"From time to time, prime ministers are called on to make decisions that go against public opinion – when the matter is important for the country." These were the words of the opening paragraph of Benjamin Netanyahu’s open letter to the Israeli public concerning the release of Palestinian terrorist prisoners as a precondition for resuming peace negotiations.
Netanyhau has agreed to release 104 Palestinian and Arab-Israeli prisoners arrested before the Oslo Accords were signed in 1993. Why? Because the Palestinian Authority told US Secretary of State John Kerry that that it would not attend resumed peace talks in Washington this week unless this pre-condition was met.
A "reluctant" decision on Netanyahu’s part, he states in his letter that it was one of pain not only for the nation but also for him (having lost his brother to terrorism 37 years ago), and that the decision made "collides with the incomparably important value of justice."
As expected, the decision was met with frustration by much of the Israeli public, especially those who have lost family members to terrorist activity and those who continue to fight against it today. Dozens of families protested against the prisoner release by protesting outside the Prime Minister's Residence as Netanyahu and his cabinet were voting on the measure.
“We have enough pain and loss. We will not agree that more and more families will be forced to join the ranks of the bereaved families and victims of terrorism,” they said.
Many more were embittered by what was termed an act of cowardice after Netanyahu issued "repeated assurances" that Israel would not free terrorists as a precondition to talks.
Within his own government, Netanyahu faced stiff opposition. "You kill terrorists, you don't free them," insisted Trade Minister Naftali Bennett.
Deputy Foreign Minister Ze'ev Elkin, echoing the views of many of his colleagues, added: "Experience has taught us that every prisoner release encourages terror, and has never brought peace. It informs the next generation of terrorists that someone will work to release them. All the democracies in the world have learned this lesson. They don’t release terrorists even in exchange for captured citizens. They won’t even negotiate."
Returning to this paradox of "justice," it appears that when it comes to the Arab-Israeli conflict the definition of the term has yet to be understood.
As Rabbi Eliezer Weiss questioned, “Why does the Weisenthal Center track down Nazis who murdered Jews, while here we have Muslim Nazis who murdered Jews, who spilled blood as if it were water, who burned a mother and three children and an unborn baby alive – and they are released? Is there a difference between them and the Nazis criminals?”
Rabbi Eliezer’s wife and three children were burned to death in a fire bomb attack 22 years ago. Their murderer is set to be released.
Many Israeli lawmakers were left questioning the morality and motive behind such a move, with some questioning, given a similar situation, would America loose the jailed murderers of its citizens?
As MK Motti Yogev (Bayit Yehudi) made clear, "Negotiations based on releasing killers have nothing to do with peace, or security, or morality, or truth."
In the words of those that have been exposed to the outcome of terrorist activity, "The murderers of our loved ones have faces and names, they are not numbers. They cannot hide behind long lists and government meetings." Unfortunately it seems that this lack of sensitivity has become reality, and justice somehow dissipates into the milieu of political diplomacy and efforts of "peace."
The release of prisoners is set to take place in four phases over the next 9 months. These are the profiles of some of the prisoners that will be among those freed:
Issa Abed Rabbo, jailed October 1984: Attacked a young couple near the Cremisan Monastery south of Jerusalem. Later revealed to the police that he had tied the couples' hands, blindfolded them with rags, and executed them at point blank range.
Muhammad Tus, jailed October 1985: Member of a south Hebron terror cell that carried out five bus attacks, killing Zalman Avolnik, Michal Cohen, Meir Ben Yair, Edna Harari and Motti Swisa.
Fayez Hour, jailed November 1985: Killed two Israelis in the Gaza Strip and planned to assassinate former Prime Minister Yitzhak Shamir whilst in jail.
Mohammed Daoud, jailed December 1987: Hurled a Molotov cocktail (firebomb) at a Jewish vehicle, killing a mother and her young son.
Jomaa Adam and Mahmoud Harbish, jailed October 1988: Attacked an Israeli passenger bus north of Jericho with Molotov cocktails, killing Rachel Weiss and her three young children, as well as soldier David Delarossa, who attempted to rescue the other victims.
Nihad Jundiyeh, jailed July 1989: Murdered Israeli contractor Zalman Shlein.
Many other prisoners on the release list carried out attacks against IDF soldiers.