High Court rejects terror victim group's petition against releasing Palestinian prisoners

Stage now set for release of 26 Palestinian security prisoners.

Protesting palestinian prisoner release 370 (photo credit: Ben Hartman)
Protesting palestinian prisoner release 370
(photo credit: Ben Hartman)
The High Court of Justice on Tuesday rejected the petition of the Almagor Terror Victims Association to intervene and block the government’s decision to release 26 Palestinian prisoners, including some of the worst terrorists with “blood on their hands.”
The court’s decision, following a heated but affirmative vote by the government last week, removed the final barrier for pardoning the prisoners and releasing them.
At the outset of its opinion, the court said that it understood that the issues are “sensitive and complicated, lying at the heart of a public dispute.”
“Despite this,” the decision continued, “all that is before us is the legal question of whether there is any basis to get involved in the government’s decision to release prisoners in the framework of peace talks with the Palestinians.”
The court rejected the central argument of Almagor that this release specifically was more unreasonable than prior releases because terrorists with blood on their hands were being released as part of a general process and without even receiving any Israelis in return, such as during the Gilad Schalit deal.
According to the court, these distinctions were not significant enough for it to violate the cardinal principle that it does not get involved in matters of state, and a prisoner release in the framework of peace talks was emphatically a matter of state.
Next, the court disposed of Almagor’s argument that the current policy of giving the families the final list of prisoners planned to be released only 48 hours before violated their rights under a law granting families of victims to submit opposition in writing to a planned pardon of whoever harmed their family member.
The court said that this law applies only to individual prisoners being pardoned for reasons specific to that prisoner, and was not applicable at all to a general pardon being granted to a group of prisoners in the context of a state-sponsored peace process.
The court also cited the state’s argument that it had gone above and beyond its obligations by giving Almagor information about all of the prisoners, even though the current policy of giving the families of victims details about prisoners being released 48 hours before does not apply to West Bank prisoners, only to those in Israeli prisons.
Multiple times the court noted that the first round – 26 prisoners out of 104 due to be released in four segments over nine months – included only Palestinians and not Israeli- Arabs, who reportedly will be in later releases.
It was unclear if the court noted this as a potential stronger argument for Almagor in the future or merely to describe the prisoners being immediately released.
The court concluded its opinion, stating that “our hearts go out to the families of the terror victims, whose anguish is greatest and about which we can do nothing to heal.”
Releasing prisoners who have committed such grave crimes is “the hardest kind of decision,” said the court.
It added that “we are sure that the empowered authorities decided what they decided with a heavy heart, while considering the pain and position of the victims’ families.”
The court also accepted and quoted the state’s argument that the deal was balanced and well conceived, since if the peace process did not go well, future planned prisoner releases will be canceled.
The justices made no reference or response to the angry jeers and shouts from the victims’ families that followed them as they hustled out of the court room on Sunday.
Almagor responded angrily to the High Court decision, saying that “the bereaved families see this as proof that the prime minister’s immoral politics have penetrated the halls of the court.”
“The Supreme Court today closed the door before bereaved families and Jewish victims of terror – something it has not done to Palestinians,” Almagor stated, listing the suspension of the building the security barrier and acquiescence to requests to stop certain interrogation and arrest procedures as examples of the court’s bending to the will of the Palestinians.
Bayit Yehudi MK Yoni Chetboun, who participated in protests against freeing terrorists, said he finds it unfortunate that bereaved families are almost alone in their fight against the prisoner release, calling the situation a “moral failure.”
Lahav Harkov and Jerusalem Post staff contributed to this report.