Victims’ reps seek to block Palestinian prisoner release


A group representing Israeli victims of terrorism filed a petition to block the release of Palestinian prisoners.

Twenty-six prisoners expected to be set free early Tuesday as part of the revived Israeli-Palestinian peace talks were transferred to Ofer Prison in preparation for their release.

On Monday, the organization Almagor, which represents victims of terrorism, petitioned Israel’s Supreme Court to prevent the release of six of the prisoners, who are residents of eastern Jerusalem and hold Israeli identification cards.

The prisoners, who will be released at 1 a.m. Tuesday, were being examined by the Red Cross and by doctors, and their identities were being checked.

It is the third round of Palestinian prisoner releases since the American-backed peace negotiations began in July.

[Related: Israeli ministers endorse legislation to annex part of West Bank]

The list of prisoners was published late Saturday night on the Israel Prison Service website. Anyone who objects to the release of a prisoner must appeal to Israel’s Supreme Court within 48 hours.

The prisoners to be released committed their terrorist acts before the Oslo Accords, and have served at least 19 years in an Israeli prison, according to a statement released Saturday night by the Prime Minister’s Office. “If any of those to be released resume hostile activity they will be returned to serve the remainder of their sentences,” the statement said.

Twenty-three of the prisoners were convicted of killing Israeli soldiers, civilians or Palestinians accused of collaborating with Israel.

Demonstrations against the release including family members of terrorist victims have been held outside the Prime Minister’s Jerusalem residence for the last several days, with a large-scale protest and vigil planned for Monday night. While the group’s request to hold the large-scale protest beginning on Sunday night through the release was at first denied, Jerusalem Mayor Nir Barkat told demonstrators he would see to it that they be allowed to hold the protest.

Palestinian prisoner release causes Israeli political stir


A planned release of 26 Palestinian prisoners has provoked feuding within Israel's governing coalition, already under strain from U.S.-brokered peace talks.

The inmates, all of whom were convicted of murder in the killing of Israelis before or just after the first interim Israeli-Palestinian peace accords were signed 20 years ago, were due to go free after midnight on Tuesday.

Cutting short their life sentences has been particularly grating for many Israelis because prisoner releases were a Palestinian condition for reviving peace talks last August that few people on either side of the conflict believe will succeed.

In all, 104 long-serving prisoners will go free. A first group of 26 was let out two months ago in keeping with understandings reached during shuttle diplomacy by U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry.

“The release of terrorists in return for (Israeli chief negotiator) Tzipi Livni's dubious right to meet (Palestinian counterpart Saeb) Erekat is very grave,” the Jewish Home party, a far-right member of the government, said in statement at the weekend.

Jewish Home, led by Naftali Bennett, then tried to get a proposal to freeze further prisoner releases past a ministerial committee, where members of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's Likud party voted it down on Sunday.

“The picture is now clear: the government, unlike one of its member-parties, is acting in the national interest…this government is moving the peace process forward,” Livni, head of the small, centrist Hatnuah party, wrote on her Facebook page after Jewish Home's proposed law was rejected.

[Former Shin Bet head: Release of Palestinian prisoners no threat]

The squabbling did not end there. Bennett criticised Likud ministers, saying: “The release of terrorists is immoral, it weakens Israel and endangers its citizens, and we will continue to fight it in a democratic way”.

In an apparent attempt to appease Jewish Home and hardliners within Likud, government officials said new housing projects would be announced soon in West Bank settlement blocs that Israel intends to keep in any future peace deal.

Israeli political commentators suggested that Bennett, whose party has 12 of parliament's 120 seats, had latched on to the prisoners issue as a way to swing Netanyahu's traditional right-wing supporters his way and establish himself as an alternative leader for the camp.

TRADE-OFF

Yuval Steinitz, Israel's strategic affairs minister and a Likud member, made clear in a radio interview on Monday that by agreeing to the prisoner releases, the government effectively had quashed a Palestinian demand to halt settlement building.

“The issue of freeing prisoners is certainly most painful for all of us. But strategically, the price of freezing construction in settlements would be much higher,” Steinitz said.

For Palestinians, who view settlements that Israel has erected on land captured in the 1967 Middle East war as obstacles to a state, brethren jailed by Israel are heroes in a fight for independence.

On the other side of the divide, families of Israelis killed in Palestinian attacks held a vigil outside Ofer prison in the West Bank, where the prisoners slated for release were being held.

And at a military cemetery in Jerusalem, opponents of the release placed black signs, with a drawing of a bloody hand, on graves.

“As far as we are concerned, your death was in vain,” read the placards, signed “Government of Israel.”

