On Friday, Dec. 31, 1993, the 17th day of the Hebrew month of Tevet, David Bublil and Haim Weizmann were stabbed to death in their sleep in an apartment in Ramle.
One of the murderers was Fatah operative Ala Abu Sata. Together with his fellow attacker, he mutilated the bodies of his victims, even cutting off their ears as proof of his act. Two days later Abu Sata was captured, tried and sentenced to two terms of life imprisonment.
Issa Moussa, a Hamas operative, has also been serving three life terms in Israeli prison since 1993. Moussa was involved in the kidnapping and murder of police officer Nissim Toledano, which had the country in an uproar 21 years ago. He was also involved in the murder of two other police officers, Daniel Hazut and Mordechai Yisrael, on Land Day (March 1993) at Talmei Elazar junction near Wadi Ara.
The potential release of Abu Sata and Issa Moussa came up in discussions of the prisoner-exchange deal that resulted in the release of Gilad Shalit. After a tough argument, they were left in prison. Now Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas has made the resumption of the peace talks with Israel conditional on their release and on the release of roughly 120 of their comrades, most of them “heavy-duty” murderers, most of them older men. Most of them committed their crimes before the Oslo Accords were signed, or at around that time.
Many months ago, when Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu received the “list of the 120,” as Abbas’ list is called, his hair stood on end. It was one thing, and a very hard thing at that, to release 1,027 terrorists, hundreds of them hard-core murderers with blood on their hands, in exchange for a single live soldier, Gilad Shalit, who had been held captive by Hamas for years. It’s another thing entirely to release a similar rogues’ gallery of murderers “in exchange for resuming the talks.”
But when the U.S. “asks” — or, as some claim, applies pressure — Israel must look into the matter, at least formally. This week, the list reached the desk of Justice Minister Tzipi Livni, who is in charge of the talks with the Palestinians. Although Livni describes them as “despicable terrorists who did terrible things,” she is still looking into their cases. The defense establishment is also checking the list. President Shimon Peres, who was asked about the matter in an interview on the evening of the last Independence Day, has already said that Abbas’ request “should be considered in a positive light.”
In the summation meeting of the World Economic Forum in Jordan this week, Abbas himself, in what was part speech and part threat, made public mention of the matter and asked, theoretically, of course: “Why are our prisoners not released? We are told, ‘Why should we release prisoners for nothing?’ You released more than 1,000 soldiers for Gilad Shalit. Do you want us to kidnap soldiers? That’s not our culture. In 2012 several hundred soldiers mistakenly entered Palestinian villages and cities. They were returned to their families within 10 minutes. We didn’t kidnap a single one. We reject the use of such an act.”
‘They will kill again’
This saga, which Abbas is concocting in cooperation with the American and European foreign ministers, is not going unnoticed by the victims’ families. The news that the Palestinian Authority is now demanding the release of the men who murdered their loved ones has been giving them sleepless nights. Geula Delarosa is the mother of soldier David Delarosa, who in 1988 tried to save Rahel Weiss and her three children from a bus that had been firebombed near Jericho. She remembers how David, whose air passages had been severely injured from the fire, fought for his life until he succumbed.
She would have been willing to release the men who murdered her son and Rahel Weiss and her children in exchange for Shalit, but the possibility that they might be released “in exchange” or “as a goodwill gesture” for the resumption of the talks upsets her terribly.
“Have we lost our sanity?” she asks. “We see again and again that terrorists who were released in the Shalit deal talk about resuming terrorism and also return to it. I hope that Prime Minister Netanyahu will show wisdom and reject the pressure.”
Dalia Bublil, the sister of David Bublil, who was murdered in the apartment in Ramle, is also firmly opposed to the release of her brother’s murderers.
“It hurts so much, to this very day. How would ministers in the government feel if, God forbid, the murderers of their siblings were to be released in exchange for resuming talks?” she asks, bewildered.
