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Political Prisoners Detained Prior to the Oslo Agreements

September 2012 marks the 19th anniversary of the signing of the Oslo Agreements, yet 111 Palestinians detained prior to this date remain in Israeli prisons. To view this factsheet as a PDF click here.


On 13 September 1993, the day representatives of the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) and Israel signed the Declaration of Principles on Interim Self-Government Arrangements (also known as the “Oslo I” Agreement), starting the so-called “Oslo Peace Process”, Israel held more than 12,000 Palestinian political prisoners in its prisons and detention centers. The call to release Palestinian political prisoners was a key demand of the PLO during the Oslo years (1993-2000), a demand that increased in resonance with the Israeli withdrawal from Area A in the West Bank beginning in late 1995.

However, the agreements comprising the Oslo Process failed to call for the immediate release of all Palestinian prisoners. In fact, one of the most damaging terms of the provisions in the Oslo Accords can be found in the “Oslo II” Agreement, with prisoners divided into categories according to the offense they had (in many cases, allegedly) committed. Annex VII(2)(c) of Oslo II provided that only “detainees and/or prisoners charged with or imprisoned for security offenses not involving fatality or serious injury” would be among the categories of detainees and prisoners included in the Agreement’s staggered releases. This clause, which later developed into the “Jewish blood on their hands” condition, is still used by Israel to justify its refusal to release hundreds of Palestinian political prisoners. As a result, as the Israeli authorities evacuated from Area A, they failed to release or “hand over” the Palestinian prisoners from the “liberated territory” in its custody to the area’s authorities, in clear violation of Article 77 of the Fourth Geneva Convention (1949).
 
As of 13 September 2012, there were 111 Palestinian prisoners arrested before the signing of the Oslo Agreements in Israeli detention including:
 
► 12 prisoners from East Jerusalem
► 15 prisoners from 1948 Territories
► 27 prisoners from the Gaza Strip
► 57 prisoners from the West Bank, not including East Jerusalem 
Instead, all Palestinian prisoners and detainees imprisoned by Israel were transferred to detention facilities inside 1948 territory, further violating Articles 49 and 76 of the Fourth Geneva Convention, which prohibit forcible transfers of protected persons out of occupied territory and require any imprisonment of protected persons to take place inside occupied territory. Furthermore, the issue of East Jerusalem was deemed too controversial to be addressed in the Oslo Accords and subsequent agreements, and was left to be decided at a later stage. The hundreds of Palestinian political prisoners from East Jerusalem, along with Palestinians from 1948 territories who held Israeli citizenship, were therefore excluded from prisoner releases occurring throughout the Oslo process.
 
Although the initial agreement failed to directly tackle the issue of political prisoners, the Gaza-Jericho Agreement, signed in 1994, and the Israeli-Palestinian Interim Agreement on the West Bank and the Gaza Strip (also known as the Oslo II Agreement), signed in 1995, outlined procedures and steps for the release of sentenced prisoners and administrative detainees as a series of “confidence-building measures”. The Gaza-Jericho Agreement called for 5,000 Palestinian prisoners to be released within five weeks of signing, but Israel failed to comply with its obligations, releasing far fewer prisoners than the agreement stipulated. One year later, Israel agreed to release Arab and Palestinian prisoners in three stages under the Oslo II Agreement, but then unilaterally froze all releases in 1996 after the assassination of Yitzhak Rabin and the election of the right-wing Likud government.
 
 
Date of birth: 18 July 1961
Place of residence: Baqa al-Gharbiya, 1948
Date of arrest: 26 March 1986
Place of detention: Gilboa Prison
 
WALID DAKKA, age 51, is one of the longest-held Palestinian political prisoners and has written many books about detention, torture and the prisoners’ movement while in prison. Arrested on 26 March 1986 at the age of 24, he has spent the last 26 years – most of his adult life – in prison. Walid is one of 111 Palestinian political prisoners who were arrested before the signing of the Oslo Agreements and who are still held in Israeli detention.  
 
On 4 September 1999, the Sharm el-Sheikh Memorandum was signed, the purpose of which was to implement the 1995 Oslo II Agreement as well as all other agreements between the PLO and  Israel since September 1993. PLO Chairman Yasser Arafat and Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak signed an agreement that called for the release of 350 Palestinian prisoners in two stages (to be carried out on 9 September 1999 and 15 October 1999), and provided that Israel would aim to release additional Palestinian prisoners before the next Ramadan. The agreement also explicitly stipulated: “the Government of Israel shall release Palestinian and other prisoners who committed their offenses prior to September 13, 1993, and were arrested prior to May 4, 1994.”
 
Israeli authorities have consistently undermined the dignity of the Palestinian prisoner struggle by couching prisoner releases in the terms of “good will gestures” and manipulating them as leverage to improve their public relations and global image. As suggested by Sahar Francis, the General Director of Addameer: “Since the Oslo Accords, without fail, Israel has taken advantage of the prisoner issue to a great extent, using political prisoners as 'bargaining cards’ in an attempt to put pressure on the Palestinian Authority and impose conditions that violate standards of international law.” Furthermore, as outlined above, Israel has manipulated the cohesion of Palestinian prisoners and detainees and their potential inclusion in releases by classifying them differently according to geographic, partisan and legal definitions. Such classifications have enabled Israel to control the fate of Palestinian political prisoners, while continuing to hold thousands more in Israeli prisons.
 
Today, nineteen years after the beginning of the “Oslo Peace Process”, Israel still holds a total of 111 Palestinian political prisoners who were arrested for alleged offenses occurring before 13 September 1993, the cutoff date for prisoners who were supposed to be included in subsequent releases. Approximately 66 prisoners have spent more than 20 consecutive years in Israeli prisons. Though 172 prisoners detained prior to the Oslo Agreements were released in the most recent prisoner exchange deal in October 2011, the remaining prisoners have been excluded from the releases and forgotten by the “peace process”. 
 
For further information on Palestinian political prisoners detained prior to the Oslo Agreements and their role in permanent status negotiations, please see Addameer’s 2009 report, 'Reaching the No-Peace Agreement: The Role of Palestinian Prisoners in Permanent Status Negotiations’. 
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