Muslim vs. Non-Muslim Treatment of Prisoners of War -Moinul Alam
Since October 7, 2023, the conflict in Gaza has been the center of attention for the whole world. The outbreak of the war between Israel and Palestinian militant Hamas took place when the Hamas militants carried out massive attacks within Israel from the land and air and fired more than five thousand missiles within half an hour. Hamas inflicted the heaviest casualties on Israel in recent times, with more than a thousand dead and many injured. Israel retaliated immediately by bombarding Gaza City heavily. The bombardment primarily from the air is continuing to date, and more than 22 thousand Palestinians have been killed, the majority of them children.
Hamas fighters, while going back to their den in Gaza, took around 250 Israelis as hostages. These hostages may be termed prisoners of war (POWs). In terms of how Israel and Hamas treat POWs, we see completely different situations on both sides.
On November 24, 2023, Qatar’s negotiated four-day temporary ceasefire came into effect. Israel released three Palestinian POWs in exchange for its single POW. The cease-fire was extended twice. In exchange for their soldier Gilad Shalit, whom Hamas kidnapped and held hostage in 2006, Israel released more than a thousand Palestinians in 2011. Hamas’ humanist treatment towards the hostages can easily be inferred from the fact that Gilad Shalit remained alive and healthy for more than five years in the custody of Hamas.
In December 2023, the Israeli Defence Forces mistakenly shot dead three Israeli hostages in Shejaiya, Northern Gaza, as they were misidentified as threats. Moreover, at least 29 Israeli soldiers were killed in friendly fire and operational incidents during the ground offensive in Gaza. This figure reflects the frustration prevailing among Israeli soldiers while carrying out an unjustified and inhuman offensive against the civilians in Gaza. Furthermore, the number of Israeli soldiers deserting from the frontlines has been increasing steadily. In the statistics, it was revealed that by the end of November, nearly 2000 Israeli soldiers had abandoned their posts.
Israel has been very infamous for its inhumane treatment of Palestinian POWs. This Jewish state often puts ordinary Palestinians behind bars by way of mass arrest and administrative detention (i.e., without any trial). When there is a deadly conflict between the two sides, Israel’s desire to reduce Palestinian prisoners to animals through physical and mental humiliation becomes more dominant. Israel’s cruelty is compounded by meanness, and such cruelty includes hitting with sticks, setting on muzzled dogs, taking away clothes, food, blankets, etc.
Famous daily The Guardian referred to Hamas’ conduct towards Israeli POWs as a rare description of humanity in the savage conflict. The daily referred to the reaction of an octogenarian Israeli woman POW who said “Shalom,” i.e., peace, to Hamas captors. It demonstrates the humanity that the Palestinian fighters are displaying towards the POWs. All of the footage and images of Israeli POWs that Hamas has released show the hostages grinning and waving goodbye to their captors. Such a scene is almost unbelievable in real life.
However, Israelis claimed to be civilized and democratic despite their continuous inhuman acts, which should make animals ashamed. So far, at least six Palestinian POWs have died in Israeli detention since October 7, 2023. From a broader perspective, the figure is even more alarming. According to the Commission on Detainees’ Affairs, more than 220 Palestinians have died in Israeli jails since 1967. Seventy-three of those prisoners died of torture, while 69 died of medical negligence.
The treatment of the POWs by Hamas appears to be in line with the manner in which Islam proscribes the same. The almighty Allah ordered to provide food to the captives in Sura Al-Insan of the holy Quran. Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) made it the responsibility of the captors to provide food and clothing to the captives on a reasonable basis. Moreover, Caliph Umar made it illegal to separate related POWs from each other.
The options provided to POWs following the Battle of Badr may reveal the beauty of Islam and how to treat them. The options were either to convert to Islam, pay ransom, or teach ten Muslims to read and write. Due to the guaranteed humane treatment and possibility of subsequent release, opposition combatants preferred captivity at the hands of the Muslims.
Islam generally discourages the infliction of capital punishment on POWs, apart from in extreme cases of necessity and in the higher interests of the state.
Conducts towards the POWs have been enumerated in the Third Geneva Convention of 1949. The Convention sets out specific rules for treating POWs. Most of the rules are in line with the conduct allowed under Islam thousands of years ago! Under the Convention, the POWs are not allowed to be subjected to torture and must be protected against acts of violence. The Convention focuses on treating female POWs with regard to their sex. Discrimination on account of race or nationality has been prohibited. Moreover, the POWs are required to be provided with food, clothing, and medical care under the Convention. Furthermore, the Convention forbids the production of POW shields. Repatriation of seriously ill POWs must be done immediately.
Considering the treatment of the POWs, it appears that abiding by human rights is the main concern. But such compliance remains unnoticed when groups like Hamas come into the limelight. Similar to this, serious violations of human rights by western nations and their allies, like Israel, go unpunished. The United Nations has already become an ineffective institution as it fails to prevent outbreaks of war and the usurpation of human rights worldwide. However, the United Nations, along with other regulatory bodies, should be more proactive in ensuring compliance with the Geneva Conventions by the captors of the hostages.