Terror victims' families petition High Court demanding details of Schalit deal be publicized

Terror victims families

Asaf Zur, 17, who loved traveling, music and surfing, was killed by a suicide bomber as he sat on a Haifa bus on his way home from school in March 2003. But after three days of media reports of a prisoner swap for captive soldier Gilad Schalit, his father Yossi Zur still does not know if the four Hamas terrorists who helped orchestrate the attack on the No. 37 bus that killed his son and 16 others are about to be released as part of the deal. "My life right now is a nightmare because of the uncertainty and doubt," said Zur. On Tuesday, Zur, along with two other Haifa parents of children killed on the 37 bus - Ron Kehrmann and Yossi Mendellevich - petitioned the High Court of Justice demanding that Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu, the government and the army censor publicize the prisoner list. In their petition, filed together with Almagor Terror Victims Association, the plaintiffs demanded that the state also publish the criteria for prisoners released in the deal and to stop using the authority of the army censor to impede media reports on the proposed deal. During a visit to National Police Headquarters on Tuesday morning, Netanyahu said that when a deal was reached, both government ministers and the public would be involved in the debate. "We won't shortcut the process and we won't [make a deal] in an underhanded way," he said. But Zur, Mendellevich and Kehrmann are leaving nothing to chance. On Sunday the trio wrote a letter to the Prime Minister's Office as well as to the Defense and Justice ministries asking for the names, but had yet to receive a reply. Censoring the names is not a security matter, said Zur. "There is no real danger to security if people know the details," he said, adding that the issue was more moral and legal. He said he believed the information had been withheld as a ploy to maintain public support for the deal. Mendellevich noted that at least 180 Israelis had been killed by terrorists released in past prisoner swaps. Zur added that two of the Hamas terrorists who had been convicted for their part in the Haifa bus attack had told a British journalist that after their release they would plan more terror attacks. The 48-hour period after the names are released that is given to appeal a prison swap, does not allow opponents to properly defend their position in court, said Zur. "By the time you go into the hearing, the terrorists are already sitting on the buses," he said. In their petition the parents stated that "releasing murderers with blood on their hands... is an issue with great legal, moral and security implications that deserves not to be hijacked and decided on without a comprehensive debate." The petition charged that public opinion had been "shaped by a public relations campaign that is run by the Schalit family, whose position is obvious and whose personal pain allows no alternative but to release their son at any cost," reads the petition. "The plaintiffs plan to argue that the use of the censor in this case is wrongful and illegal and that its sole rationale is avoiding public debate on an issue that is central to our lives." In their petition, the plaintiffs raise concerns that the current behavior of Netanyahu and the government will not enable debate by the public or by decision-makers. The plaintiffs say that they will be personally harmed if they are not given an opportunity to appeal the decision to free their loved ones' killers. "A free and democratic state should make decisions that are vital to the society and the individuals who live within it, on the basis of open and comprehensive debate. The use of censorship to hide reports that are inconvenient to the negotiating team is highly improper," said the petition. Zur said that prisoner releases were increasingly dangerous in the era of suicide bombing. "What we have today is a whole different type of terrorist" than those released in past prisoner exchanges in the last few decades, he said. He added that he believed Israel should find a way to free Schalit that did not involve endangering the lives of its citizens. Kadima MK Nahman Shai also spoke out in favor of releasing all the information regarding the proposed deal to public debate. "It is the government's responsibility to present to the Israeli public the full information about the proposed prisoner exchange between Israel and Hamas," he said. "As someone who favors the arrangement and the return of prisoners in exchange for Gilad Schalit, I believe that the public will accept in advance and in full the list of prisoners and the details of the deal." On Monday, the Legal Forum for the Land of Israel, a human rights group that works for change through the court system, called on retired justice Dalia Dorner, the president of the Israel Press Council, to act against the censorship being imposed. "As the president of the Israel Press Council, who is in charge of the public's right to information and on allowing the media to fulfill its role as is fitting a democratic society, we ask you to act to cancel the censorship on matters pertaining to the deal and enable the media to do its job," the forum said in a letter. "In the current situation censorship is being used as a draconian tool, not for the protection of national security, but for political aims of authorizing the deal," it added. In July, a special committee headed by former chief justice Meir Shamgar was formed to develop government guidelines for future prisoner-exchange deals. The committee, which comprises Shamgar, Prof. Asa Kasher and retired general Amos Yaron, was formed at the behest of Defense Minister Ehud Barak. The panel has drawn up recommendations that have not yet been ratified by the cabinet and have been kept secret. National Union chairman Ya'acov Katz called on Netanyahu to inform the public of the committee's findings before, not after, the Schalit deal.