Editing by Angus MacSwan

Israel should not release prisoners for peace


Releasing Palestinian prisoners as a political gesture erodes Israel’s democratic fabric and challenges the country’s core sense of justice. Ironically, it is the dissemination of justice and the people of Israel’s faith in that justice that has kept their society together. 

The citizens of a democratic country expect and believe that evil will be punished and that good will prevail. They believe that the government they elected protects them and ensures that those who murder do not go free. The exception to that expectation occurs only when the murderer is exonerated or pardoned. And when pardons do come, society takes notice and asks if the person really did the heinous act. The pardon is the safety valve that corrects the mistakes of justice.

Israel, like all democracies, relies on a series of check and balances. 

The prime minister of Israel and his cabinet are legally responsible for foreign affairs and for the safety and security of the state. About that there is no question. That ruling, just issued by the Israeli Supreme Court, paved the way for convicted Palestinian terrorists to be transferred to Gaza and to the Palestinian Authority (PA). The court ruled against the challenge of releasing the prisoners. They said that the prime minister had absolute authority in the matter. 

[PRO: Israel should release prisoners for peace]

Here is the problem: These were neither military prisoners nor security prisoners. The released prisoners and their fellow cell and soul mates awaiting imminent release were tried and convicted in civilian courts. And even if terror and nationalistic agendas were part of their collective diabolical mindset, all of these prisoners, each and every one, was tried for and convicted of murder and/or attempted murder.

Not one of these prisoners was pardoned. Not one was granted amnesty. They were all simply released in a political deal.

[Related: Who Israel released]

Justice, judgment and punishment were shoved aside. Checks and balances were thrown out. The political side trampled on the judicial branch. Had these prisoners been under military jurisdiction, I would not have liked the decision, but I would understand it. The military convicts and frees according to different standards. If these were high-security prisoners, I could understand that, too. But they are not.

Look at crimes perpetrated by some of these 26 released murderers, 14 of whom are now at home in Gaza, the others released to roam the West Bank: 

• Abu Moussa Salam Ali Atiya had been jailed since 1994 for the murder of Holocaust survivor Isaac Rotenberg. His victim was born in Poland in 1927, and most of his family was deported to and murdered in Sobibor. Rotenberg and his brother were sent to a labor camp. He survived the Nazis. And then, on March 29, 1994, as Rothberg knelt down to lay a floor he was axed to death by two Arab laborers. One of them was Ali Atiya. 

• Kor Mattawa Hamad Faiz had been in jail since 1985 for the murder of Menahem Dadon and attempted murder of Salomon Abukasis. 

• Sha’at Azat Shaban Ata was convicted of helping murder a 51-year-old woman named Simcha Levi. Levi made her living transporting Palestinian day laborers from the Gaza Strip to work in Jewish settlements. In March 1993, she picked up three men disguised as women. They were her murderers; they beat and stabbed Levi to death.

• Salah Ibrahim Ahmad Mughdad was jailed since 1993 for the murder of Israel Tenenbaum. Tenenbaum was born in Poland in 1921, survived the Holocaust, and came to Israel in 1957 and bought a farm. After a life of work in agriculture, he retired and became a night watchman at a small hotel in the seaside city Netanya. Tenenbaum was murdered on the job.

Many of the victims were older and Holocaust survivors. Their murderers are now free. Twelve of the victims were Arab. Their murderers, too, are now free. In the coming days and weeks, more murderers will be set free. The sides have just begun talking. Mahmoud Abbas, president of the PA, has already achieved victory. 

Now we wait to see what emerges at the negotiating table. We wait to see if anything emerges at the negotiating table. It might; it might not. Whatever the outcome, these released murderers will not be returning to an Israeli prison.


Micah D. Halpern is a columnist and a social and political commentator. His latest book is “Thugs: How History’s Most Notorious Despots Transformed the World through Terror, Tyranny, and Mass Murder” (Thomas Nelson, 2007).

PRO/CON: Should Israel release prisoners for peace?


PRO: Israel should release prisoners for peace

by Yael Maizel, J Street

The headline jumped out at me as I opened the paper last Sunday to read the news: “Netanyahu releases 104 Palestinian prisoners to re-launch peace talks.” As a longtime advocate for a two-state solution, I have frequently thought about the difficult concessions and tough decisions that Israel will face along the way to peace, understanding that an end to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict will require real sacrifice and compromise. But the news hit particularly close to home that day, reminding me exactly how personal and painful these sacrifices can be.