Elinor Abutbul was 10 years old when her father, police officer Mordechai Yisrael, 35, was murdered. She grew up with pain and loss. She is now 30 and a mother of two.
“The people who murdered my father destroyed an entire family,” she says. “A man went to work in the morning and never came back. These are terrorists with blood on their hands, and I’m absolutely certain that their release will lead to more terrorism, more bloodshed and more victims. The decision-makers must learn from experience and avoid making this terrible mistake.”
Elinor’s grandmother and David’s mother, Allegra Yisrael of Haifa, says that the release of her son’s murderers will pour more salt into her wounds.
“He was murdered while [then Prime Minister Yitzhak] Rabin was still alive, and Moshe Shahal, who was then the minister of the police, came to visit us and express his condolences. Anyone who lets them go free could sentence more victims to death, God forbid. Why haven’t they learned from past experience?”
Allegra continues, “The pain doesn’t go away as the years go by. It only gets stronger. I lost another son to a severe illness, my Michael, who was also a police officer. My husband died two years ago. Before it happened, we bought two cemetery plots close to the section where Mordechai is buried, so we’ll at least be laid to rest near him.”
Police officer Daniel Hazut, 34, was murdered together with Mordechai. Hazut’s daughter, Sapir, who was 18 months old at the time, knows her father only from photographs.
“The terrorists, who were disguised as IDF soldiers, shot them at point-blank range. If they had been freed in exchange for Shalit, I’d be in favor it. To save a soldier, that’s sacred. But for no good reason? And what about the terrorism that will happen once they’re free?”
Her mother, Rivka Sabag (Hazut), Daniel’s widow, also opposes releasing the murderers. She, too, would have been willing to pay a similar price for a kidnapped soldier “but not like this,” she says. “After all, it’s so likely that they’ll kill again.”
‘A moral sin’
Israel released 1,027 prisoners in exchange for a single soldier. Of that number, 303 were serving life sentences and 148 had been sentenced to several life terms. Twenty of them had been sentenced to more than 10 life terms, and 330 had been prosecuted for the murders of Israelis. Some 427 of the prisoners were responsible for terror attacks in which 569 Israelis were killed (according to an essay by Yoram Schweitzer, director of the Terrorism and Low-Intensity Warfare Research Project at the Institute for National Security Studies).
This time, too, the number of terrorists with blood on their hands is very high. The Almagor Terror Victims Association, which has revealed the complete “list of 120” to Israel Hayom for the first time, issues warnings together with countless examples of terrorists “with blood on their hands” who returned to terrorist activity — murder and wounding, or inciting or planning terror attacks.
They include older people. Meir Indor, one of the heads of Almagor, says, “If there should be another wave of released terrorists, the state will have sinned twice. The first is the moral sin of releasing murderers before the proper time and making a joke out of the legal system, the law and law enforcement in the State of Israel. Second, they’re committing a moral sin by releasing terrorists knowing that previous releases have already led to waves of terrorism and the murder of hundreds of people.” He adds, “Some of the people who were released in the Shalit deal have gone back to terrorism and made statements supporting terrorism.”
Political sources in Jerusalem say that Netanyahu would have a very hard time releasing terrorists on the list of the 120, except perhaps for a very few. This was also made clear to the U.S., which was very active in the matter because of its belief that this would contribute to the resumptions of the talks with the Palestinians. A close look at the list of terrorists and the atrocious acts of murder they committed shows how hard it is.
The “stars” of the list include the murderers of Professor Gavriel Stern in the Valley of the Cross in July 1992; the man who stabbed Genia Friedman to death as she was walking on a street in Kfar Saba; the men who kidnapped and murdered the soldier Akiva Shaltiel on the eve of Passover in 1985; and the murderers of Israeli soldiers Yaakov Dubinsky, Yair Pereira and Guy Friedman.
