Tuesday, September 16, 2008

15-Sep-08: On prisons and prisoner releases

In today's Jerusalem Post, an op-ed piece by one of this blog's authors criticizes Yossi Alpher's support for the release from Israeli prisons of Palestinians convicted of terrorist actions.

Right of Reply: Who needs prisons anyway?  | September 16, 2008 | FRIMET ROTH, THE JERUSALEM POST

Readers acquainted with Yossi Alpher's Web site Bitterlemons.org must have been puzzled by his op-ed "In praise of prisoner releases" (reprinted from that Web site in the Jerusalem Post of September 9). Alpher's glee over the recent release of 198 Palestinian prisoners collides with the views espoused by his own virtual magazine.

Over the last few years, Bitterlemons has published several articles by Orit Adato, a former head of the Israel Prisons Service and first international vice president of the International Correction and Prison Association. In her writings, and in a July 2008 interview, she presents her considered position on prisoner releases.

Like Alpher, she advocates the tactical use of prisoner releases to bolster Mahmoud Abbas and the Palestinian Authority. She is convinced the matter can be resolved more easily than the other core issues.

However, unlike Alpher, Adato recommends that releases be made only after a series of preparatory steps by Israelis, Palestinians and the international community. She disapproves of capricious releases made in the context of stalled and aimless negotiations between Abbas and Olmert - the very sort they are now engaged in.

The first change Adato advocates is the classification of the 11,000 Palestinians currently imprisoned into three sub-groups: hard-core terrorists; petty criminals and those who assisted terrorists in minor ways for financial reward; and those involved in terrorism but who are not as extremist as the first group.

The second step is segregation of the above groups. Currently, members of the various groups share cells and mingle often. This situation enables the indoctrination of previous moderates. Adato maintains that segregation "would reduce the influence of the extremist elements in the prisons and lower the PA's commitment to minor offenders, whose proximity to the serious security prisoners has turned them into heroes and turned the prisons into universities for terror." The extremists who "are truly committed to the destruction of Israel should be neutralized. They should be placed in two prisons in the south of Israel, in isolation from other prisoners with minimal rights according to Israeli and international law."

Adato assigns the PA a crucial role in this overhaul. "The PA should have a functioning body - a committee or organization - dedicated to rehabilitation of prisoners and monitoring their progress after their release. Moreover, there will be international monitoring of the process."

REGARDING THE recent prisoner release to retrieve the bodies of Ehud Goldwasser and Eldad Regev, as well the possibly imminent one to free Gilad Schalit, Adato says: "[With] those deals... Israel de facto is only responding to terrorists. This not only undermines our partner for peace but also makes future kidnappings, God forbid, more likely... Beyond the creation of incentive to kidnap more soldiers - clearly it pays off - it bodes ill for the negotiations with Abbas."

Alpher accuses families of terror victims of constituting "a permanent and strong lobby" that hampers the release of hard-core terrorists. The fact is that we victims are as impotent in this arena as we are in most others. For decades victims have been petitioning the High Court immediately upon publication of the list of prisoners to be released. So far they have not succeeded in blocking even one release.

A central argument of Alpher's is that the masterminds of terror activities "often receive lighter sentences [than the perpetrators] simply because they themselves didn't pull the trigger‚ their weapon jammed, the explosives failed to detonate, etc." He assures us that the hit men are "no less worthy of eventual release than their accomplices or the masterminds of terrorist cells."

With utter preschool logic, Alpher posits that two wrongs do make a right. But even his premise is erroneous. The truth is, the government does prosecute terror masterminds with the full force of its judiciary. Tanzim leader Marwan Barghouti and the Sbarro massacre perpetrator Ahlam Tamimi - my own child's murderer - are just two of numerous terrorists who were convicted and sentenced to multiple life sentences for "merely" planning and enabling bloody attacks.

Yet Alpher is so "release-happy" he is eager to throw open the prison gates even wider. To appease his opponents, he urges balancing releases of Palestinian prisoners with "measured steps to release Israelis jailed for many years for murdering Arabs." Court proceedings, judges‚ deliberations, it seems, are irrelevant. 

The judiciary plays no role in Alpher's utopia.

The dangers posed by this sort of meddling with the judicial branch of government somehow are not on Alpher's radar. Moreover, his conviction that "serving many years in prison" is a sufficient punishment and deterrent for terrorist mass murder leaves one wondering whether he appreciates the gravity of those barbaric acts. Life imprisonment without parole is a fair and widely imposed punishment in jurisdictions that abolished the death sentence.

Adato concluded her blueprint for change with this advice: "In an expedited process Israel should now announce an organized plan to release prisoners as part of the diplomatic track with Abbas. The announcement alone and a real move toward implementing such a plan would immediately boost Abbas's popularity."

Unfortunately Alpher wasn't listening.

The writer's daughter Malki was murdered at the age of 15 in the Sbarro restaurant massacre. She and her husband founded the Malki Foundation (www.kerenmalki.org), which provides support for Israeli families of all faiths who care at home for a special-needs child, in her memory.

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