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August 6, 2013 7:07 am

Surrender for Punishment

avatar by Jerold Auerbach

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Israelis protest the Cabinet's decision to free 104 prisoners, with "blood on their hands." Photo: Tazpit News Agency, Screenshot.

“The release of terrorists,” concluded Benjamin Netanyahu  in Fighting Terrorism (1995), “is a mistake the Israeli government repeats time and time again.” Such prisoner releases, he warned, “only embolden terrorists . . . [and] they encourage precisely the terrorist blackmail they were supposed to defuse.”

In the years since, the lesson of how to treat convicted terrorists has been repeatedly forgotten by Israeli government officials. Since the signing of the Oslo Accords, Israel has released more than 9,000 Palestinian prisoners, including many who had committed heinous crimes. From 1993-1999, according to the Almagor Terrorist Victims Association (ATVA), 123 Israelis were murdered by terrorists who had been released from prison. Between 2002-2007, 177 more Israelis were killed by released terrorists.

No Israeli leader has more abjectly surrendered to Palestinian demands for the release of terrorists than Netanyahu. His recent assurance of freedom to 104 Palestinian prisoners as an initial  good will gesture to launch the negotiations so laboriously pursued by Secretary of State John Kerry reveals that Netanyahu continues to disregard his own warnings. Not two years ago, he agreed to the release of 1,027 Palestinian prisoners in exchange for captured Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit, held by Hamas in Gaza captivity for five years. The released prisoners (including the Palestinian woman who transported the bomb and suicide bomber to the Sbarro restaurant in Jerusalem where fifteen civilians including seven children and a pregnant woman were blown to pieces) were collectively responsible for the deaths of 569 Israelis. Although the overwhelming majority of Israelis supported the exchange that brought a soldier home, there were warnings that such a disproportionate exchange would imperil the lives of Israelis in the years to come.

Now Netanyahu has gone one step further by promising to release a total of one hundred and four prisoners – many of whom are serving life sentences for horrific murders of Israeli civilians – for nothing more than words of praise from Kerry. The Secretary’s evident obsession with restarting a Middle East “peace process” – while Egypt and Syria are self-destructing and American embassies are closing by the dozens in anticipation of al-Qaeda attacks – must be satisfied, as always at Israel’s expense.

Among the prisoners included on Netanyahu’s short list are Mohamed Dawd, who killed Ofra and Tal Moses by throwing a firebomb at their car; Jumaa Qdem and Mahmoud Kharbish, who killed a mother and her three children riding on a bus; Jamal Muhsan, who murdered an esteemed Israeli historian who was walking to the Jewish National Library in Jerusalem; Adnan Effendi, who stabbed to death two 13-year-old boys in Jerusalem; Kamal Awad Ali Ahmad, convicted for murdering 16 Israelis (including a soldier); and Abu Na’ame Abrahim Mahmus Samir, who blew up a Jerusalem bus, killing six.

Netanyahu was hardly oblivious to the import of his decision to free such vicious terrorists. At the beginning of the Cabinet meeting that decided their fate he declared: “Sometimes you need to make tough decisions for the better of the entire state, and this is one of those moments.” In an open letter to Israelis after the Cabinet voted to a phased release of the prisoners over the course of nine months of negotiations, he wrote: “This is an extremely difficult decision. It pains the bereaved families, it pains the entire Israeli public and it pains me very much.” Indeed, he concluded: “It clashes with a foundational value – justice.”

It not only undermines justice; for family members of Palestinian terrorist victims it is palpably unjust. “They are selling the country for nothing,” said Eilat Osher, when she learned that her husband’s murderer was on the list. “It is inconceivable that the state can ignore the bereaved families like this,” responded Avi Bromberg, whose father was killed by a pair of Palestinian cousins. Indeed, wrote Martin Sherman, executive director of the Israel Institute for Strategic Studies, it signaled “a staggering strategic surrender by Israel” that reveals “a total collapse of Israeli political resolve.”

Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas recently told reporters: “In a final resolution, we would not see the presence of a single Israeli – civilian or soldier – on our lands.” How far would “peace” negotiations progress were Netanyahu to announce: “In a final resolution, we would not see the presence of a single Palestinian on our lands”? “Once the line of concessions is crossed, more atrocities and more demands are sure to follow. . . . Government must be made to understand that if they acquiesce in terrorism, they are in practice supporting it.” Those wise words are now ignored by their author, Benjamin Netanyahu, who has replaced punishment with surrender.

Jerold S. Auerbach is professor emeritus of history at Wellesley College.

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  • Otto Waldmann in Sydney

    We are dealing here with two seemingly contradictory issues.
    One is the difficult matter of a PM deciding on a legal matter. The release of convicted criminals. Unless Israel allows its PM to pardon convicted criminals without any right of appeal, anyone in Israel could object legally to whatever Israeli competent Court against the decision. Find the law and the Court an sue accordingly !!!

    On the other hand, the mere fact that the Palestinian “peace” negotiators demand the release of proven criminals, proves – once again – the ethical standards of our “peace” partners. If the Palestinians would like us to believe that we share the same ethical principles, they would have insisted that criminals of ANY kind, any origin, should continue to be punished in accordance with laws to which, as peace partners all should adhere. Never mind that, once released, the same criminals will be accepted, indeed embraced by the same Palestinians as heroes.
    So, how can Israel trust “peace” with such people !!!

    In my book, the mere demand by the Palestinian negotiators should have been an excellent reason NOT to release the criminals !!! The same would have been just as n excellenta reason NOT to negotiate with these criminal protectors. There is NO WAY Israel can reach any reasonable result with such dedicated, irreversible haters of everything Israel stands for.

  • Vivienne Leijonhufvud

    Precisely my thoughts Sonia, I myself have said in earlier comments, release is not the answer, freezing talks or do nothing, far better. In view of today’s report re Obama refusing to back Israel against Iran – on this basis alone. Israel’s PM must with hold the release of any prisoners at all, including those to be released on 13th August, 20. Abbas is blackmailing Israel, it would be better for Israel to back away from Peace Talks and focus on her real danger Iran. Peace talks can be resumed when the Iranian threat has been dealt with. Obama is lifting sanctions even though Israel has acquiesced to ABBAS. Withdraw and make ABBAS wait, he and his cronies, allow them to scream and refuse to negotiate with the US. Better to turn to Russia or China, this will unnerve the US.

  • Sonia Willats

    Thus we can only conclude that a huge gun was held to Bibi’s head. Iran? Yet I agree that-given such a hobson’s choice-it is often better to do nothing. With examples like Benghazi one can see that this regime in America abandons its own. Will it not abandon Israel too, after it has been led down this dubious path of peace??

  • sobering thoughts