In September 1993 I was 11 years old. I remember watching the famous handshake between Yitzhak Rabin and Yasser Arafat on the White House lawn with my sixth grade Jewish Day School class. I remember my parents who grew up in Jerusalem amidst the war and turmoil of the 60s and 70s, explaining to my brother and I what a historic moment we were witnessing.

Read more.


CON: Israel should not release prisoners for peace

by Micah D. Halpern

Releasing Palestinian prisoners as a political gesture erodes Israel’s democratic fabric and challenges the country’s core sense of justice. Ironically, it is the dissemination of justice and the people of Israel’s faith in that justice that has kept their society together. 

The citizens of a democratic country expect and believe that evil will be punished and that good will prevail. They believe that the government they elected protects them and ensures that those who murder do not go free. The exception to that expectation occurs only when the murderer is exonerated or pardoned. And when pardons do come, society takes notice and asks if the person really did the heinous act. The pardon is the safety valve that corrects the mistakes of justice.

Read more.

Who Israel released


Just after midnight yesterday, 26 Palestinian prisoners were released by Israel as part of a confidence-building measure aimed at bolstering renewed Palestinian-Israeli peace negotiations.

Per Israel’s Government Press Office, the following is a list of the prisoners and their crimes. Virtually all were directly involved in the murders of Israeli, and the majority were serving life sentences.

Fayez Khur: Aged 51, a Fatah activist from the Gaza Strip. On May 10, 1983, he murdered Menahem Dadon in the Gaza Strip, and was involved in the murder of Salomon Abukasis in the Gaza Strip on February 14, 1983. Sentenced to life imprisonment.

Salah Mugdad: Aged 47, a Fatah activist from Kfar Bracha in Samaria in the West Bank. On June 14, 1993, he murdered Israel Tenenbaum, a guard at the Sirens Hotel in Netanya. Sentenced to life imprisonment, which was then commuted to a 32-year sentence.

Samir Na’neesh: Aged 46, a Fatah activist from Nablus in the West Bank. On February 14, 1989 he murdered a soldier, Binyamin Meisner, by throwing a building block at him in the Kasbah in Nablus. Sentenced to life imprisonment.

Yusef Irshaid: Aged 45, a Fatah activist from Jenin in the West Bank. On June 15, 1992, he took part in the murder of a Druze Israeli citizen, Mufid Cana’an. In the years 1991-92 he took part in the murder of three Palestinians suspected of collaboration with Israel. He also planned a car bomb attack in Afula and made attempts to kidnap a soldier. Sentenced to five life imprisonments.

Mustafa al-Haj: Aged 45, a Fatah activist from Brukin in the West Bank. On June 17, 1989, he stabbed Steven Frederick Rosenfeld to death with a knife close to Ariel. Sentenced to life imprisonment.

Salameh Musleh: Aged 44, a Fatah activist from the Gaza Strip. On May 20, 1991, he took part in the murder of Reuven David in Petach Tikva, when he and his accomplice beat him to death. Sentenced to life imprisonment, which was then commuted to a 30-year sentence.

Atiyeh abu Musa: Aged 42, a Fatah activist from the Gaza Strip. On March 29, 1993, he murdered Isaac Rotenberg with an axe on a building site in Bat Yam. Sentenced to life imprisonment.

Salah Mukled: Aged 40, a Fatah activist from the Gaza Strip. On March 29, 1993, he stabbed Yeshayahu Deutsch to death with a knife in the hothouses of Kfar Yam. In that same year, he also carried out shooting attacks. Sentenced to life imprisonment.

Mohemed Sawalha: Aged 40, a Fatah activist from the village of Azmut in West Bank. On December 2, 1990, he took part in a stabbing on a bus in Ramat Gan, in which Baruch Heisler was murdered and three other passengers were injured. Sentenced to life imprisonment.

Atef Sha’ath: Aged 49, a Popular Front activist from the Gaza Strip. He collaborated in the murder of Simcha Levy on March 12, 1993. Sentenced to 29 years imprisonment.

Yusef Abed al-Al: Aged 42, a Popular Front activist from the Gaza Strip. On April 18, 1993, he took part in the murder of Ian Feinberg in the Gaza Strip. On July 3, 1993, he murdered a Palestinian who was suspected of collaboration. Sentenced to 22 years imprisonment.

Midhat Barbakh: Aged 38, a Popular Front and Fatah activist from the Gaza Strip. On January 21, 1994, he stabbed his employer, Moshe Beker, a citrus grower from Rishon Letzion, killing him. Sentenced to life imprisonment.

Ali Rai: Aged 56, a Fatah activist from the Gaza Strip. On January 21, 1994, he murdered Morris Eizenstat in Kfar Saba. Sentenced to life imprisonment.

