Relatives of Jews jailed for terror attacks call for a 'mutual prisoner release'

Right-wing group says prisoners acted in response to terror; call comes after decision to free 104 Palestinian prisoners.

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 firm.
“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 said.
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 Judea.
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 prison.”
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 tears.
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.
Meidad 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.”