Relatives of terror victims turn to High Court in last-ditch effort to block prisoner release

Families’ advocate: We are releasing prisoners with blood on their hands and receiving nothing in return.

Bereaved families protest prisoner release outside Court 370 (photo credit: Marc Israel Sellem/The Jerusalem Post)
Bereaved families protest prisoner release outside Court 370
(photo credit: Marc Israel Sellem/The Jerusalem Post)
The High Court of Justice on Sunday heard the Almagor Terror Victims Association petition to block the government’s recent decision to release 104 of the worst Palestinian prisoners with “blood on their hands,” starting with a first round of releases on Tuesday.
The highly controversial prisoner release was decided on recently by the government as part of a last goodwill gesture required for restarting the peace process with the Palestinians for the first time in years, which, if continued, will result in three further releases over the next nine months.
At a press conference right before the hearing, Almagor head Meir Indor, proclaiming his opposition to the release said, “What kind of justice is this? The High Court should tell America and the Palestinians that there are judges in Jerusalem!” The victims’ families worked hard to try to convince the court that there were unique reasons for blocking this release deal, though the court has refrained over and over again from intervening to block similar deals in the past.
“With Gilad Schalit, we got him back. Here, we are releasing prisoners with blood on their hands and receiving nothing in return,” attorney Naftali Wurzburger told the High Court during the hearing.
Pressed on whether he really had any legal arguments to make or whether his appeal was only emotional, Wurzburger responded that “legal and moral issues cannot be separated in a decision of such monumental importance.”
Wurzburger also tried, likely in vain in light of the judges negative responses, to convince the court that the moral aspects of the issue removed it from being a sovereign statecraft issue which the executive branch could decide without judicial oversight.
Indor also spoke briefly during the hearing, with his voice rising steadily, saying, “After losing on 25 petitions, people ask will the court ever change? I still believe you can change with the changing situation. We want to strengthen the court. It is good for the court to be just. The courts said to put a person in jail, and this court should defend that ruling.”
The state responded telling the court that there was no precedent for it to interfere with government decisions to release terrorist-prisoners – even with blood on their hands.
Trying to show that the deal was balanced and well conceived, the state also added that “if the peace process did not go well, future planned prisoner releases will be canceled.”
The state also emphasized that it had promptly provided all information about the prisoners being released to those victims’ families who had made official requests to the Justice Ministry.
It added that it could not be accused of failing to provide the information, noting that Almagor was already displaying some of the information on its website.
Finally, to show that it had carefully debated and weighed its options before deciding to move forward with the deal, the state said: “There was a debate on the issue of the deal for several hours, ministers asked questions, the prime minister said it was a hard decision and some even voted against it.”
The hearing ended with the three justices hastily shuffling out of the room to the angry jeers and shouts of the victims’ families.
Earlier in the day and leading up to the noon showdown before the High Court, the Almagor association held a protest and march on Mount Herzl against the release of the Palestinian prisoners.
Beginning around 10 a.m., the protesters began marching, carrying black flags and banners.
The protests continued at the memorial for terror victims and then moved on to the High Court itself, where a press conference of victims’ families addressed the assembled media.
The killers of Ron Kehrmann and Yossi Tzur’s children were released during the Schalit deal, but they came to support the current families petitioning the court.
Ron Kehrmann spoke to the media on behalf of his murdered daughter Tal, stating that the prisoners due to be released are “not national icons. They killed babies, civilians on buses and in restaurants.”
He added, “This is not the way to make peace. This is not justice.”
Yossi Tzur spoke on behalf of his murdered son Assaf, saying that his son’s murderer was “sentenced to 17 life terms,” but he had been “released after only eight years.”
In a begging voice he called out to the court and the government, “Stop it.”
Members of the Fineberg family spoke of their dead relative Ian, who was killed 20 years ago while trying to build an EU-sponsored factory in Gaza to bring jobs to Gazans and further peace.
The family said that one nearby Palestinian had tried to stop the factory security guard who murdered Ian by saying “Don’t kill him, he is one of ours,” but the murderer killed him anyway.
Other victims also spoke up, shouting “Our dead are crying out!” and “Stop this injustice!” Also on Sunday, another group, the Organization for Victims of Terror, said that it had sent a letter to Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu two weeks ago asking questions about the release and had never received an answer.
A spokesman said that, putting aside whether the deal was justified, many members of the organization felt that Netanyahu and the government were avoiding them, and they first found out about the deal from the media, rather than the state having the sensitivity to pre-inform them.