palestine.

A new phase of negotiations began, during which the General Command stipulated that Israel must agree to the number of prisoners to be released before presenting the list of names. Israel also committed not to reject any name presented in the list. After tough negotiations, all demands were agreed upon.

On May 20, 1985, the exchange operation took place between Israel and the General Command, according to Palestinian conditions, and this operation was called the "Galilee Operation." It was one of the most powerful Arab-Israeli exchange deals, where the resistance gained significant gains in the prisoners' issue. Israel was forced to keep most released prisoners within the territories occupied in 1967, and the majority of them had sentences ranging from 10 to 15 years, with some sentenced to life.

According to the exchange agreement, 1,155 detainees were released from Israeli prisons. The release included 118 prisoners who were kidnapped during the exchange with Fatah in 1983 from the "Ansar Camp" and 154 prisoners transferred from the same camp to the "Atlit" prison when Israeli forces withdrew from southern Lebanon. It also included 883 detainees originally in Israeli prisons in occupied Palestine. In return, three Israeli soldiers were released.

Among the released prisoners were 99 from Arab countries and six from other countries, including the Japanese Kozo Okamoto, the leader of the Lod Airport operation on May 30, 1972. Israel demanded 100 prisoners in exchange for him, but the offer was rejected, and the General Command insisted on his release.

The deal also included Palestinians from 1948 territories, prisoners from the West Bank and Gaza Strip, and among the released was Ahmed Yassin, the founder of the "Hamas" movement.

2009 "The Free" DealOn June 25, 2006, the Izz ad-Din al-Qassam Brigades, the military wing of Hamas, executed a joint military operation with the Nasser Salah al-Din Brigades, the military arm of the Popular Resistance Committees in Palestine, and the Army of Islam. The operation, named "The Vanishing Mirage," involved infiltrating the borders through an underground tunnel and ambushing Israeli forces.

The operation targeted the support and protection sites of the Israeli army "Kerem Shalom" on the eastern border of Rafah city. It resulted in the death of the tank commander and his assistant, injuring five others, and the destruction of a "Merkava" tank and an armored personnel carrier. The attackers also captured the soldier "Gilad Shalit," and they withdrew without being tracked.

To obtain information about the Israeli soldier, Israel initiated an exchange operation with Hamas through the German mediator on October 1, 2009, named the "Free Deal." Israel released 20 Palestinian female prisoners from the West Bank and Gaza in exchange for a two-minute video showing Shalit in good health.

2011 "Wafaa al-Ahrar" DealDespite years of negotiations through various mediators between Israel and the Palestinian side to release Shalit, Israel's extensive efforts were unsuccessful. Israel waged a war on the Gaza Strip at the end of 2008 and the beginning of 2009, but it did not succeed in locating the captive soldier.

After more than 5 years spent in captivity, Israel succumbed to Palestinian demands on October 18, 2011. In a historic exchange deal named "Wafaa al-Ahrar," brokered by the Egyptian mediator, Israel released Shalit in exchange for the release of 1,027 Palestinian prisoners. This deal was the largest of its kind in both Palestinian and Lebanese resistance exchanges.

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