To the right Honourable David Mcilveen, DUP MLA
It was recently brought to the attention of our executive committee that you made comment on the release of an Israeli Defence Forces Soldier, Sgt Gilad Shalit, whom was held captive by Hamas for 1941 days before his release on Tuesday, Oct. 18, 2011 via a prisoner exchange deal brokered between Israel and Hamas.
We would like to affirm the fact that we whole heartedly agree with you in the sentiments you made within the first half of said article and that all of our executive were ecstatic when Sgt. Shalit was released from the grips of Hamas captivity.
Those whom are held captive anywhere in the world, regardless of the presence or absence of legal justification should not be degraded through use as political tools for political gain. We must never allow for the dehumanization of our fellow human beings, where prisoners are treated as bargaining chips. This is exactly how the State of Israel and the terrorist organisation Hamas behaved towards those who were exchanged in the prisoner swap showing total disregard for their humanity.
Disappointingly we witnessed Israel and Hamas agree the releasing of prisoners for selfish gain rather than on the basis that those held captive have basic human rights that should be respected. Both parties involved decided instead to further abuse their victims, particularly in the case of Israel where they arbitrarily deported many prisoners to a place other than the territories they originated which constitutes a criminal act in international law.
As a student society we are unfortunately left with a number of issues rising from the statements you made in the Belfast Newsletter article that we feel obligated to seek clarification upon, specifically the nature of the comments made where you suggested that Israel is better than the Palestinians in terms of the treatment of prisoners despite overwhelming evidence to the contrary.
You stated that “When you consider the rights afforded to the Palestinian prisoners being released today from Israeli prisons, the humanitarian differences between the Israeli and Palestinian governments are clear to see,”
We would say this creates a false dichotomy in the minds of those you hoped to address with this particular point, as if to suggest that the Palestinian prison system is worse from a humanitarian perspective based on absolutely no factual data at all. You also incorrectly implied that Palestinians have a fully functional and representative democratic government which isn’t remotely true. You also put across a major fallacy by implying that the Israeli state is on par with a Palestinian state (both of which according to your statement are equal counterparts to one another).
Putting aside the fact you deliberately failed to mention key pieces of information such as the Occupation of the Palestinian territories by the state of Israel, a key problem which has again and again been declared one of the major obstacles to peace, we feel that attention should be drawn to the most recent facts and figures given by Addameer – The Prisoner support and human rights association along with a fact sheet released on Palestinian Prisoners day 2012 by Adalah – The legal centre for Arab and minority rights in Israel.
We have to also emphasise that a large percentage of the Palestinian Prisoners held by the Israeli Prison Service (IPS) are political prisoners which you also forgot to mention in the comments you provided. According to Adalah a great deal of these prisoners are subject to inhumane and degrading treatment that has nothing to do with any form of security for Israel.
If we look at the report given just last month we can take key quotes from it such as that according to prisoners in section 4 of Nafha Prison: “The cells are dirty, dark, and unventilated, with insects and cockroaches crawling from the mattresses.”
Another quote from the report states that “The IPS’s overarching policy of harassment and restrictions unrelated to security infringes on prisoners’ human dignity and constitutes cruel and inhuman punishment.”
Given that you were so vocal regarding Gilad Shalit and what you rightly “criticised the Palestinians for their “illegal” and “inhumane” treatment of Shalit” we hoped to ask whether you plan on continuing your duplicitous portrayal of the state of Israel or whether you shall stand up for the rights of Palestinian prisoners similarly to what you did regarding Sgt. Shalit. We are not asking you to support Palestinian prisoner rights instead of, but rather in accompaniment with your support for the rights of Israelis so as to show a true commitment to equal human rights and an equal condemnation of what are in essence similar crimes perpetrated by similarly minded regimes.
We are not attempting to use the tragedy of Sgt. Shalit in a reprehensible way, it is merely our goal to request clarification from yourself and if necessary display the double standards you possess.
Lastly in your statement regarding the time you met Sgt. Shalit’s family in Jerusalem we would ask if you are capable of saying that “This family were clearly heartbroken as at that time they did not know if their son was dead or alive.” then why are you seemingly incapable of showing similar empathy towards the parents and families of Palestinian children who are kidnapped in the middle of the night and taken to Israeli prisons? Perhaps you are unaware that there are currently 211 child prisoners in Israeli jail 39 of which are under the age of 16.
When you consider all of the facts presented we believe that your support for the Israeli state is based on false information and a biased opinion and that it is shameful you actively find excuses to justify Israel’s state policies which are more often than not very racist and counterproductive to the achievement of peace.
It is also in our interests to request that you deal with the substance of our points made in this letter to you so we can deal with the substance of the focus of our letter which is Palestinian Prisoners.
Our Executive Committee shall look forward to a productive correspondence with you and hope for a prompt response.
Gary Spedding – President