There are no happy Jewish Israeli citizens watching the release of 26 more
Palestinian murderers from Israeli prisons. It is not only the families of the
victims who are upset. Their loved ones will never come home and those who
murdered them are set free.
It is so hard to grasp the thought that those
who took lives are now reunited with their families and can go on with their
own, see their children and their grandchildren. It is even more difficult to
accept that the pretense for their release is to enable negotiations for peace.
Not peace, but talks about peace.
It has been said that there is no
precedent in the world for this, but that is not true. There have been other
cases, such as in South Africa, but that does nothing for the pain of seeing
killers going free.
Prisoners who killed in the name of a national,
political or religious cause are usually granted amnesty when peace treaties are
signed. It is part of the process of reconciliation. In South Africa they so
eloquently added the dimension of “truth and reconciliation” so that those who
killed could publically take responsibility and ask for forgiveness.
have not yet reached peace, we have no treaty and we are quite far away from
truth and reconciliation.
When Israel decided to negotiate with the PLO
led by Yasser Arafat, Israel crossed the line and negotiated with those that it
called terrorists until that point. Arafat was called the father of all
terrorists, the arch-terrorist, and yet Israel sat with him and negotiated. And
when he came back to Palestine, he brought with him many who spent years in
Israeli prisons for crimes against Israel and Israelis.
Arafat, it was
said then, sent his people to fight against Israel and to kill
If we sit with him, their commander, then all of those under
him should also be granted freedom.
There was an understanding at the
time of signing the Oslo Declaration of Principles in September 1993 that all of
those Palestinians who committed crimes against Israel and Israelis would be set
free with the return of Arafat. But they were not. The Palestinians have never
forgotten this issue and have brought it to the table constantly over the past
In the past two years I personally delivered the request from
Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas to Prime Minister Binyamin
Netanyahu to release the 104 pre-Oslo prisoners (the ones now being released).
Abbas even sent me the full list names and ID numbers to give to
According to Abbas, Olmert had promised to release them, too,
but they were not released. From the Palestinian perspective this has remained
as one of the unfulfilled promises of Oslo that are responsible for the demise
of the peace process.
I know it is hard. I have spent countless nights
awake thinking about the release of murderers. During the five years and four
months that Gilad Schalit was in captivity in Gaza I spent hundreds of hours in
conversations with Hamas people pleading for his freedom. They demanded the
release of hundreds of murderers in exchange for one soldier.
every other Israeli, have unfortunately known too many Israelis who have been
killed by Palestinians. I got engaged in the attempts to bring Schalit home
because one of my wife’s first cousins was abducted and killed by Hamas. I tried
to help find him when he disappeared, and failed.
I was at his funeral in
Jerusalem standing over his grave, crying with the rest of his family. On the
day that the Schalit deal and my role in it became public knowledge, his widow
called me. For almost one hour she yelled at me, she cried, I also cried with
her. Four of the six people responsible for the murder of her husband, my wife’s
cousin, and the father of her children went free in that prisoner
There are no words to console her or soothe the pain of those
who this week saw the murderers of their loved ones go free.
This is what
is possible to say, and it is no way meant to be an excuse or support for the
prisoner release under these circumstances. For me, I say to myself – murderers
were set free, but Gilad Schalit came home alive and there was no other way of
bringing him home after five years and four months in confinement.
the others released two months ago, this week, and the two future releases: it
is not being done for negotiations.
It is not a promise to the
Palestinians. It is a payment to the United States which put pressure on Israel
to do it.
It is because the United States has made the promise that Iran
will not have nuclear weapons. It is because we trust that the United States
will stand by its promise. It is also a sign that there must be progress in the
The Israeli agreement to release the prisoners was divided
into four waves so that if the negotiations did break down because of
unreasonable Palestinian positions, Israel would not be obligated to release
those who were not yet released.
We can also take partial consolation in
that all of the prisoners released have spent between 17-28 years in
They had their freedom denied from them while their children
grew, while their grandchildren were born. They did not celebrate for many years
in family events or holidays. They have been locked away paying for the crimes
that they committed.
Israel does not have the death penalty.
who were convicted of murder were granted life by our justice system. There are
those who think that this is unjust and a life should be paid for with a life. I
do not share that view. I do not believe that the state has the right to take a
I have met released murderers face to face, both here and in other
conflict zones. In almost all cases, I heard them say that they live with the
faces of those they killed every single day of their life.
say that they are sorry and they justify their actions for political purposes.
But I know, I saw and I witnessed tortured souls – people who cannot forget that
they took an innocent life. This is particularly the case for those who killed
There is no solace in these words, or in any words. We live in
a very complex reality and it is often very difficult to comprehend. The best we
can do is to hope that one day soon we will reach real peace and all of the
killing will stop and no one will need to feel this pain again.
author is co-chairman of IPCRI, the Israel Palestine Center for Research and
Information, a columnist for
The Jerusalem Post and the initiator and negotiator
of the secret back channel for the release of Gilad Schalit. His new book
Freeing Gilad: the Secret Back Channel has been published by Kinneret Zmora
Bitan in Hebrew and
The Negotiator: Freeing Gilad Schalit from Hamas from The