High Court judges walk out on victims group after prisoners release hearing

Judges leave court as victims continue to shout their dissent to the planned prisoner release deal.

protesting the prisoner release petition 370 (photo credit: Marc Israel Sellem/The Jerusalem Post)
protesting the prisoner release petition 370
(photo credit: Marc Israel Sellem/The Jerusalem Post)
A hearing on releasing Palestinian prisoners with “blood on their hands,” attended by terror victims’ families wearing their emotions on their sleeves and experiencing extreme anguish, is bound to be a highly charged event, but no one would have predicted it would end as it did on Sunday.
A three-justice panel of the High Court walked out on a group of families of terror victims as they were trying to voice their opposition to the planned prisoner release deal, near the end of a hearing on a petition they filed to block the deal.
In past prisoner release cases, such as the Gilad Schalit hearing in 2011, the High Court, then under Dorit Beinisch, gave the victims ample time to voice their opposition and emotion regarding the release, even if the final ruling upholding the government’s decision was mostly a shoo-in.
On Sunday, however, the opposite was true. In Supreme Court President Asher D. Grunis’s first hearing on a major prisoner release deal since he took over as head of the court over a year ago, he allowed only one of the terror victims’ families to speak.
Around half a dozen times, the victims’ families asked to speak.
Each time Grunis cut them off.
Each time with little patience, like a schoolteacher who believed some of his students had come to the wrong classroom.
But when Grunis said “the hearing is over,” there was a spontaneous outpouring of anger by the families, yelling and screaming at the judges.
The victims called out: “This must not happen,” “Where is the rule of law?” “Listen to us, listen to our hearts,” “They have no time for us” and “They threw candies” (referring to murderers released in the past who were greeted with candies upon returning to the Palestinian side).
Grunis and the other judges sat for a few moments, turning red and looking something between shocked and indignant.
After a few moments they walked out of the room, as the victims’ families called out to them.
Afterward, Almagor Terror Victims Association head Meir Indor, who can normally rattle off 10 points he thinks everyone has missed on an issue at super speed, reacted in an unprecedented way: He was speechless.
He, and others, appeared surprised that despite the emotional import of the issue, the open and obvious tears and tormented faces of the families, the row of victims’ relatives who sat facing the court clutching pictures of their murdered loved ones during the hearing, Grunis stuck to formalism, limiting voices in the courtroom almost exclusively to lawyers, and concluded the proceedings in what was probably record time for a petition of this kind.
Members of the media were also in shock, not used to terror victims’ families’ voices being silenced, and possibly expecting that Grunis, who started his reign as the supposed darling of the right wing, would give them more of a voice than Beinisch had.
Maybe most observers had forgotten that this was the Grunis who formalistically issued a series of fines against human rights groups for filing what he considered unnecessary petitions, with one as high as NIS 45,000 against the Association for Civil Rights in Israel for a petition claiming unequal treatment of the poor at a medical center in Ashdod.
Or maybe most observers thought that even Grunis, the king of procedure, would make an exception for these families.
If the peace process continues, there could be another three hearings in the next nine months, and Grunis may think twice about whether to give the families a little bit more air time, as opposed to leaving his courtroom under fire. •