|Nairobi's Westgate Mall: Is there anything to learn from what happened? [Image Source]
Many of the people freed in these past two years from Israeli security prisons, both men and women, are murderers. As far as anyone can tell, they are entirely unrepentant. Many were convicted and sentenced to life imprisonment. Several of them were sentenced with strong recommendations by the court that no political decision should ever be made in the future to allow them free again under any conditions.
That's for instance what the court that convicted the woman who engineered our daughter's murder said when passing sentence on her. It was to no avail. That woman is now living free in Jordan, and has been busy these past two years (both via public appearances and also through her own television program that is beamed throughout the Arabic-speaking world) whipping up support for the killing of more Jews, as she had done from prison throughout her ten years of incarceration.
Not a single one of the released terrorists walked out with a pardon from the government of Israel. There are many published reports that say they did [Haaretz says it, for instance], but they are all inaccurate. In reality, far from being deemed to have paid their debt to society, their sentences were simply commuted, while their convictions stand. In a formal sense, conditions were attached so that if the released prisoner engages once again in terrorism in the future, he or she will be subject to re-imprisonment.
Though a few dozen released terrorists have indeed been recaptured by Israeli security on the basis that they breached the conditions on which their sentences had been commuted, we are not aware of a single one of them who has been sent back to prison to complete his or her sentence.
These commutations of sentence were carried out under pressure. Israel undertook to free 1,027 of them (several of the people guilty of the massacre that stole our daughter's life among them) two years ago on the basis that they were the price for a kidnapped Israeli being handed back unharmed after being illegally held captive for more than five years in a Hamas dungeon. Then just a few weeks back, in July 2013, Israel's prime minister, evidently at the behest of the US government, announced [see NYTimes and The Guardian] that 104 more of these convicted felons, almost all of them convicted of murder, were going to walk
to pave the way for a resumption of Israeli-Palestinian negotiations in Washington in the coming days.While the Palestinian Arab leadership reacted with pleasure to the freeing of the 104, they bluntly deny that there was a quid pro quo. We wrote ["25-Aug-13: Wake up call for those who thought the terrorists are walking free for peace"] that Mahmoud Abbas, whom we quoted there, said
the release of Palestinian prisoners from Israeli jails was unrelated to the launching of the peace talksand he has reiterated this numerous times in recent weeks.
Does his regime accept that convicted felons, having paid their bill, are now being released by agreement with Israel so that a better atmosphere, more conducive to a long-term resolution of the hostility between the two sides, can be achieved?
Here's a clue. He spoke to the United Nations General Assembly yesterday. He mentioned the Palestinian Arab prisoners, almost all of them convicted on terrorism charges, currently serving time in Israeli prisons. He said:
5,000 fighters for freedom and peace are held captive in occupation prisons. So, does anyone deserve more than the Palestinian people ending this occupation and realizing a just and immediate peace? [Source: Full text of speech by Abbas to United Nations General Assembly, September 26, 2013 | WAFA, the PLO news agency]That's a key idea. The terrorists are "fighters for freedom and peace", at least for Abbas and for those who take their lead from him. And their fate creates a moral argument for his side to get rewarded.
Abbas gave additional insights into how his side views the conflict, one which has resulted today in tens of thousands of Palestinian Arabs being paid-up, armed members of various absurdly well-equipped security organizations (not, heaven forbid, an organization called an army but an army for all practical purposes) that exist into order to maintain a constant threat of still more terrorist attacks against Israeli:
Time is running out, and the window of peace is narrowing and the opportunities are diminishing. The current round of negotiations appears to be a last chance to realize a just peace. Merely thinking of the catastrophic and frightening consequences of failure must compel the international community to intensify efforts to seize upon this chance... The hour of freedom for the Palestinian people has rung. The hour of the independence of Palestine has rung. [Abbas, same source]People on our side have learned to look beyond Abbas' carefully phrased speeches to international audiences, and scrutinize what the man says when he talks in his own language to his own people - and it's generally not about "windows of peace". Writing two weeks ago on the Gatestone Institute website, the Palestinian/Israeli journalist Khaled Abu Toameh said:
PLO, Fatah and Palestinian Authority officials have described the talks [with Israel, via the US brokers] as "futile", "unproductive", "a waste of time" and "a cover for Israel to pursue its policy of creating new facts on the ground..." The more Palestinian officials and leaders talk about the "futility" and "ineffectiveness" of the peace talks, the bigger the opposition grows to the negotiations with Israel. [Khaled Abu Toameh on Gatestone Institute website, September 10, 2013]People generally believe what they want to believe. If Abbas convinces fair-minded people that he is all about peace and painful compromise, so be it. We think it's a charade and that his lies cost innocent lives. But Abbas does not care what people like us think, so long as people like the US Secretary of State act as if they find him credible and serious.
And that's where all of us have serious problems.
Six weeks ago, we wrote on this blog [see "14-Aug-13: Are the Palestinian Arab murderers who are being released at this moment, freedom fighters or terrorists? Let's check with the State Department"] about what the US State Department thinks about freed Palestinian Arab prisoners, those being released after a trial and years of time in prison. The following brief verbatim extract comes from a media briefing at the State Department on August 14, 2013:
Persistent reporter: ...Most of these people have been convicted of murder, of killing people. And the Israelis are very clear on the fact that they think that these people are terrorists, even though they’re releasing them. The Palestinians say that they are political prisoners and... have instructed their ambassadors, all their representatives around the world to refer to them as freedom fighters, political prisoners. And I want to know, if you don’t have a position... if there isn’t anything that you call them, do you object to the Palestinians referring to them as freedom fighters?State Department spokeswoman Marie Harf: The answer is, I don’t know and I will endeavor to get an answer for you on that as well. [The transcript and a video are linked here].We have been in touch with the State Department via several channels during the past six weeks, trying to get this clarified. (Our own government, if they are doing the same, has unfortunately given no sign of it.) If anyone has heard the State Department's spokesperson clarify the things she doesn't know about the terrorists, please tell us. We think she is still, today, officially confused. We even wrote an open letter to Secretary Kerry about it ["14-Sep-13: Memo to Secretary of State Kerry: Your staff need some urgent guidance"] but it remains unanswered as of today.
We have said this before; it clearly bears repeating. Getting things right or wrong about terrorism and terrorists is a really serious thing. Treating terrorists as freedom fighters or (after they are captured and imprisoned) as political prisoners has consequences. So long as the US operates, as it is currently doing, via a policy of cloudy vagueness and public statements like "I don't know and will get back to you", this plays into the hands of the people who deal in terror.
As we saw in Kenya this past week, the price of getting this wrong is unbearably high, and generally paid by people whose innocent lives are non-political.
In the name of future such victims, as well as in our names, we again ask the State Department and Secretary Kerry to speak up and condemn the calculated confusion of people like Mahmoud Abbas who claim to be pursuing peace and the release of "fighters for freedom and peace" at the same time.
If the US government is not clear about the differences between terrorists and freedom fighters, let them tell us how to understand what we have all just witnessed in Nairobi.