Tuesday, July 23, 2013

23-Jul-13: In surrendering to pressure to free the murderers, are the right questions being asked?

Shalit Transaction terrorists, unjustly freed in October 2011,
received by Hamas operatives as they arrive in Rafah [Image Source]
Emi Palmor, who heads the pardons department at Israel's Justice Ministry, confirmed yesterday in a hearing of the Knesset's Interior and Environment Committee what has been speculated for the past few days: Israel is going to free 82 convicted terrorists from its prisons as part of a process driven by the US. The Jerusalem Post's report quotes her confirming that all of them "have blood on their hands", and are serving life sentences.

Prisoner releases are hardly a new aspect of the conflict. Our side has handed over some 7,000 Palestinian Arab prisoners over the years, and gotten back 19 Israelis and the bodies of eight more, according to WikipediaWe know the outcomes; so do you. Peace was not one of the results.

We also know, because the Shalit Transaction brought it to the fore, that there is a powerful argument behind doing this: Israel places the lives of its people at the highest level and does not leave its own captives languishing in the hands of the enemy.

But that does not sum up the entire case. There is a countervailing argument that taking steps that damage our side, the Israeli side, represents a cost that ought to be brought to account too, before irreversible decisions can be made. This is ignored time and again.

It’s tempting to quote the famous aphorism attributed to Einstein that defines insanity as doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results. Tempting, but not entirely accurate since it’s not clear to us that the authorities have any clear expectations when they decide to let unrepentant killers of Israelis out of prison. It’s an entirely political process dressed up as something else.

In the current round, what we know is that US Secretary of State John Kerry was “counting on an Israeli government decision to release long-serving Palestinian prisoners as the crucial remaining step for his promised resumption of Middle East peace talks”, to quote this past Saturday’s New York Times.

The same report in the NYTimes quotes minister Yuval Steinitz saying for the record and before Adv. Palmor's announcement, that “there will be some release of prisoners”; some will be what he called “heavyweights”. This is of course a politician’s euphemism. He ought to have said brutal killers. And the word ‘some’ is mightily misleading.

We know of 118 so-called "pre-Oslo" Palestinian Arab prisoners behind Israeli bars. It appears all of the 82 are drawn from that list of 118. CAMERA published the names and crimes of the 118 six weeks ago [see “What the Media Won't Tell You About Palestinian Prisoners”, June 5, 2013]. We looked carefully through it this week. Ha’aretz wrote yesterday about the dangers they pose:
Defense officials believe that most of them will not constitute a future risk, taking into account their age and the slim chance that they will resume terrorist activity after their release.

Reading that assessment, you would be forgiven for assuming they're old, ill, retired and perhaps anxious to get out there to play with great-grandchildren while there’s still energy in those old bones. If so, you will have missed the point completely. Haaretz skips this, but the average age of those prisoners in CAMERA's list is 48 by our Excel calculations: not so young, but certainly not so old. The youngest, who happens to be one of those convicted of murder, is 37. Of the entire 118 and based on our understanding of the charges on which they were convicted, no fewer than 112 are murderers. The remaining 6 are attempted murderers. There are no jay-walkers or shoplifters on the list.  

Does anyone in the government know how many of them, if any, regret what they did? That they solemnly promise not to do it again? Is anyone asking? Is Kerry? Is Steinitz? Are the editors at Haaretz? Is anyone troubled by the hypocritical premise underpinning that American pressure? Columnist Ben Caspit explains it well in a Jerusalem Post article today: "What about Pollard, Mr. President?" If there's a throw-down, pro-US answer to Caspit's questions, can someone please send it to us?

Clearly this is not about making a calculated assessment of risk to Israelis versus reward to Israelis. It's in fact something entirely political; something far more dangerous. We can get a sense of this from the fact that at least a couple of dozen of the 2011 Shalit walk-free terrorists (there were 1,027 in that round) are already back in Israeli prisons after being caught in renewed terrorism. Serious question: does anyone in government notice this, or care? Are there no lessons to be learned from the Shalit Transaction?

But set aside the practical and real issues of physical risk and endangerment facing ordinary Israelis. (And by ordinary we mean those of us whose family members have no state-funded security detail to accompany our ordinary lives.) There is a different aspect to this, one we have addressed repeatedly. It's outlined most recently in a blog post of ours from just two days ago [“21-Jul-13: In the debate over whether Israel should free convicted terrorists, one key argument is mostly ignored“]. We write there about something that occupies our minds more and more: justice.

Even if peace comes crashing in through the front door as a result of this latest round of unjust prisoner releases, what is it doing to basic notions of justice? We discuss that in Sunday's blog post, so we are not going to labor the point here. But even if there is a happy happening (and we know that in the Israel-versus-the-Arabs conflict, there are always those who see happy endings around the corner all the time), what about the victims? They placed their faith in Israel’s legal and justice system. Do they count in this?

And what of those soldiers and police and intelligence officers, those judges and jailers and government officials, who took real risks and made serious efforts to take the brutal Palestinian Arab killers out of circulation and put them behind bars for a reason – will we expect them to do all of this again in the future, after telling them that the last time did not count, and that’s why the killers are free again?

When a society based on law, order, justice and transparent governance allows its leadership to usurp all of that and make contradictory decisions for political ends, then there are large, damaging and foreseeable consequences. We have felt the pain of those consequences already. We tried - in vain - to explain them to whoever would listen. They are the other side of the coin. They are the price for doing things because of political expediency. 

In almost every sense of the word, our voices were ignored; they are being ignored today. We continue to speak out and write not only in honor of our murdered daughter's beautiful stolen life but also because of the realization that if Israeli citizens like us do not speak out in defense of justice in these politically troubling days, who will? 

As an ordinary family, we have gotten used to many questions without answers. It's far harder adjusting to the sight of political figures who appear not even to know the questions.

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