8

The Jibril Agreement (Arabic: اتفاقية جبريل, romanized: Ittifāqīyat Jibrīl) or "Jibril Deal" (Hebrew: עסקת ג'יבריל, romanized: Iskat Jibril) was a prisoner exchange deal which took place on May 21, 1985 between the Israeli government, then headed by Shimon Peres, and the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine - General Command (an organization often known as just 'PFLP-GC'). As part of the agreement, Israel released 1,150 security prisoners held in Israeli prisons in exchange for three Israeli prisoners (Yosef Grof, Nissim Salem, Hezi Shai) captured during the First Lebanon War. This was one of several prisoner exchange agreements carried out between Israel and groups it classified as terrorist organizations around that time.[1]

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jibril_Agreement

Why did Israel exchange several hundred prisoners in exchange for a few Israeli hostages? You would think you would exchange one for one, but for some reason in all of the prisoner exchanges I've read about between israel and other countries, Israel only get a few prisoners back in exchange for several hundreds of them. Is there a reason why Israel doesn't seem to have any advantage in these negotiations?

2

3 Answers 3

7

"Whosoever destroys one soul, it is as though he had destroyed the entire world. And whosoever saves a life, it is as though he had saved the entire world." - Hillel the Elder

Why does Israel often exchange several hundred prisoners in exchange for a few Israeli prisoners? You would think you would exchange one for one, but for some reason in all of the prisoner exchanges I've read about between israel and other countries, Israel only get a few prisoners back in exchange for several hundreds of them. Is there a reason why Israel doesn't seem to have any advantage in these negotiations?

There is nothing special about one for one exchange. E.g., all for all exchanges are quite common - as Hamas suggested earlier in the conflict, as well as in other conflicts, e.g., in Ukraine.

What ultimately determines the number (and the choice) of persons to be exchanged is their value: in terms of information they can disclose to the side holding them (in case of spies), in terms of danger they might pose, if released, and in terms of the effect of such an exchange on public opinion.

  • The obvious advantage that Israel has is that it holds lots of Palestinians in prisons, some of which, are relatively harmless and can be released without much damage to the national security.
  • The obvious disadvantage is that being a democratic state Israel is particularly sensitive to the public opinion and moral aspect of the problem, whereas Hamas considers its fighters as dispensable or even willing to die in the name of the "resistance".

Gilad Shalit and Samir Kuntar
To take a specific recent example, Gilad Shalit was exchanged for 1027 prisoners, collectively responsible for the deaths of 569 Israelis. This exchange was preceded by several years of passionate public debate, with the following obvious pros and cons:

Cons:

  • Releasing convicted criminals is unjust to the families of the victims.
  • The released experienced terrorists are likely to pose future danger.
  • Negotiating with terrorists and giving in to their demands invites further hostage taking

Pros:

  • A democratic state is obliged to defend its every citizen to the very end (individual rights are above "common" interest.)
  • A specifically Israeli reason is that majority of Israelis serve in the army and could easily imagine themselves in Gilad Shalit's place.

Arguably, the final outcome of the negotiations was influenced by the public campaign led by Noam Shalit, the captured soldier's father.

An even more striking recent deal is the exchange of Samir Kuntar and a few minor Hezbollah militias in exchange for the bodies of two captured Israeli soldiers. Although at the moment of the exchange it was not established with 100% certainty that the two soldiers were dead, it was suspected with high probability on the basis of the forensic evidence. In other words, the point of the exchange was essentially giving the soldiers appropriate burial, helping families find closure and demonstrating that the state defends its citizens even after their death.

Possible new deal
The fact that Hamas has scaled back their demand of exchanging all prisoners for all to exchanging 50 Israelis to 150 Palestinians, shows that the military pressure put on it by Israel has effect. This unfortunately feeds into the right-wing discourse that Hamas understands only force. It is also obvious that such pressure came at the cost of many Palestinian lives - something of little concern (or even of propaganda value) to Hamas, but rather damaging to Israel's international standing.

2
  • perhaps there's also the unprecedented number of hostages hamas was able to kidnap and possibly they suppose that it'd be easier to get new ones, what with the current israeli government is not very effective in protecting their citizens? Nov 22, 2023 at 15:27
  • 1
    @ForShaniNicoleLouk The government failed to protect its citizens on October 7, but it likely to learn the lessons (or the government that follows.) It is more likely, that the negotiation would get tougher for the release of the last few persons - the world will care less after most hostages are released. It is also likely that Hamas keeps particularly valuable prisoners for the future deals - either soldiers or, e.g., babies.
    – Roger V.
    Nov 22, 2023 at 15:31
5

The obvious reason is that it is much easier for Israel to detain Palestinians than it is for Palestinians to detain Israelis. Moreover, Palestinians released by Israel are not pardoned or given amnesty, instead they are put on something more akin to parole and can be re-arrested for minor infractions.

