High Court to hear three petitions against releases

Court accepts Noam and Aviva Schalit’s request to be included as respondents to petition by advocacy group.

Schalits leave Jerusalem 311 (photo credit: Marc Israel Sellem)
Schalits leave Jerusalem 311
(photo credit: Marc Israel Sellem)
The High Court of Justice ruled on Sunday that it will hear three petitions at noon on Monday against the release of 1,027 Palestinian prisoners.
A panel of three justices – Supreme Court President Dorit Beinisch, Justice Eliezer Rivlin and Justice Hanan Melcer – decided to combine the three petitions into a single hearing.
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The first petition was filed on Friday morning by the Almagor Terror Victims Association on behalf of bereaved family members of those killed in terror attacks perpetrated by several of the prisoners scheduled for release. The Almagor petitioners include Yitzhak Maoz, whose daughter was killed in the 2001 Sbarro bombing in Jerusalem; Hovav Nuriel, whose father Sasson Nuriel was killed by a Hamas terror cell in 2005; the Bloom family, which was injured by a petrol bomb; Ron Karmal, whose daughter was killed in a bus bombing in Haifa; and Rabbi Shmuel Weiss, whose son, a soldier, died fighting terrorists.
On Sunday, members of the Schijveschuurder family, whose parents and three children were slain in the 2001 Sbarro suicide bombing, also filed a petition protesting against the decision to release Ahlam Tamimi, who drove the suicide bomber to the Jerusalem restaurant.
The Schijveschuurders have asked the court to set standards for the release of security prisoners.
Another petition was filed on Sunday by a Jerusalem resident, Ronit Tamari, who has asked that the court order the government to remove 29 prisoners “with blood on their hands” from the list of those scheduled for release.
Attorney Zeev Dasberg, whose daughter Efrat Ungar and her husband Yaniv were killed in 1996 by Hamas terrorists, also petitioned the High Court on Sunday afternoon.
The Almagor petitioners have asked the court to delay the prisoner releases to allow bereaved families more time to examine the list of prisoners and to organize their responses.
“Bereaved families are calling me all the time; they’re asking me if the terrorists who murdered their family members are on the list of prisoners or not,” Almagor CEO Meir Indor told The Jerusalem Post on Sunday.
However, later on Sunday evening, the High Court accepted a request from the Schalit family to include them as a respondent to the Almagor petition.
“We sympathize with the pain of the families of the terror victims, but ask that the court not make any change, however small, to the deal made by the government,” Schalit’s parents, Noam and Aviva, wrote to the justices.
“Any delay will put Gilad’s life in danger,” the Schalits added.
As well as asking for the prisoner releases to be delayed, Almagor also argues that the Schalit deal is “unreasonable and disproportionate,” and has asked that the court consider their objections.
Indor accepted that the chances of the High Court accepting the petition are slim, since in past petitions against prisoner releases, the court has expressed regret for terror victims’ pain but has refused to overturn any government decision to set free security prisoners.
In 2004, Almagor and Victims of Terror International petitioned against the release of prisoners in exchange for kidnapped citizen Elhanan Tannenbaum and the bodies of three soldiers.
In rejecting that petition, Justice Edmund Levi noted that previous security prisoners released as part of similar deals had returned to terrorism, but said that despite the risk the court would not interfere in the government’s decision.
“[My] sole hope is that those who adopted the decision, who have a complete picture before them and who bear the responsibility to ensure the safety and security of Israeli citizens were persuaded that it was right, despite the terrible risk involved for all of us,” wrote Justice Levi.
In 2008, the court turned down petitions against the release of Lebanese terrorist Samir Kuntar in exchange for the bodies of soldiers Ehud Goldwasser and Eldad Regev, stating that the government had taken the pain felt by the victims’ families into account.
In 2009, Justice Edna Arbel refused a petition against releasing prisoners as a goodwill gesture to PA chairman Mahmoud Abbas. Justice Arbel expressed sympathy for the victims’ suffering, but said the release was a “clear political decision.”
Despite this precedent, though, Indor expressed some degree of optimism ahead of Monday’s hearing that the justices will accept Almagor’s latest petition, on the grounds that it brings new arguments to the court.
“This is the first time that the government has agreed to release so many terrorists at once who are so very dangerous,” said Indor.
“Also, the High Court considers government decisions all the time, when Palestinians petition against them, so why should the court not get involved in this issue?” Almagor argues in its petition that the security threat that will be created by releasing the prisoners is so strong that it will undermine the basis of justice, democracy and equality before the law underpinning Israel’s legal system.
For this reason, Indor says that he believes the Schalit deal is unprecedented even by the 1985 Jibril deal in which 1,150 terrorists were released in return for three kidnapped soldiers.
Although Almagor says its research shows that many of the terrorists freed in that deal returned to terrorism, and many became leaders of the First Intifada, Indor believes that the Schalit deal terrorists pose a greater threat.
In this light, Almagor’s petition asks the court to consider the issue of releasing the 1,027 security prisoners against several issues, including the psychological implications for the families of terror victims.
“The court needs to weigh the issue of the private right of a kidnapped soldier against the rights of the families of the victims of the terrorists being released,” said Indor. “It should also consider the rights of future victims.”
Almagor say that a study they conducted revealed that at least 30 terror attacks since 2000 were perpetrated by convicted terrorists freed in prisoner release deals.
To support their petition, Almagor have also filed an affidavit regarding the security ramifications of the prisoner releases.
The affidavit, signed by security expert Lt.-Col (res.) Dan Sion, states that the government’s decision to release prisoners in return for Schalit is inconsistent with its obligation to protect citizens.
“The support of top security officials in the Schalit deal is irrelevant, except for their professional opinions indicating that terrorism will continue and even increase,” wrote Sion. “And this opinion is supported by the statements of terror organizations who say they will continue to harm Israeli citizens.”
Failing to learn lessons from the deaths of soldiers and civilians in wartime is a moral offense that will guarantee that more civilians and combatants will fall in the future, added Sion.
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