50-For-150: Just What Is The Worth Of A Palestinian Life?

Palestinian residents of Gaza mourn and search through the rubbles of their home for survivors and remains of their loved ones after an Israeli strike in the ongoing Hamas-Israel war
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By Dr. Vitus Ozoke

Today’s breaking news all over the world is that a tentative hostage deal has been reached between Israel and Hamas. Hamas will release 50 Israeli hostages in exchange for Israel’s release of 150 Palestinian prisoners held by Israel. That is welcome news! It is welcome news but only because any agreement that secures the freedom of hostages should be celebrated as good news. Which then makes the question I am about to ask a bit academic. Which side should consider itself as having achieved a better outcome in this 50-for-150 deal – Israel or Hamas?

Obviously, in a 50-for-150 deal, the side that gets 150 of its people released by the other side in exchange for releasing “only” 50 of the other side’s hostages will seem to have scored a bigger win than the other side. But that is only if numerical quantity is what you are looking at. Unfortunately, I am looking at more than just numbers. I am using a more profound calculation.

The strange truth, if you are looking at more than numbers, like I am, is that the real winner in this deal is Israel. You see, when it comes to the exchange of human beings by two parties in conflict, the party that gives up fewer in return for more is the real loser in the exchange deal. And this is where the Qatari mediators who brokered this deal should have done more – but did not.

What does it say about the comparative worth of a Palestinian life to an Israeli life? In a 50-for-150 human exchange deal, what you are effectively saying is that one Israeli life is worth three Palestinian lives. The tragedy in that is that you have effectively reinforced an existing dangerous stereotype. You have effectively accepted the qualitative superiority of an Israeli life to a Palestinian life. Sadly, that is a bad deal for Palestinian lives, as every life is equal to the other.

Sadly again, this would not be the first time a human exchange deal that cheapened and devalued Palestinian lives, in comparison to Israeli lives, would be brokered. The 2005 war that involved Israel, Hamas, and Hezbollah ended with a prisoner exchange deal. The deal signed in Cairo was brokered by German and Egyptian mediators. A single Israeli soldier, Gilad Shalit, held by Hamas, was released in exchange for 1,027 Israeli-held Palestinian security prisoners. 280 of these prisoners were serving life sentences for various terror attacks against the State of Israel.

And if you argue that there is a qualitative difference, because this is an exchange of innocent Israeli hostages held by Hamas for convicted Palestinian prisoners held by Israel, it will be a very weak argument. I do not have the list of the 150 Palestinian prisoners that Israel plans to set free as part of this exchange deal, but I can safely speculate that 97 percent of them will be young Palestinian men. I can further speculate that these are not young Palestinian men held prisoners in Israel because they broke into and robbed Israeli banks or engaged in crimes of opportunity.

No, these will be young Palestinian men who were arrested, charged, tried, convicted, and sentenced by Israel for conducts considered inimical to the safety and welfare of the Israeli state. For Palestinians, however, these are young men engaged in the struggle for the liberation of the Palestinian people. So, as far as Hamas and Palestine are concerned, these are their heroes. Yet, in a 50-for-150 (1-for-3) exchange deal, that is not the message you send. Heroes are not supposed to be a dime a dozen.

Like I said, this is where the Qatari mediators who brokered this deal came short. Had the Qatari mediators made this life worth argument to Hamas, perhaps, the outcome would have been a better one. Had they reminded Hamas that a 50-for-150 exchange deal meant a triple higher worth of an Israeli life than a Palestinian life, and also reinforces a dangerous dehumanization stereotype, the Qataris might have secured a parity of 150-for-150 exchange deal.

In other words, if Hamas had insisted on the release of 150 Palestinian prisoners, it would have had to release 150 Israeli hostages in return. Alternatively, if all that Hamas was willing to do at this time was the release of 50 Israeli hostages, then the equal life worth argument would have meant the release of 50 Palestinian prisoners by Israel. Whether it was a 150-for-150 or 50-for-50 human exchange deal, it would have been a strong statement of equality of worth and a denunciation of an existing stereotype. The Qataris failed to achieve that. The stereotype that values an Israeli life far more than a Palestinian life will remain. And the dehumanization may just continue.

Dr. Vitus Ozoke is a lawyer, a civil and human rights activist, and a public commentator based in the United States.

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