In the last case, the murderers were Israeli Arabs, members of the Islamic Movement from the Wadi Ara area who were recruited by Islamic Jihad. On Feb. 14, 1992, the murderers broke into the soldiers’ tent encampment near Kibbutz Galed and murdered the three soldiers, who were new immigrants from the former Soviet Union. The murder weapons were knives, axes and a pitchfork. The incident later became known as “the night of the pitchforks.”
Also on the list of the 120 whose release Abbas is demanding as a precondition for resuming talks is the terrorist from Fatah who helped plant the bomb in the Mahane Yehuda market in 1991 that killed eight people; Arshid Hamid Youssef, who was given five life sentences for murdering five people suspected of collaborating with Israel; Osman Bani Hassan, who murdered Yosef Eliahu and Leah Elmakais, two Israeli day-trippers, in a forest on Mount Gilboa in 1985 and was sentenced to two life terms; two Arab construction workers who murdered Zalman Schlein at a construction site where he was building his home in 1989; the men who kidnapped and murdered the soldier Moshe Tamam in 1986; the terrorist who took part in the murder of Simha Levy of Gush Katif in 1989; and Youssef Shamasneh who murdered Ronen Karmani, 18, and his close friend Lior Tubul, 17, on the night of Aug. 4, 1990, while they were on their way to visit their girlfriends in Pisgat Ze’ev. Three men riding in a van with Arab license plates forced Karmani and Tubul into the van at gunpoint. The men took the two friends to a wadi in Beit Hanina where they stabbed them to death. Their bound bodies were found two days later in the wadi between the Ramot neighborhood and Beit Hanina. A wave of anti-Arab riots broke out in Jerusalem after the murders, during which a Palestinian woman was stoned to death.
The goal: kidnapping
Meanwhile, as Abbas concentrates on the demand to release the 120 terrorists, the groups that do not bow to his authority do not stop at words or veiled threats. They are constantly planning to kidnap soldiers and civilians. In 2011, 11 attempts to kidnap soldiers were reported. In 2012, there were 26 attempts to kidnap soldiers and an unknown number of attempts to kidnap civilians that, miraculously, were unsuccessful. More events of this type took place in 2013. According to the latest official report, 18 kidnapping attempts took place from November 2012 to last March.
Only several days ago, the Shin Bet uncovered a military group belonging to Islamic Jihad. Its members, men in their 20s from Hebron, planned to kidnap a soldier near Hebron to use as a bargaining chip for the release of Palestinian prisoners. Two members of the cell, Hazem Tawil and Abdullah Abido, have been convicted in past years of security-related offenses as members of Islamic Jihad, and served sentences in Israeli jails.
The members of the cell planned to drive among various bus stations where Israeli soldiers or civilians wait for transportation, shoot at them from their car and kidnap and hide a body, then bargain in exchange for its release. The military court in Judea has handed down 13 indictments against them.
Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon opposes releasing the terrorists at Abbas’ behest, and Netanyahu knows his position. During the dramatic cabinet meeting in October 2011 in which the Shalit deal was approved, Ya’alon, who was not yet defense minister, opposed the deal. Now, as defense minister, his position carries much more weight.
One topic on the government’s agenda is the Shamgar Committee report on kidnappings. The report has not yet been discussed. Former Defense Minister Ehud Barak appointed the committee after the deal in which the bodies of Eldad Regev and Ehud Goldwasser were returned to Israel. After Shalit’s release, the committee submitted the second part of its report to the government. Among the topics it dealt with were the questions: Should negotiations for captives be held, and under what circumstances? What are the permissible boundaries? Who makes the decisions? The committee also recommended dispensing with special envoys, whose services have been used so far, and putting the topic under the purview of the defense minister, with the prime minister and the cabinet involved in decision-making as needed.
The way that Abbas’ demands are being dealt with is not the way a kidnapping incident is handled. But there are similarities between the two, since this is also a kind of ultimatum, or blackmail if you will. The classified Shamgar Committee report may well contain recommendations about a situation of this kind, which the government must now deal with.