Israelis and Palestinians in historic prisoner exchange agreement

By Avi Benyakar

On October 11 after 5 years of stalemate, the Israeli government reached agreement with Hamas, the Palestinian government in Gaza, to free captured Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit in exchange for 1,000 Palestinian prisoners.

The drama that lasted more than 1,800 days started on June 25 2006 when terrorists tunneled through from Gaza into Kerem Shalom in Israel capturing an Israeli soldier in a cross border raid. Shalit was held at an unknown location in the Gaza strip until October 11, 2011.

“This is a tough decision,” said Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, when he called on his ministers to approve this deal. In the streets of Israel some might think that 1,000 for 1 is a high price to pay, but who would have thought that in the end both sides would be satisfied from the deal.

During all that period Hamas did not allow any legitimate organization to visit Shalit to make sure that he was still alive. They even refused requests from the International Committee of the Red Cross to allow them to visit Shalit, claiming that any such visit would have betrayed the location where Shalit was being held captive.

Until October 11, the only contact between Shalit and the outside world had been three letters, an audio tape, and a DVD that Israel received in return for releasing 20 female Palestinian prisoners.

All the efforts from western European countries led by Germany, and by the US, were in vain and Hamas constantly requested an immediate release of 1,000 Palestinian prisoners, supposedly with blood on their hands, after they were caught by IDF (Israeli defense forces) for terrorism related activities.

After may months Israel agreed to a German-mediated prisoner exchange deal. Under the deal, Hamas would release Shalit, and Israel would release 1,000 Palestinian prisoners. However, Israel stated that the released Palestinians would not be allowed to enter the West Bank.