|Israel releases 26 Palestinian prisoners as peace talks resume|
High Court denies bereaved families’ petition against terrorists’ release • Eleven prisoners shuttled to Ramallah, 15 others to Gaza Strip • Defense minister says government feels for the families, but ministers have decided to give peace talks a chance.
One of the prisoner busses arriving at Erez crossing, en route to Gaza Strip
Photo credit: Gideon Markowitz
Israel released 26 Palestinian prisoners, including many convicted for grisly murders, on Tuesday night, ahead of the resumption of peace talks with the Palestinian Authority scheduled for Wednesday afternoon.
A convoy of Israel Prisoner Service vehicles carrying the inmates departed the Ayalon Prison in central Israel at around 9:30 p.m. Eleven prisoners made their way to the Bitunia crossing near the West Bank city of Ramallah, while the remaining 15 prisoners were shuttled to Gaza Strip via the Erez crossing.
Most of the prisoners released on Tuesday — the first group of the 104 prisoners Israel has agreed to release as a goodwill gesture to the PA — were convicted of the murder of Israeli civilians, soldiers and suspected Palestinian collaborators, while others were involved in attempted murder or kidnapping.
The decision to release the prisoners stirred anguish in Israel, especially among the victims’ families, who, alongside the Almagor Terror Victims Association, appealed to the High Court of Justice in an attempt to stop the government from paroling terrorists.
The plaintiffs claimed that the decision to release prisoners considered “heavyweight terrorists” with blood on their hands — especially as a prelude to peace talks and not as part of a prisoner exchange deal — was unreasonable and contradicted the policy fostered by other Israeli governments on the matter.
Chief Justice Asher Grunis, who presided over the hearing, ruled that despite the court’s empathy with the bereaved families, he had no choice by to deny the appeal: “It is not for the court to weigh in on decisions such as the release of [Palestinian] prisoners, especially when such decisions are made under the purview of negotiations and therefore are at the sole discretion of the Israeli government, as it was given the mandate to head Israel’s security and foreign relations.
“The matter at hand has been presented to the court many times before and in the past, every appeal filed against government decisions to release [Palestinian] prisoners as part of negotiations, has been denied. We see no reason to deviate from the court’s previous rulings in such cases.”
Justice Elyakim Rubinstein admitted to the petitioners that the court’s decision was made with “a heavy heart,” as the judges “thought about the murderers who would be released to a hero’s welcome … The logic behind this move may indeed be questioned, and legitimately so. Why was this move deemed necessary as a prelude to the negotiation — a move I believe is unprecedented — and not later, if at all, according to the progress made in the negotiations?
“Why would such a move, which the United States would probably never agree to if the terrorists had killed Americans, let alone as a precondition for negotiations, be deemed acceptable as a Palestinian demand from Israel? These are all legitimate questions … but the court must rule in accordance with the law.”
In a statement expressing the plaintiffs’ disappointment by the court’s ruling, the Almagor Association said, “The High Court, much like Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, refused to even listen to the serious concerns voiced over the government’s crossing of a red line by releasing prisoners who perpetrated their heinous acts after the Oslo Accords were signed.”
The victims’ families held several protest rallies on Tuesday. Once the court’s ruling was made public, many said they wished the prisoners would “rot in hell.” Avi Bromberg, whose uncle Avraham Bromberg was murdered in 1980 by Israeli-Arab cousins Kareem and Maher Younis — who are currently not scheduled to be released as part of the deal — told Israel Hayom, “I would like to see these despicable murderers six feet under.”
Government ministers also expressed their objections to the release, despite having voted in its favor last week. Housing Minister Uri Ariel (Habayit Hayehudi) demanded at the last minute that Netanyahu stop the release, saying at least four of the prisoners were convicted after the 1993 Oslo Accords were signed.
“During the cabinet meeting we were told in no uncertain terms that all of the prisoners slated to be released committed murders prior to the Oslo Accords, but now we have learned that is not the case. I therefore demand that this move be suspended and reintroduced to the cabinet,” Ariel said Tuesday.
Deputy Defense Minister Danny Danon (Likud) also voiced his objection: “The entire Israeli public is asking — why are we doing this? What for? What have we gotten in return other than a few more days to delude ourselves?”
Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon, however, said that while he himself was “skeptical” about the prospects of the current round of negotiations, “the government has decided to give it a chance. The decision to release terrorists weighs heavily on me and on all the other ministers as well. We all feel for the bereaved families but we decided to act according to the considerations presented to us.”
Meanwhile, government sources said that prisoners who violate their pledge to cease all terrorist activity against Israel — which all of them were made to sign as a condition for their parole — would be arrested again.
Maybe if we had the death penalty for terrorism, we would be able to put an end to this folly.
I am open to changing my mind, if someone can point out a positive to releasing terrorist from prison.
What a bunch of wimps.