A number of Palestinians freed in the 2011 Gilad Shalit were subseqently re-arrested. Some examples:

  • Ibrahim Abu Hiljeh who served a 24-year sentence on charges of being a militant in the Democratic Front for the Liberation of Palestine. He was re-arrested eight months later, allegedly for violating the terms of his release.
  • French-Palestinian lawyer Salah Hamouri who severed a 12-year sentence on charges of attempting to assassinate the rabbi Ovadia Yosef. He was re-arrested in 2017 and ordered to serve time remaining from his 2005 conviction.
  • Journalist Bushra al-Tawil. She was re-arrested in 2014 and had her prior sentence arbitrarily reimposed.

Of the 240 Palestinian prisoners Israel exchanged for 100 Israelis in late 2023, two individuals have been re-arrested (as of January 2024); one 17-year-old boy and one 18-year-old man. These detentions violate the terms of the agreements but it's not like Hamas can do anything about it. Re-arrests may also be used to put pressure on Palestinian militants. In 2014, 65 Palestinians released in the Gilad Shalit prisoner-exchange were arrested to send an "important message" to Hamas.

Israel may also "compensate" releases with new prisoners. In the months following the release of 477 Palestinian prisoners in 2011 470 others were arrested.

The asymmetry simply means that one Israeli prisoner has a higher bargaining value than one Palestinian prisoner. It is almost routine for Israel to arrest dozens or hundreds of Palestinians while it is extremely unusual for Palestinians to do the same to Israelis.

-1

Yes, the prisoner swap that Israel sometimes does with terrorists (or other political players) is often disproportionate in that Israel transfers more Palestinian prisoners than the number of Israelis it receives back. Yes, it is also obvious from this that Israel values its citizens more. The reasons why it values its citizens more are:

Military and security requirements

Israel is a small country with just 9+ million people, with around 6-7 million of "trusted" Jewish citizens. It also has fought wars with nearly all its neighbours and fights terrorism from both its own population, and from foreign forces. Thus, like other small countries facing continued internal and external security threats, fixed-term military service is mandatory for Israeli Jews, Druze and Circassians.

While Israel has a competent military with highly advanced equipments, the kind of hybrid, sometimes urban warfare it fights takes a heavy toll on its army and para-military forces. Thus, every personnel matters for the Israeli Defense Forces.

Domestic Politics

Israel is a democracy. Whenever any Israeli citizen is captured by foreign army or terrorists, most Israeli citizens consider it as a failure of the government to protect them. Governments / politicians face a lot of public anger over such incidents. Many Israeli citizens also organize politically and protest, demanding that the government get back abducted Israelis by any means including giving into any demands like ransom and / or prisoner swaps:

Shalit’s captors, affiliated with the Islamic Hamas government, demanded a prisoner swap, but the Israeli government said no – at least in public ... Efforts to free him became a rallying cry for thousands of Israelis who urged the government to secure his release.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu ... warned that he didn’t act during this window of opportunity, it could close indefinitely ... It represented a vast change in outlook and rhetoric for the combative prime minister ... Whether it was the prospect of going down in history as the Israeli leader who missed the chance to free Shalit, the calculation of larger geopolitical changes in the region, or a mere reflection of public sentiment, Netanyahu has chosen a path that has taken him away from much of what he has spent decades preaching.

Availability of 100's of thousands of 'inconsequential' Palestinian prisoners

Since 1967, Israel has operated two separate legal systems in the same territory. In the occupied West Bank, Israeli settlers are subject to the civilian and criminal legal system whereas Palestinians live under military law.

As part of Netanyahu's enforcement of apartheid-like policies against Palestinians, arbitrary arrests of Palestinians by the Israeli police and army are quite common. The Amnesty International report includes details of such mass arrests without any regards to human rights:

(P. 11) In Israel, police forces orchestrated a discriminatory campaign against Palestinian citizens involving mass arbitrary arrests of, and unlawful force against, peaceful protesters, while failing to protect Palestinians from organized assaults ...

(P. 18) Since 1967, the Israeli authorities have arrested over 800,000 Palestinian men, women and children in the West Bank, including East Jerusalem, and Gaza Strip, bringing many of them before military courts that systematically fail to meet international standards of fair trial, and where the vast majority of cases end in conviction.

