Hundreds of outraged protesters gathered outside Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu’s office in Jerusalem Sunday morning to express their anguish over his decision to release 104 Palestinian prisoners as a concession for restarting peace negotiations.
The demonstration – arranged by the Almagor Terror Victims Association and families who have lost loved ones to terrorism – featured black-and-white placards with images of victims killed by the prisoners being released.
Posters with red handprints – illustrating the blood on the prisoners’ hands – were also prominently displayed by a number of protesters, who ranged from teenagers to octogenarians.
“This is not a political issue for me; it’s a moral one,” said Jeff Daube, director of the Israel office of the Zionist Organization of America, who attended the demonstration.
“With the rate of recidivism being what it is, we are virtually assured that this will cost Jewish lives. If these terrorists don’t return to terrorism itself, they will return to aiding and abetting terrorists,” he continued.
“Suicide is not part of my daily routine,” Daube stated.
In an open letter to the public on Saturday, Netanyahu acknowledged that the agreement to release the prisoners “clashed with the principle of justice,” but noted that it was necessary to resume talks and “ensure Israel’s essential national interests.”
“This is an incredibly difficult decision,” he wrote. “It hurts the bereaved families, it hurts all of the Israeli people and it hurts me very much. It clashes with the most important principle – the principle of justice.”
Netanyahu emphasized that it was difficult to “go against the public,” but maintained that “sometimes prime ministers are forced to make decisions that go against public opinion – when the issue is important for the country.”
Trudy Gefen of Kiryot Ono, who came to the protest with her husband, said she has long been a staunch Netanyahu loyalist, but described the decision to release the prisoners as a “betrayal.”
“I’m disgusted that the man I voted for – who said he would never release terrorists – has now done it for the second time,” said Gefen, referring to the 2011 exchange of 1,027 Palestinian prisoners for Gilad Schalit. “I’m fed up! Does he think we’re stupid?” Summarizing her assessment of the situation, Gefen quoted American founding father and former US president Thomas Jefferson, saying, “If the people are afraid of the government, that’s tyranny. If the government is afraid of the people, that’s democracy.”
“It appears that Bibi never heard this,” Gefen added.
“He’s acting like a dictator.”
Dr. Shlomo Tikochiski, who has a PhD in Jewish history from Hebrew University, said Netanyahu’s concession has taken away Israel’s “selfrespect.”
“In my opinion, the [most difficult] part of Middle East negotiations is [maintaining] self-respect, and today Netanyahu and the government have given it up,” said Tikochiski.
“This is the beginning of negotiations, and Netanyahu is starting from a point of weakness,” he continued.
“This is not how to begin a negotiation.”
Nadav Meron, a 23-year-old Likud member, also condemned Netanyahu’s decision.
“I’m here because I think letting terrorists go free is something we should not do. It’s giving a present to terrorists,” he said, adding that he dreads the inevitable celebrations and hero’s welcome the released terrorists will likely receive upon returning home.
“When they get back home, [the Palestinians] will have parties to celebrate them,” Meron said. “How can this be a ‘peace process’ if they celebrate terrorists when they come back home?” Lizi Haneiri could barely contain her tears as she decried what she described as American pressure and hypocrisy doled out by US Secretary of State John Kerry.
“We’re here to tell our prime minister that we voted for you, not Kerry,” said Haneiri.
“And who gave Kerry the right to tell us to release murderers? Would the US release terrorists from Guantanamno [Bay]? Which other country in the world would do such a thing? “These terrorists have blood on their hands – the blood of children, women, of innocents!” she continued. “We trusted the prime minister to protect us and now he’s releasing murderers. Who’s going to protect us?” Meanwhile, the sister of a soldier who was abducted and murdered by terrorists in Netanya in 1984, held up a black-and-white placard baring her brother’s face.
“What can I say? I am shocked,” she said, requesting that she not be named. “I’m very disappointed – especially in Bibi.”