The 26 released murderers are the first of four installments, making a total of 104 murderers to be set free over the next nine months of peace talks. As required by Israeli law, Israel’s prison service published the names of the terrorists and their victims on Sunday to provide victim’s families 48 hours in which to petition the High Court to halt their release.
Hundreds gathered at the Defense Ministry in Tel Aviv shouting, “Don’t release murderers,” “You don’t make peace by releasing terrorists,” “Have we gone mad?” “We don’t release murderers!” Demonstrators brandished placards, photos of victims, and hands dipped in red paint. One person said a symbolic recitation of Kaddish over the deaths of future victims who would “fall victim to the government’s cowardice.”
This is the first time Palestinian murderers have been freed for something nebulous as an uncertain peace process. In the past, terrorists were generally freed in exchange for captured IDF soldiers or their remains. The current group of freed terrorists includes 17 who were convicted for the direct murder of men, women and children, while the others were accessories to murder.
MK Ayelet Shaked of Habayit Hayehudi insisted at the demonstration that convicted terrorists should be put to death to prevent them from later being allowed to go free.
“What we need to do, the next step is to start a public protest in favor of the use of the death penalty in the military courts,” she said.
Relatives of Rochel Weiss’s family were among the many relatives of terror victims who appealed to the High Court in vain to prevent the release of terrorists with blood on their hands. Rochel Weiss and three of her children burned to death after three terrorists attacked the bus they were traveling on from Teveriah to Yerushalayim.
Relatives signing the appeal included her husband, Rav Eliezer Weiss, and two brothers, Rav Yehoshua and Rav Yechiel Zilberman. Both Rav Moshe Sternbuch and Rav Avigdor Nebenzahl advised them that, “If there is a small chance to prevent the freeing of terrorists, one should do everything to prevent it.”
The Almagor Terror Victims Association organizing the court appeal spearheaded the protests ahead of the court proceedings. Protesters with black flags and Israeli flags daubed with fake blood gathered at the memorial for terror victims and then proceeded to the High Court where victims’ families tried to convince the judges that this terrorist deal was different than similar Israeli deals in the past.
“With Gilad Schalit, we got him back,” an attorney argued. “Here, we are releasing prisoners with blood on their hands and receiving nothing in return.”
The court rejected the argument that judges should not take a purely legal stance in the face of people’s pain.
“I’m not just a number on a list,” a relative protested. “You can’t keep treating this as a purely legal proceeding.”
MURDERERS WALK THE STREETS
It is hard to imagine killers like the 26 being set free to stalk the streets. The list includes Salem Ali Abu Moussa, who, together with an accomplice, hacked 69-year-old Yitzchok Rotenberg to death in 1994 at a construction site where the three were working together. Rotenberg, a Holocaust survivor, made it through the Sobidor concentration camp and fought with partisans during World War II, only to be killed by terrorists in Israel.
“This decision is not acceptable to us under any circumstance,” said his son, Pinchos. “We have lived here long enough to know that nothing will come of this gesture. This is a very high price to pay so that the world will not say that we did not do the maximum. I do not believe that even the negotiators believe that anything will come of this. I know all the slogans, peace is made with enemies, etc., but why we should make such a significant gesture just so that someone on the other side will deign to sit with us.”
Another freed murderer is Mustafa al-Haj. Together with two friends, he met 49-year-old American-born Frederick Rosenfeld as he was hiking through the West Bank in summer 1989. After chatting with Rosenfeld for a few minutes and posing for photographs, Al-Haf and his cronies stabbed him to death.
Mohommed Nashabat took part in the lynching of Israeli reserve sergeant Amnon Pomerantz when he made a fatal wrong turn and drove into Gaza’s Bureij refugee camp in 1990. Nashabat was part of the crowd that stoned Pomerantz and burnt him to death.
Other terrorists released this week include Ra’ai Ibrahim Salam Ali who was jailed in 1994 for murdering 70-year-old Moris Eisenstatt as he was sat reading a book on a public bench in Kfar Saba.
Addel Aal Sa’id Ouda Yusef participated in the murder of Ian Feinberg who was killed in the European aid office in Gaza City where he was working as a lawyer in 1983. Yelling that they had come to “kill the Jew,” Yusef and his accomplices shot and hacked Feinberg to death. Another terrorist, Rahami Salah Abdallah Faraj, ambushed and killed 84-year-old orchard owner Avrohom Kinstler.
A rationale the government used for freeing the terrorists is that they were jailed during a time of conflict before the Oslo agreement was signed.
However, four of the 26 released terrorists – Faiz Madhat Barbak, Salem Ali Abu Musa, Ahmad Abu-Sita and Muhammad Abu-Sita – committed their crimes after the signing of the Oslo accords on the White House lawn, on September 13, 1993.
Faiz Madhat Barbak and two others stabbed 61-year-old Moshe Becker in Rishon Letzion on January 21, 1994, as he arrived to care for his orange orchard.
Ahmad Abu-Sita and Muhammad Abu-Sita came from Gaza to work in a Ramla apartment and murdered Dovid Dedi and Chaim Weizman as they were sleeping in 1993.
