A Facebook post by an Arab journalist that compares the horrible condition of Syrian prisoners with that of the well-fed Palestinian prisoners serving time in Israeli prisons has gone viral, with a surprising number of Arabs offering up some rare praise of Israel.
An al-Jazeera journalist, Faisal al-Qassam, posted the side-by-side photos of an emaciated Syrian in an Assad-regime era prison next to a very healthy looking Samir Kuntar leaving an Israeli prison in 2008 after almost 30 years in jail after an alleged Israeli airstrike that killed Kuntar in his Lebanon home on December 20.
“Samir Kuntar left an Israeli prison with a beer belly and a doctorate. At the other extreme, this is how Syrians leave Assad’s prisons,” read the text accompanying the photo.
The Syrian man appears to be underfed, malnourished, and weak, as he is barely able to hold up his bony figure as he looks at the camera while he sits on his bed in jail.
The photo of Kuntar comes from his 2008 release from an Israeli prison after 29 years in jail for the brutal murder of four Israelis in a 1979 terror raid on the northern Israeli town of Nahariya, where Kuntar smashed the head of a four-year-old girl with his rifle butt and killed her.
Kuntar was released in a prisoner exchange with Hezbollah for the bodies of slain IDF soldiers Eldad Regev and Ehud Goldwasser.
While Kuntar was in jail, he participated in a program that allowed Palestinian prisoners to take online courses from the Open University of Israel, where he graduated with a bachelor’s degree in Social and Political Science. Some Hebrew media sources allege that Kuntar also earned a Master’s degree and his PhD.
Al-Qassam is a famous Syrian broadcaster who hosts the live debate show, “The Opposite Direction,” on the al-Jazeera network. Al-Qassam is most recognized for his provocative on-screen style and has become famous in the Arab world with his Facebook page having 8.7 million followers.
Al-Qassam’s post on December 21 was liked over 100,000 times and got more than 20,000 shares on Facebook.
While some people responded angrily to the post and criticized al-Qassam for his seemingly pro-Israel message, many others responded by praising Israeli prison conditions that are in a stark contrast to those found in other countries in the Middle East.
“We are taught that Israeli prisons are the worst in the world but in fact we know that the Israelis are more merciful than all of the Arabs,” wrote one Facebook user in Arabic. “Some say that the Zionists are our biggest enemy, dogs and murderers. But Muslims kill more Muslims that the Zionists,” read another.
Israel first began to offer university courses to Palestinian prisoners in the early 1990s, after a 14-day hunger strike by Palestinian prisoners. According to prisoners’ rights activists, hundreds of the approximately 5,000 Palestinian prisoners in Israeli jails today are believed to be pursuing degrees.
Orit Adato, who served as the commissioner of the Israeli Prison Service from 2000 to 2003, said that criminal prisoners all over the world are allowed to study; however, when it comes to prisoners involved in political violence, Israel is especially lenient.
“The prisoners in Israel enjoy conditions above and beyond those of any others in the world,” she said. “It is part of a humane Israeli approach that even prisoners deserve rights.” Prisoners’ rights activists say conditions are tough however, and prisoners have held several mass hunger strikes in protest.
In 2011, Israel reduced the privileges of Palestinian prisoners in response to Gilad Shalit’s, an Israeli soldier who had been caught by Palestinian militants five years beforehand, continued captivity in Gaza.
After Kuntar was released from jail, he took on a senior role in Hezbollah, and was honored by then-Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and by Syrian President Bashar Assad. Kuntar helped to organize Syrian Druze on the Golan Heights and elsewhere into terror cells that were tasked with carrying out attacks against Israel.
According to reports, Kuntar was not killed in revenge for his prior attacks against Israel, but instead because he was planning new attacks against Israel.