My Word: Release without relief

The very term “prisoner release” in this context is disturbing.

Israelis protest prisoner release October 2013 390 (photo credit: REUTERS)
Israelis protest prisoner release October 2013 390
(photo credit: REUTERS)
Lying in bed, with a few minutes to go before I had to get up, I was listening to the round-up of newspaper headlines on the radio at the beginning of the week.
It’s how I heard that among the 26 prisoners to be released on Tuesday as a gesture aimed at forwarding the peace process was one of the murderers “who had killed a couple in Wadi Kelt.”
With only that fragment of information to go on, I lay there wondering whether it was the killer of Revital Seri, whose path had crossed with mine at the Hebrew University where we were both students at the time of her death in October 1984, or whether it was Edna Harari, the 22-year-old sister of a friend, killed a year later. Both of them had been hiking with a boyfriend, enjoying the simple pleasures in life, when they were attacked.
Then I wondered what did it matter which murderer of which couple was about to be let out of jail, considering the killer of the other pair inevitably would be freed later on. This was the second of four planned prisoner releases, and altogether 104 terrorists are expected to go free by the end of April, the scheduled conclusion of the ninemonth negotiations.
In any case, I wasn’t sure I could call either family to express the right emotion, not so much sympathy as condolences. For the families, their loved ones have been killed a second time.
The very term “prisoner release” in this context is disturbing.
This is not an “exchange,” not even a lopsided “swap,” about which I can feel that at least some good is going to come out of it. This is a so-called “gesture of goodwill.” Apparently this is what it takes to get the Palestinians back to the negotiating table. Instead of using the release of terrorists as part of the bargaining process, something that would take place after the successful conclusion of talks, we’re expected to let them literally get away with murder in the hope of kick-starting and maintaining discussions.
Some diplomats and politicians refer to it as a “confidence- building measure.” But the “confidence” is found only on one side: The Palestinians have reason to believe that the longer they hold out before actually seriously negotiating, the more murderers will be released from Israeli jails.
At least some measure of pretense was dropped with this week’s release. The Palestinian prisoners were not required to sign a commitment to refrain from future acts of terror. Evidently I’m not the only one who doubted the value of their word. And in any case, several previously released prisoners – including some of those swapped for Gilad Schalit two years ago – have since been rearrested after returning to their murderous ways.
Apart from the families of the victims, my heart goes out to the relatives of the soldiers killed or wounded arresting the murderers. They must also be asking: Was it worth it? It gives a whole new meaning to the once firmly held tenet: “Don’t negotiate with terrorists.” We don’t negotiate, indeed. We just let them go and keep the country hostage instead.
Israel must have been the only country this week letting lethal terrorists out of jail en masse. It was, as far as I know, also the only Western country which suffered missile attacks this week. I’m pretty sure I would have heard if southern England, say, had been hit by an enemy rocket rather than a storm.
As Dry Bones cartoonist Yaakov Kirschen put it: “Gaza is firing missiles again at Israeli cities and towns, but it’s no big deal... And it won’t be a big deal until Israel fires back.”
The prisoner release dealt my usual philosophy of looking for a silver lining a serious blow. I tried to find the positive side to the deal, but rarely had the term “playing the devil’s advocate” seemed so appropriate.
Defense Minister Moshe “Bogie” Ya’alon, a former IDF chief of staff, tried to explain the prisoner release saying: “This is not a black-and-white situation. Things are complex, obligating us to be responsible and prudent, and also to see the long term.”
Many pundits posited that the prisoner deal was the price for the announcement of furthering construction plans in Jerusalem neighborhoods over the pre-1967 Green Line.
This would make it even less palatable, given that in the past Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu announced a 10-month building freeze as a “gesture of goodwill” to get the Palestinians back to the negotiating table. It was an opportunity squandered by Palestinian Authority head Mahmoud Abbas.
Tying the construction in the capital to the peace talks is questionable; tying it to the mass release of murderers should have been unthinkable.
The prisoners were given a festive homecoming by the Palestinian Authority in Ramallah. Abbas gave each released terrorist money to start building a new life, and the bachelors already have potential brides being lined up. This might be considered poor consolation for the 70 or more celestial virgins they would have been promised as “martyrs” had they been killed by the IDF instead of merely arrested.
IN PREVIOUS prisoner releases, I have noted that no matter how many convicts are let go, the Palestinian Authority is not going to build an Australia with them.
This week that quip seemed singularly out of place.
In the early hours of October 26, five Jews walking home from a Shabbat meal were attacked in Sydney’s Bondi Beach area, simply for being identifiably Jewish.
The assault, in which the victims suffered fractures and in one case severe concussion, was broadly condemned by the Australian government and the general public.
I asked a childhood friend, who emigrated Down Under more than 30 years ago, shortly before I moved to Israel, for her response. Nominated for the Pride of Australia Medal, Lynn Santer, also known as Auntie Lynn, the author of the series of Magical Scarecrow books encouraging children to read, replied: “There is no place for racial intolerance in the multicultural free democratic society of this beautiful land called Australia. There is no place for violence and there is no place for ignorant thugs who seek to harm and harass peaceful people just going about their business.
“Kudos to the members of the public who stepped in to stop this brawl. This should be a lesson to others who seem to think misplaced hatred is in any way acceptable.
They will not only feel the full force of the law but realize the Australian people will not accept or tolerate such behavior.”
Another friend, who moved to Sydney from Israel a few years ago, described it as “scary.”
Some members of the community noted that local Jews have been victims of verbal abuse and community property has been vandalized, but this was the first physical attack of this nature and severity.
Most seemed confident that Australian law enforcement would punish the perpetrators.
Had they killed Israelis in Israel, instead of attacking Jews in Sydney, they could hope for, if not a pardon, at least freedom – with world opinion behind them.
As if playing a warped version of Monopoly, the Israelis are banned from building houses and hotels while the Palestinians not only receive a “Get out of jail free” card, they can collect $200 on the way.The writer is the editor of The International Jerusalem Post.
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