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15 Apr, 2009 09:13

Israel lets West Bank deportees back

With the recent election of Benjamin Netanyahu as Israeli Prime Minister, hopes for a Palestinian state are once more being brought into the spotlight.

Among those worried for their future are the 11,000 Palestinians in Israeli jails. Not only is Israel refusing to release prisoners as political bargaining, it is also deporting some West Bank inhabitants to Gaza.

When Raid Zaglyul was banished to Gaza five years ago – his crime was clear. He was a Fatah man operating in the West Bank, which immediately rang alarm bells for the Israelis.

“The Israelis put me in Midzhdu prison in the West Bank. Later they took me to Gaza because they believed my presence in the West Bank was a security threat. It was traumatic for me because I was separated from those near and dear to me,” Zaglyul says.

Human rights groups say in the last five years several dozen West Bankers have been deported to Gaza by the Israeli authorities. Since Raid was sent there, Hamas has since to power in Gaza.

The Israeli government insists Gaza's leaders are terrorists and refuses to talk to them, which is why Israel is now building bridges with its former foes – the Fatah fighters.

Building those bridges will not be an easy task. Fatah leader and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas insists the new Israeli government commit itself to a two state solution. Abbas says he won’t return to the negotiating table until this happens, but the new Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is against the creation of a Palestinian state, although he is calling for peace talks.

One of the most urgent tasks Netanyahu has on his hands is what to do with the more than 11,000 Palestinian prisoners currently in Israeli jails.

Hamas wants a tenth of them released in exchange for Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit, who they have been holding since June 2006. Israel is refusing the demands, threatening to deport some West Bank prisoners to Gaza.

For Raid Zaglyul, being allowed to return from Gaza to his native village is bitter sweet. His daughter Leana Zaglyul was born in exile in Gaza and is now lost in her new world.

“We lived through difficult days and the moment of being allowed to return to our family in the West Bank was like a dream. We were happy with our neighbours and friends in Gaza, but the joy of coming home is a different thing,” she says.

The Israelis too aren’t sure where to go next. While Raid and others like him no longer pose a threat, it’s little comfort when their new enemy is stockpiling weapons just across the border.