'Details of Schalit deal to stay secret'

High Court of Justice D

The High Court of Justice on Tuesday rejected an appeal demanding to disclose the details of a pending deal to release captive IDF soldier St.-Sgt. Gilad Schalit, ahead of the deal's approval in the government. The appeal was submitted by the Almagor organization, representing victims of terror attacks and a group of three bereaved fathers. The court ruled that the bereaved families would be able to protest the release of those responsible for the deaths of their loved ones by submitting an objection to the Justice Ministry department responsible for granting pardons. The list of the names of Palestinian prisoners who would be released following a deal will be publicized 48 hours before the deal takes place. But the court rejected the appellants' demand that all proceedings leading to the deal would be made public. Supreme Court President Dorit Beinisch explained her rejection of the appeal following consultation with state officials from the military censor. "In a confidential discussion, we were told there is no deal yet, that the deal being negotiated is complex and as yet not agreed upon. We were also told there are still gaps between the sides and the deal may eventually not take place. In this state of affairs, we understood why details cannot be published at the present time. The appellants' claim, that everything is known to all involved except the citizens of Israel, is not true," Beinisch wrote in the ruling. "Regarding the claim that details of the deal are revealed by foreign publications, we were told that in this matter one must take into account the involvement of many interested parties in the process, and the foreign publications are used by those parties to manipulate the outcome," Beinisch continued. "It can be said without a doubt that the actions to secure the release of Gilad Schalit raise difficulties and dilemmas of a human, moral, political and public nature, and these justify public debate; but we cannot overlook the difficult nature of a process where so many sensitive issues are still open-ended." On Sunday, Beinisch said that no agreement had been reached with Hamas on a prisoner exchange, and that the list of prisoners to be released would only be made public at the last minute. In his arguments presented to the court on Sunday, Naftali Werzberger, who represents the bereaved parents, said that 48 hours was too short a time to organize any substantial opposition. "By the time we get the list, examine it and try to appeal it, the murderers will be on the buses and we will be facing an established fact," said Werzberger. "Sitting beside me are three fathers who lost those most precious to them in horrific acts of terrorism. Their children's killers may very well be on the list. "These people, whose world collapsed around them, have the right to be a part of a procedure that involves the killers of their loved ones. How can you pardon the terrorists without the victims having a right to appeal?" Yossi Mendellevich, who lost his son Yuval in 2003, said he and the other fathers do not recognize the government's right to hide information from the public based on security concerns. "Israeli courts gave my son's murderers 17 life sentences for the brutal killing of 17 people. How will Israel's security be harmed if it becomes known whether or not they are part of the deal?" said Mendellevich. "The state, which failed to protect our children in the first place, will betray us again if it releases their murderers." While the court has not yet issued an official ruling, following the hearing the petitioners expressed disappointment with the court's decision. "The state of Israel has done what it does best. It closed the doors and operated in darkness, without telling anyone. I think they have brutally ignored alternative options," said bereaved father Yossi Zur. "I don't know what was said behind closed doors, but I'm sure that the state has a list of 400 or more prisoners, and the rest are negotiable. "Despite the fact that we came here and demanded to know about the fate of our son's killers, the state chose to ignore our requests, leaving us without public debate before the deal and without the ability to appeal after it goes through."