Mothers of terror victims go on offensive against impending Palestinian prisoner release

"We are taking a step to build trust with our enemies, but what step is the government taking to build trust with its citizens?"

Protest against Palestinian prisoner release good qual 370  (photo credit: Marc Israel Sellem/The Jerusalem Post)
Protest against Palestinian prisoner release good qual 370
(photo credit: Marc Israel Sellem/The Jerusalem Post)
Rage, ignominy and demoralization inflamed the eyes and shook the voices of several Israeli mothers who sat with images of their slain children in front of the Prime Minister’s Residence on a chilly Wednesday afternoon.
They and other relatives of terror victims were protesting the Sunday release of 26 Palestinian prisoners.
As various cars honked in support upon seeing the large placards bearing the faces of the young murder victims – some of whose assailants are scheduled to go free – Ortal Tamam, whose uncle was murdered in 1984, explained why she had organized the gathering.
“I’m a 25-year-old medical student in Beersheba, and I see my future here and want to live in a country that preserves its values, and I think we lost a sense of right and wrong,” she said. “I feel like the prime minister, who is supposed to be a representative of the people, is not listening to the people and is selling our values for politics.”
Noting the improbability of such a prisoner release ever taking place in America or any other democratic nation, Tamam said the stakes of such a gamble were too high a risk, and imperiled Jewish tradition.
“Our values are what held us together for thousands of years in the Diaspora, and if we’re not going to stick to our values now that we have our own country, eventually we will lose it,” she said.
Sherri Mandell – whose 13-year-old son Koby was violently murdered in Tekoa in 2001 along with his friend Yosef Ish-Ran – said the upcoming release served as evidence that the nation had lost its moral compass and subjugated itself to American pressure.
“We’re living in a country with a lack of ethics and justice,” said Mandell with thinly veiled contempt. “We have succumbed to America’s demands, and they would never do this. Let them release prisoners from Guantanamo Bay if they want peace with Afghanistan!” She beseeched the public to inundate Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu with posts on his Facebook page to denounce the ongoing releases and prevent future episodes.
“This is not a one-time thing. It’s a whole cycle of capitulation to something that erodes the values of this country,” she said, adding that she had created the organization The Cry of the Mothers several weeks ago in protest.
“The main thing is that this should not be just a fight for bereaved parents; it should be a fight for all the people of this country,” she continued. “People are letting this go on, and there’s no big wave of protest, even though everyone’s against it.”
Lizi Hameiri, who hasn’t lost a relative to terrorism, said she viewed the release in moral and existential terms.
“I’m 38 and don’t have kids, and I’m asking myself, what’s the point of bringing kids into a country that does not value human life?” she said. “Not only were [these mothers’] kids murdered, but they have to suffer by seeing the murderers released and their kids’ lives used as pawns in a political game.”
As a case in point, Varda Akiva, whose son Shaltiel was murdered by three terrorists in 1985, said two of the Palestinians convicted in the homicide had been released in the Gilad Schalit exchange and in July’s first stage of releases. The third killer, she said, was scheduled to be released Sunday.
Further exacerbating her anger, Akiva said, was that the last killer was an Israeli Arab from a village next to her community.
“If they release him, I demand he be deported out of Israel, because there is a chance that I will see the murderer of my son in the market,” she said, holding back tears. “If I see him, I will strangle him! It’s beyond comprehension that I will see the murderer of my son free before my eyes.”
Meanwhile, Tali Ben-Yishai – whose daughter, Ruth Vogel, was brutally murdered in her home along with her husband and three children in 2011’s “Itamar massacre” – said that although her family’s killers were not being released Sunday, she could not remain silent.
“I’m speaking as a bereaved mother, but above all else, as a mother,” she said. “I think it is an injustice, totally immoral, and an affront to the values of the nation. There should be a commitment to the ones who lost their lives, as well as to those who still live.”
Asked what she would say to the prime minister if given the opportunity, Ben-Yishai responded not with anger, but with incredulity.
“Bibi, we believe in you,” she said. “It doesn’t suit you as one who has lost a loved one to terror and fought against it [that you] would do such an act.”
Netanyahu’s brother Yonatan was killed in the raid on Entebbe in 1976.
Ben-Yishai continued, “By doing this, we are giving up the most profound thing that symbolizes the nation of Israel: justice, morality, solidarity and responsibility.”
In an open letter from Netanyahu to Israeli citizens in July, shortly before the initial phase of the four-stage release, the prime minister addressed his controversial decision, noting that he understood the pain it would inflict on the families of those who had been killed.
“This is an incredibly difficult decision,” he wrote. “It hurts the bereaved families, it hurts all of the Israeli people and it hurts me very much.”
And while Netanyahu conceded that the gesture clashed with “the principle of justice,” he added that “sometimes prime ministers are forced to make decisions that go against public opinion – when the issue is important for the country.”
Meanwhile, at a Wednesday Christmas event in Bethlehem, Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas said the release of the 26 prisoners on Sunday would engender a “happier holiday.” He also vowed to unify the West Bank and Gaza Strip.
Earlier in the morning, Deputy Defense Minister Danny Danon held a meeting in the Knesset with the bereaved families and like-minded MKs from different parties to denounce the pending release.
“I call on the prime minister to reconsider the release of terrorists following the recent terrorist attacks,” he said, referring to the spate of attacks over the past week.
“I called this meeting today first of all to show that representatives from different parties care about these precious families and remember their loved ones, remember the sacrifice they made for this country,” he said.
At the meeting, MK Ayelet Shaked (Bayit Yehudi), who described the Schalit exchange as “evil,” said Israel was “falling apart” by abdicating the “morality that characterizes the Jewish state.” She called for legislation against future transactions of this kind.
Another participant in the meeting – whose mother was killed after she made aliya from the United States at age 50 to fulfill the “Zionist dream” – questioned the government’s priorities.
“We are taking a step to build trust with our enemies, but what step is the government taking to build trust with its citizens?” she asked. “You’re not protecting us, and we cannot explain this reality to our children.”