(P. 21) Upon arrest, Palestinians are routinely placed in pretrial detention; by contrast, Jewish protesters are generally granted bail.

(P. 106) Hundreds of thousands of Palestinians in the OPT have been arrested in the context of military rule, including many protesting against Israel’s military laws and policies. ... Israel has also maintained a policy of forcibly transferring Palestinian prisoners from the OPT to prisons inside Israel, a flagrant violation of international humanitarian law ... Some 4,236 Palestinians from the OPT, including 267 from the Gaza Strip, were held in Israeli prisons at the end of May 2020, according to the Israel Prison Service.

(P. 111) Israeli authorities have since 1967 outlawed more than 400 Palestinian organizations, including all major political parties and several prominent civil society organizations ... Over the years, they have arrested scores of Palestinian lawmakers, particularly following Hamas’s electoral victory in 2006 ...

(P. 185) ... between the start of 2012 and November 2019, the Israeli navy has attacked Palestinian fishermen ... has arrested 547 fishermen, 40 of them children ...

(P. 211) Israeli security forces have also carried out violent raids on Palestinian hospitals and medical personnel in the West Bank ... Such raids are usually aimed at arresting injured Palestinian protesters whilst they are seeking medical care ...

(It is common to find Palestinian children in Israeli jails for throwing rocks at some Israeli building - throwing stones now carries a sentence of 10 to 20 years in Israel! Here's a video where a 13 year old Palestinian girl describes her arrest after she was accused of picking up a knife from the street.)

Israel has the dubious distinction of being the only country in the world that automatically and systematically prosecutes children in military courts that lack fundamental fair trial rights and protections. Israel prosecutes between 500 and 700 Palestinian children in military courts each year.

The point is that Israel has plenty of prisoners to exchange, and not all of them are violent or even terrorists but most are politically active Arabs (Israeli and Palestinian) or even innocent bystanders. (Releasing them probably benefits the Israelis too as it frees up prison resources, while political players like Hamas can also get to brag about the "large" number of Palestinians it freed).

In fact, sometimes Israel bluntly refuses to release a high-profile political prisoner or PoW and, instead offers 100's or thousands more of the "minor" prisoners.

The most notable name not on the list is that of jailed Palestinian lawmaker Marwan Barghouti, who is serving five life sentences for murder and other charges related to his role in planning attacks on Israelis during the second Intifada.

Israel also sometimes includes terms of restrictions for some of the released prisoners:

.... Once freed, they will be under various restrictions on a case-by-case basis: Some will not be allowed to leave the country, while others will have restrictions on their movement or be required to report their whereabouts to local police according to Justice Ministry spokesman Moshe Cohen ...

Reference:

  1. Why Israelis believe one soldier is worth 1,000 Palestinian prisoners
  2. Israel’s apartheid against Palestinians: Cruel system of domination and crime against humanity
  3. IDF soldiers
  4. Military Detention
6
  • 4
    Availability of 100's of thousands of 'inconsequential' Palestinian prisoners You suggest that the prisoners exchanged were "inconsequential" and not dangerous, but this does not seem to be the case: foreignpolicy.com/2011/10/20/…
    – user103496
    Oct 14, 2023 at 3:30
  • 3
    Hmmm, OK with big numbers. But... if it's Hamas that is doing the swapping, do you really think they are holding out to free only "minnows of no consequence"? Or their own people? Oct 14, 2023 at 6:45
  • @user103496 I didn't mean that Israel didn't release high profile terrorists or political activists. Just that it uses the lakhs of Palestinian prisoners in Israeli prisons as a bargaining chip during its negotiations.
    – sfxedit
    Oct 14, 2023 at 12:18
  • @ItalianPhilosophers4Monica I meant that Israel uses these lakhs of prisoners as a bargaining chip, offering to release 100's or thousands more lower profile prisoners instead of someone high-profile that the US or Israel doesn't want released. Sometimes Hamas doesn't budge. Sometimes it accepts that Israelis won't compromise their stand. Israel's tactics have also adapted to Hamas - for example, Israel won't immediately engage with Hamas and be very militarily aggressive against the Palestinians. This tends to increase domestic and international pressure on Hamas to be less stubborn.
    – sfxedit
    Oct 14, 2023 at 12:25
  • 2
    The idea that some people can come up with the assumption that Israel is ready to release lots of terrorists in exchange for an individual citizen, for "practical reasons", i.e. because Israel needs those released citizens to fight in Gaza, makes me nauseous.
    – Jacob3
    Nov 22, 2023 at 18:20

You must log in to answer this question.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged .