Following the cabinet’s approval of the release of 104 Palestinian terrorists as
a gesture to the Palestinian Authority ahead of peace talks, relatives of
Israeli Jews imprisoned for security crimes gathered on Tuesday to call on the
government to release their loved ones.
Organized by the group Honenu –
which provides legal assistance to Israeli Jews accused of nationalist crimes
against Palestinians – the press conference on Tuesday is the beginning of what
the group hopes will be a campaign that will see a dozen Israeli security
prisoners returned home.
Honenu founder and chairman Shmuel Meidad opened
the discussion, which took place in a cramped board room at a Ramat Gan law
“We have a simple and just request – after so many murderers and
terrorists have been released in Israel, we ask for the release of a small
number of people who carried out these acts in response to terrorism,” he
Those prisoners include Ami Popper, who on May 20, 1990, gunned
down seven unarmed Palestinian men from the Gaza Strip, and wounded 11 others
waiting at a bus stop in Rishon Lezion. Popper is eligible for parole in 2023,
after his seven life sentences were commuted to a 40-year-sentence in 1999. He
said that he carried out the mass murder in part because an Arab man raped him
when he was 13 years old.
In 2012, Popper was moved from Ma’asiyahu
Prison to Ayalon Prison after former president Moshe Katsav, serving time in
Ma’asiyahu for rape, told wardens that Popper had repeatedly humiliated him in
front of other prisoners as revenge for his refusing him a pardon during his
time in office.
Ami’s brother Tzvi was at the press conference on
Tuesday, along with other relatives. He said Honenu’s campaign can change public
opinion and secure the release of people like his brother. “With all of these
terrorists who have been released over the years, the number who are Jews is a
minority, it’s not that many, and they won’t go back to being terrorists and
they’ve expressed remorse,” Tzvi Popper said.
When asked what interest
the average Israeli or Israeli society would have in seeing a mass murderer set
free, he said, “My brother was murdered at age 13. We are a normal family, he
never came to us and said he was going to do this or that. He held this in his
gut and then at the age of 20 decided to do what he did. I am sure that he is
regretful about this, he’s expressed it to the president. We are a normal
family, we’re not criminals, not terrorists, why can’t he be released? Are they
[Palestinians] better than us?”
Also present was Yehuda Zeliger, father of
Shlomo Dvir, a member of the “Bat Ayin Underground” terrorist group in
Dvir was sentenced in 2003 to 15 years for placing a bomb outside
a girl’s school in east Jerusalem, not long after he was arrested at the scene
of the crime in April 2002.
Yehuda said his frustration and that of the
other families is made worse because “our children, husbands, sons, brothers,
they are Zionists who did what they did not out of terrorism but because of a
feeling of connection to the people of Israel, and most of them have expressed
regret and don’t believe this is the way.
Now we see these terrorist, who
each one of us know well what they did are spitting in our faces [going free],
but our people, who expressed regret, are still rotting in
Fighting back tears on Tuesday at the law firm office was Elinor
Butvika, wife of former Border Police officer Shahar Butvika. In April 2009, her
husband was sentenced to eight-and-ahalf years in prison, and his partner,
Dennis Alhazov, sentenced to five years, for pushing Palestinian Amran Abu
Hamdiya out of a moving Border Police van. Abu Hamdiya suffered critical
injuries in the fall and died not long after.
“My husband found himself
in a complicated situation,” Elinor Butvika said, before bursting into
Regaining her composure, she said, “My husband went to defend the
people of Israel – to protect the citizens, and he got into a situation where he
saw his brothers in arms killed, and I’m asking that he be released. You don’t
just discard a solider who made a mistake.”
At the end of the press
conference, Meidad read from a letter Honenu has sent to the government, in
which it pleads for amnesty for the Jewish terrorists.
He took questions,
including one from an Army Radio reporter who asked if such a release of Jewish
terrorists would set a dangerous precedent at a time when “price tag” attacks
have become common and prominent on both sides of the Green Line.
responded that the only such attacks where the identities of the perpetrators
had been proven were carried out by Arabs and that the Israeli media was blowing
the issue out of proportion.
When asked where Honenu draws the line, and
if it would call for the release of Baruch Goldstein (who killed 29 Palestinians
and wounded another 125 at the Cave of the Patriarchs in Hebron in 1994) and
Eden Natan-Zada (who killed four Arab Israelis and wounded another 12 in Shfaram
in 2005) if they had been taken into custody alive, Meidad said, “The potential
of terror is always there, but what we know is that 0 percent of Israeli Jews
who got released after these crimes do not go back to [committing] them, but we
do know that the [Palestinian] terrorists do go back to them. I think this
figure speaks for itself.”