Mohamed Nashbat: Aged 52, a Fatah activist from the Gaza Strip. On September 20, 1990, he took part in the stoning and lynch of a soldier, Amnon Pomerantz, in al Burej in the Gaza Strip. Sentenced to 25 years imprisonment.

Samir Murtaji: Aged 42, a Hamas activist from the Gaza Strip. In the years 1993-94, he murdered four Palestinians who were suspected of collaboration. He was also involved in kidnapping other Palestinians suspected of collaboration. Sentenced to 20 years imprisonment.

Hosni Sawalha: Aged 39, a Fatah activist from Azmut, a village in the West Bank. He took part in a stabbing on a bus in Ramat Gan on December 2, 1990, in which Baruch Heisler was murdered and three other passengers were injured. Sentenced to life imprisonment.

Faraj Rimahi: Aged 48, a Fatah activist from the Gaza Strip. Murdered Avraham Kinsler on June 6, 1992 and planned to murder more Israeli citizens. Sentenced to life imprisonment.

Ala Eddin Abu Sitteh: Aged 43, a Fatah activist from the Gaza Strip. On December 31, 1993, he took part in the murder of Haim Weizman and David Dadi in Ramle. After stabbing them both to death with knives, the murderers desecrated their victims’ bodies. Sentenced to two life imprisonments.

Ayman Abu Sitteh: Aged 42, a Fatah activist from the Gaza Strip. On December 31, 1993, he took part in the murder of Haim Weizman and David Dadi in Ramle. After stabbing them both to death with knives, the murderers desecrated their victims’ bodies. Sentenced to two life imprisonments.

Esmat Mansour: Aged 36, a Democratic Front activist from Deir Jarir, a village in the West Bank. On October 29, 1993, he aided the terrorist cell that murdered Haim Mizrahi in a chicken farm in Beit El. He led the murderers to a hiding place behind the chicken coops, brought rope to tie up the victim and helped them load the dead body into the trunk of the car. Sentenced to 22 years imprisonment.

Khaled Asakreh: Aged 41, a Fatah activist from Rafida, a village in the West Bank. On April 29, 1991, he murdered Annie Ley, a French tourist in Bethlehem. Sentenced to life imprisonment.

Nihad Jundiyeh: Aged 40, a Fatah activist from the Gaza Strip. On July 14 1989, he took part in the murder of Zalman Shlein in Gan Yavne. During questioning, he admitted to planning two more attacks that were not carried out: a stabbing in Gan Yavne and forcing a bus off a cliff. Sentenced to 25.5 years imprisonment.

Mohamed Hamdiyeh: Aged 41, a Fatah activist from the Gaza Strip. On July 14, 1989 he took part in the murder of Zalman Shlein in Gan Yavne. Sentenced to 25.5 years imprisonment.

Jamil Abed al-Nabi: Aged 50, a Hamas activist from the Hebron area in the West Bank. He was involved in planning and carrying out the shooting in the Cave of the Patriarchs in Hebron that occurred on October 25, 1992. In the attack, an IDF soldier, Shmuel Gersh, was killed and another soldier wounded. Sentenced to 21 years imprisonment.

Taher Zaboud: an Islamic Jihad activist from Silat al Harithiya, a village in the West Bank. He took part in a shooting that occurred on September 22, 1992 near the settlement Gadish. He was also involved in an unsuccessful attempt to murder a police officer in Umm al-Fahm. Sentenced to 21 years imprisonment.

Borhan Sabiah: Aged 42, a Fatah activist from Rai, a village in the West Bank. He was convicted of murdering six suspected collaborators. Sentenced to six life imprisonments.

Israel should release prisoners for peace


The headline jumped out at me as I opened the paper last Sunday to read the news: “Netanyahu releases 104 Palestinian prisoners to re-launch peace talks.” As a longtime advocate for a two-state solution, I have frequently thought about the difficult concessions and tough decisions that Israel will face along the way to peace, understanding that an end to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict will require real sacrifice and compromise. But the news hit particularly close to home that day, reminding me exactly how personal and painful these sacrifices can be.

In September 1993 I was 11 years old. I remember watching the famous handshake between Yitzhak Rabin and Yasser Arafat on the White House lawn with my sixth grade Jewish Day School class. I remember my parents who grew up in Jerusalem amidst the war and turmoil of the 60s and 70s, explaining to my brother and I what a historic moment we were witnessing. The world was full of hope that an end to the conflict was in sight. Not even a full month later, on October 9 of that year, we lost my cousin Eran in a devastating terror attack. He was 23 years old, had just finished his army services and was headed to college in a few weeks. He and his best friend Dror decided to take one last hike before the semester began. They stopped at a swimming hole in Wadi Qelt, outside of Jerusalem where they were ambushed and murdered by masked gunmen.

