Israel-Palestinian Prisoner Swap Stirs Strong Debate Israel and the Palestinian group Hamas are set to carry out the first stage of a prisoner exchange Tuesday, with nearly 500 Palestinian prisoners and one Israeli soldier being freed. Most Israelis support the move, but some say it will only lead to more attacks.

Israel-Palestinian Prisoner Swap Stirs Strong Debate

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This is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News. I'm Melissa Block.


And I'm Robert Siegel.

Israel and the Palestinians are slated to swap prisoners tomorrow. One kidnapped Israeli soldier, Gilad Shalit, will be traded for hundreds of Palestinians, and Israel's high court will not prevent it. Many of those Palestinian prisoners are serving multiple life sentences for murder, and families of terror victims had petitioned to block the exchange.

NPR's Peter Kenyon, in Jerusalem, has more on the painful debate provoked by the deal between Israel and Hamas.


PETER KENYON, BYLINE: Eager spectators waiting at the Israeli high court building, to see if the prisoner swap would be held up. The eventual release of more than a thousand Palestinian prisoners, in exchange for Gilad Shalit, has the support of nearly four out of five Israelis, according to a poll published today. That's despite the fact that some of the men and women being freed took part in some of the most notorious and bloody attacks against Israeli civilians.


KENYON: A street musician plays at the intersection of King George and Jaffa streets in Jerusalem, the scene of the first suicide bombing I ever covered. This is where the Sbarro pizzeria used to be until in August 2001, a young Palestinian man walked in and set off his bomb, killing 15 people - including eight children.

One of the prisoners due to be freed as part of the Gilad Shalit exchange is Ahlam Tamimi, the then-21-year-old woman who helped stage the attack and dropped the bomber off at the restaurant.

ARNOLD ROTH: It's extraordinary to me that people can call this a celebration, a happy day on our side. This is absolutely beyond me. This is a terrible day.

KENYON: Arnold Roth lost his 15-year-old daughter, Malki, in the Sbarro bombing. She was a classical musician, and a volunteer who worked with disabled children. And it's difficult for Roth to comprehend that unlike Malki, Ahlam Tamimi is about to get her life back.

ROTH: She should never be allowed out. She should never be allowed to make babies, make speeches, be feted and honored. She should spend her life behind bars.

KENYON: Roth believes Tamimi and some of the other released prisoners will either carry out or inspire more attacks against Israelis. Analyst Efraim Inbar, with the Begin-Sadat Center for Strategic Studies, agrees.

EFRAIM INBAR: Well, first of all, it's quite clear that the Palestinian terrorists have additional incentive to try to kidnap additional Israeli soldiers because they get a huge price. A second repercussion is clear statistics, which shows that 60 percent of the released terrorists from previous exchanges have returned to terror.


KENYON: But outside the high court, as Israelis argued against the prisoner release, a woman with close-cropped, salt- and-pepper hair brought a message of support for the swap. Robi Damelin's son, David, was killed by a Palestinian sniper at a West Bank checkpoint in 2002. She says she understands Arnold Roth's pain.

ROBI DAMELIN: Actually, on Thursday, they told me that the man who killed David was going to be freed. And that was really a test for me, you know, to see if I mean what I say.

KENYON: Damelin helped form the Parents' Circle, a forum for Israeli and Palestinian families who have lost loved ones to the conflict. Damelin says it's imperative that prisoner exchanges not be seen solely as propaganda victories or harbingers of more bloodshed.

DAMELIN: But I'm more convinced, now than ever, that if we don't release prisoners, there can be no end to this conflict. And if you look at Ireland, or you look at South Africa, some of the most violent murderers who had blood on their hands - exactly like many people here - are today the greatest peace workers that ever were.

KENYON: Damelin has taken to heart something she heard at the Truth and Reconciliation Commission in her native South Africa, that the definition of forgiveness is giving up on your just right to revenge. It's a definition that has yet to catch on here, and some wonder if it ever will.

Peter Kenyon, NPR News, Jerusalem.

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