Israel stands firm: We won't free 'mega-terrorists’ in swap

Hamas fails to respond to new prisoner exchange offer; captured soldier's family sets off on march to Jerusalem.

Schalit rally 311 (photo credit: Associated Press)
Schalit rally 311
(photo credit: Associated Press)
Hamas has not replied to an Israeli offer to release hundreds of terrorists – including more than 100 responsible for murdering more than 600 Israelis – in exchange for kidnapped soldier Gilad Schalit, on condition they do not return to the West Bank, but go either to the Gaza Strip or to another country.
Israel, according to government sources, sent the offer through a German mediator six months ago, The Jerusalem Post has learned.
RELATED:Colosseum turns off lights for SchalitSteinitz: Marches won't free SchalitSarkozy sends letter to Noam Schalit
The offer includes a willingness to release 450 Palestinian prisoners in negotiations with Hamas, and another 550 prisoners unilaterally as a gesture to the Palestinian Authority – meaning the Schalit deal would be one for 1,000.
Of the 450 Israel agreed to release in negotiations with Hamas are more than 100 terrorists with “blood on their hands.”
However, Israel has made clear it would not release what it has called “mega-terrorists” – those responsible for some of the worst atrocities.
Among those are the terrorists responsible for the attacks at Jerusalem’s Sbarro restaurant where 15 people were killed in 2001; the Moment Café where 11 were killed in Jerusalem in 2002; Café Hillel where seven were killed in the capital in 2003 ; the Rishon Lezion attack where 16 were killed in 2002; the Dolphinarium in Tel Aviv were 21 were killed in 2001; and the Park Hotel in Netanya where 30 people were killed on Seder night in 2002.
Israel has made clear that these, and other mega-terrorists would not be released because they would establish a “terrorist industry” wherever they were sent.
Hamas, however, is demanding the release of these megaterrorists.
They are also demanding they be allowed to return to the West Bank in order, according to Israeli assessments, to rehabilitate Hamas’s military capabilities there, after they have been dealt a huge blow over the last few years.
Israel’s demand that more than 100 of these 450 prisoners not return to the West Bank stems from the country’s bitter experience with previous prisoner releases, when many of those released returned to terrorism and were responsible for killing additional Israelis.
According to government numbers, some 45% of released terrorists return to terrorism.
The number is even higher among Hamas members, of whom 63% return to terrorism, and the Islamic Jihad, for which the number rises to 67%.
The most recent example of this recidivism can be seen in the case of the 400 terrorists released to gain the return of Elhanan Tannenbaum and the bodies of three IDF soldiers in 2004. Fifty-two percent of those released have returned to terrorism and are responsible for killing 27 Israelis is a number of different attacks.
According to government figures, 42% of the 1,150 prisoners released for three IDF soldiers in the Jibril prisoner exchange in 1985 returned to terrorism and, according to Israeli assessments, many were leaders of the second intifada.
Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu has said in private conversations recently that he empathizes and sympathizes fully with the Schalit family, but that although he sees it as his responsibility to ensure that every soldier is brought back home, he also has a broader responsibility to the security of all Israeli citizens, and can’t do anything that would endanger that security.
But the Schalit family and their supporters believe that Netanyahu has no choice but to agree to such a swap.
Noam Schalit calls on all Israelis to join march
On Friday, Noam Schalit called on all Israelis to join him and his family when they embark Sunday morning from their Mitzpe Hila home in the upper Galilee on an 11-day trek to Jerusalem to demand that the government free Gilad from captivity.
The march will end at the Prime Minister’s Residence in Jerusalem. Once they arrive there, “we will sit and we will not return home without Gilad,” said Noam in a video message that he released on Friday, the fourth anniversary of the day that his son, then a 19-year old soldier, was kidnapped as he patrolled the border between Gaza and Israel.
He has been held by Hamas in Gaza since then.
The only contact his family has had with him has been three letters and one video they have received.
“For four years we have not known what his physical and psychological condition is,” said Noam. “During those four years he has not had any connection with anyone aside from his kidnappers.
“It’s been four years in which the nation, with all of its resources, has failed to return Gilad, even though he has been held just a few kilometers away from Israel’s southern border,” said Noam.
He urged Netanyahu to agree to a prisoner swap.
“The life of Gilad is in your hands, there is no time left, return him to his home before it is too late.
… Pay the required price and return Gilad to his home,” said Noam.
His wife, Aviva, also released a video in which she said of her son, “ “I haven’t touched him in 1,460 days – I haven’t hugged Gilad, I haven’t spoken with Gilad. Four endless years, four years of prolonged suffering.”
Steinitz: Gilad won't be freed by marches
Finance Minister Yuval Steinitz said he understood why the Schalit family was setting out on its trek, but added that Gilad would not be freed by public opinion or protest marches.
“We all pray in our hearts to have Gilad with us,” Steinitz said. “But being a decision-maker also means not making decisions just from the heart, but from the head as well.”
Steinitz clarified that he was not criticizing the Schalit family.
“If he were my son, I would act as Noam and Aviva have,” he said. But he added that “freeing hundreds of terrorists with blood on their hands” to the West Bank would have dire consequences for Israel’s ability to deal with terrorism.
Deputy Foreign Minister Danny Ayalon said over the weekend that the government should do everything in its power to bring Gilad back but “without hurting Israel’s security interests.”
Schalit has dual French- Israeli citizenship and on Friday, French President Nicolas Sarkozy released a letter he had addressed to the abducted soldier’s parents.
"Like all French people, I’m indignant that a man could be deprived of freedom in such a way,” Sarkozy wrote. “Such treatment, which totally lacks humanity, ignores universally recognized principles when it comes to prisoners, firstly the visiting rights of the International Committee of the Red Cross.”
Noam Schalit met with the French ambassador to Israel on Friday afternoon, telling reporters afterward that Sarkozy had promised to continue his efforts to release his son.
“They have means that Israel maybe does not have,” he said.
Human Rights Watch charged Friday that Hamas is violating the rules of war by prohibiting Gilad from having contact with his family and the Red Cross.
The treatment of Gilad is “cruel and inhuman” and matches a UN definition of torture because he is denied any outside contact, the US-based rights group said in a statement.
Hamas released a video of Schalit in October 2009 to prove he was alive, but his current condition is unknown.
AP and Jerusalem Post staff contributed to this report.