My cousin’s death underscored for me how closely intertwined the story of the state of Israel is with my own family’s personal narrative. From my Sephardic grandmother whose family settled in the old city of Jerusalem more than a century ago, to my paternal great-grandparents who arrived as part of the Second Aliyah, and lastly to my maternal grandparents for whom Israel was a place of refuge after fleeing the Holocaust, every photo in our family album depicts another chapter in the state’s history and development. Losing Eran was perhaps the most painful chapter in this story. For the last 15 years, when I visit Mount Herzl to see the graves of Israeli statesman and Zionist leaders like Theodore Herzl and Yitzhak Rabin, I also make a stop at the monument for victims of terror to lay a stone over Eran’s name.  

[CON: Israel should not release prisoners for peace]

My experience is unfortunately not a unique one. Nearly every Israeli today knows a family that has lost a loved one in the violence of terror or war. And while my cousin’s murderers will not be set free during this round of prisoner releases — because they were never caught — the announcement touches a raw nerve. It’s reminder of the terrible price we have paid in these years of conflict. However, it is precisely because of this price that we know how much we stand to lose without peace.

The resumption of diplomatic negotiations are just the starting line for what will undoubtedly be a long and difficult process with more tough decisions along the way. But we know that for Israel’s survival as a democratic Jewish homeland, there is no choice but to pursue this path.

In his open letter to the Israeli people, Netanyahu explained that these painful concessions were necessary for Israel’s long-term national interests, writing, “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's well-being.”

The anger and frustration around the announcement are understandable.  I was personally troubled that the Prime Minister decided the prisoner release was politically the “easiest” to make as a first step, rather than agreeing to a settlement freeze or negotiations based on the 1967 lines.

Ultimately though, these abstract “long-term national interests” have a direct bearing on the lives of ordinary families like mine. And, at the same they are larger than any one individual or their family. They are about the needs and desires of people on both sides of the Green Line to live in peace and security, dignity and freedom. And it is about the future that we as Jews see for the state of Israel. Without a negotiated two-state solution to this conflict, we will be faced with an even more painful choice between the country’s Jewish and democratic character.

This October will mark 20 years since Eran’s passing and as we head into this difficult milestone, I find myself asking what this next chapter in Israel’s history will bring for me and my family. The recent news out of the renewed Israeli-Palestinian negotiations remind me of how challenging the road ahead will be, as old wounds are reopened and painful compromises are made. But my cousin’s legacy has also taught me that inaction is not an option; there is simply too much at stake.


Yael Maizel is J Street's Southwest Field Director.

Cuban Jewish leaders meet with Alan Gross


Two Cuban Jewish leaders met with jailed American Jewish contractor Alan Gross.

Adela Dworin, president of the Beth Shalom Synagogue in Havana, and David Prinstein, the synagogue’s vice president, met Monday with Gross, 62, at a military hospital where he is being held. The visit, in honor of Chanukah, came at the request of the Jewish leaders, according to reports. Dworin reportedly brought latkes and chocolate gelt and lit a Chanukah menorah with Gross, a U.S. subcontractor jailed in Cuba for the last two years for “crimes against the state.”

Dworin said in a statement released to the media that Gross had told her that he gained some weight and that he was in “good physical shape” and walks five miles a day in the facility. Dworin, who has met with Gross on previous occasions, told CBS that he appeared to be in better spirits than in the past. She also released two photos taken of Gross during the meeting.

Gross’s wife, Judy, disputed Dworin’s characterization of her husband’s health.

“It was upsetting to see the photos of Alan from his visit with Adela Dworin,” she said in a statement. “To those of us who knew him before his incarceration began more than two years ago, he is now frail, weak, and appears decades older than the 60-year old man that we last saw on American soil.”

Gross reportedly is in ill health and has lost 100 pounds since being imprisoned.

Dworin said that Gross hoped for a normalization of relations between the United States and Cuba, and expressed the desire that he would be able to visit Cuba once his prison term is over.

Gross was not included on a list released earlier this week of nearly 3,000 prisoners whom Cuban leader Raoul Castro said he will release on humanitarian grounds.

Gross is serving a 15-year prison sentence in Cuba. He was arrested in 2009 as he was leaving Cuba.

Gross’ family and U.S. State Department officials say that Gross was in the country on a U.S. Agency for International Development contract to help the country’s 1,500 Jews communicate with other Jewish communities using the Internet. The main Jewish groups in Cuba have denied any contact with or knowledge of Gross or the program.

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