COURT REJECTS APPEAL
On Tuesday, the High Court handed down the following argument to justify its rejection of the petition to halt the terrorists’ release.
“The issue at the center of this petition is a loaded and complex one that stands at the heart of public debate. However, we face a legal question: Is there cause for us to intervene in the government’s decision to release prisoners as part of the negotiations with the Palestinians?”
The court saw no substantial difference between this case and previous terrorist releases.
“Decisions regarding prisoners’ release, specifically such that are made in the process of diplomatic negotiations, are strictly within the jurisdiction of the Israeli government, as it is responsible for foreign affairs and national security,” said Chief Justice Asher Grunis. “The government is in the possession of the relevant resources with which to reach such decisions and it is responsible for making them.”
Almagor chairman Meir Indor was disgusted by the verdict.
“We regret very much that the court, like the prime minister, did not even listen to the serious arguments regarding the government’s crossing of red lines, including the fact that some of the terrorists being released committed their crimes after the Oslo accords were signed,” he said. “The Supreme Court locked its gates today before the bereaved families and the Jewish terror victims — something it does not do when it comes to any Palestinians.
“The High Court has, in effect, erased the status of the victims and has given its protection to the men of terror, who will be able to demand the release of murderers from now on,” he continued. “This is a very sad day for the bereaved families and Israeli society, and a day of victory for the terror organizations and their supporters.”
WEST BACK CONSTRUCTION IS A ROADSIDE BOMB
After authorizing the new housing in East Yerushalayim and the West Bank, Construction and Housing Minister Uri Ariel lost no time in laying the cornerstone of a 63-unit housing project to be built in the Yerushalayim neighborhood of East Talpiot.
“We will continue to build, so it is clear this is just the start,” he declared. “This can’t be stopped.”
“No country in the world would allow someone else to dictate where it can and where it cannot build,” he added. “We will continue to market homes and to build everywhere in Israel — in the Negev, in the Galilee and in the center of the country, to answer the housing needs of Israel’s citizens. This is the right thing to do for Zionist and economic reasons.”
The 793 new apartments to be built in Yerushalayim include 400 in Gilo, 210 in Har Choma and 183 in Pisgat Ze’ev. The 394 on the West Bank include 117 in Ariel, 149 in Efrat, 92 in Maaleh Adumim, and 36 in Beitar Illit.
The announcement had been anticipated in the preparations for the new round of peace talks. Kerry spent months persuading the Palestinians to drop their demand for a building freeze in Yerushalayim and the West Bank where some half million Jews live in proximity to 2.5 million Arabs. Israeli government spokesman Mark Regev pointed out that all of the new housing announced is in locations which will remain part of Israel in any peace agreement, so their construction changes nothing on the final peace map, and has been accepted by Palestinian negotiators, at least in private.
As Regev l put it, “Does any serious person believe Maaleh Adumim is not going to remain part of Israel?”
But Palestinian officials insist they never agreed to Israel’s retention of the major settlement blocs and will permit only to minor land swaps along the 1967 borders.
“The international community must stand with this peace process and must stand shoulder to shoulder with us and hold Israel accountable for its continuing settlement activities,” Palestinian chief negotiator Saeb Erekat said. “Those who do these things are determined to undermine the peace negotiations, are determined to force people like us to leave the negotiating table.”
On the Israeli side, Netanyahu complained to Kerry that while talking peace, the Palestinians have never let up their incitement against Israel and hate education.
“Incitement and peace cannot coexist…,” Netanyahu wrote him. “Rather than educate the next generation of Palestinians to live in peace with Israel, this hate education poisons them against Israel and lays the ground for continued violence, terror and conflict.”
Kerry dismissed the Israeli announcement of new construction as a reason to delay the talks.
“As the world, I hope knows, the U.S. views the settlements as illegitimate and we have communicated that policy very clearly to Israel,” he said. “I think that what this underscores, actually, is the importance of getting to the table and getting to the table quickly and resolving the questions with respect to settlements, which are best resolved by solving the problems of security and borders. Once you have security and borders solved, you have resolved the question of settlements.”
Israeli liberals were reacted angrily to the building announcement. Zahava Gal-On of Meretz said the plan was “a roadside bomb the government has placed to eliminate the peace negotiations before they even begin.” Opposition leader Shelly Yachimovich thought it was a great step backwards, saying, “There is no practical meaning the announcement, all it accomplishes is to torpedo the seeds of international recognition and support that we have garnered for the renewed peace talks.” She said that Netanyahu had to “choose what type of government he is heading – a government that seeks a political agreement or a government that denies the possibility of a diplomatic solution.”
Yair Lapid of Yesh Atid said, “Announcing the decision to market 1,200 housing units in east Jerusalem and in the larger settlement blocs at this time is a double mistake. Solutions for the problem of housing should be founded in the areas of need. Additionally, the use of resources meant to provide housing for the middle class to needlessly defy the Americans will impede the peace process.”
But Yerushalayim mayor Nir Barkat who endorses a unified city was delighted at the idea of renewed building in the Jewish neighborhoods of East Yerushalayim.
“If the deal collapses because it hinges on the Yerushalayim issue, so be it,” he said. “It is better not to make any deal than to agree to a bad deal.”