Justice for none

It is unthinkable in our legal culture that a government would put given persons behind bars as “a confidence- building measure” to appease that foreign ruler.

ramallah prisoner release 370 (photo credit: Ben Hartman)
ramallah prisoner release 370
(photo credit: Ben Hartman)
Each time Israel prepares to let loose convicted arch-terrorists with blood on their hands, families of the victims and Almagor, the association that represents them, appeal against the impending releases to the High Court of Justice. It is a hackneyed ritual whose results are known in advance. There is never any variation and therefore never any real likelihood of a different outcome.
None of the participants in this tragically rerun melodrama has any delusions about how it will end.
Of course, our selectively interventionist Supreme Court’s record is full of precedents where it overruled government decisions. Nonetheless, the state recurrently couches its arguments of this issue on the need to uphold the executive branch’s decisions on various diplomatic deals. These supposedly takes precedence over prolonged and punctilious legal procedures and trials in which the perpetrators were duly convicted of the most heinous crimes imaginable.
These defendants were accorded full rights and the convictions can stand up to the most stringent legal scrutiny by any objective observer.
Yet these convicts are in the final analysis not treated as convicts but at most as prisoners of war whose incarceration is subject to give-and-take between the combatant sides. If the entire furor indeed revolved around POWs, there would be ample legal logic to the state’s claims. Enemy troops captured in the course of battle can be held until such a time as a mutually agreed swap is arranged. They are not criminals, were never tried in court and are by no definition convicts.
This patently is not the case with convicted terrorists, especially ones who also happen to be Israeli citizens.
In their case, in addition to homicide they committed treason. They had their day in court and were sentenced – in many cases to multiple life sentences.
Their legal status as convicts should put them entirely out of bounds for either swaps (as in the Gilad Schalit case) or to express “goodwill gestures” as payment for kick-starting the current negotiating round with the Palestinian Authority.
Citing diplomatic considerations should be as much of a non-starter as criteria for premature release as it would be in a hypothetical case in which the government would decide to imprison anyone because of diplomatic undertakings.
It is unthinkable in our legal culture that a government would put given persons behind bars as “a confidence- building measure” to appease that foreign ruler. By any reasonable yardstick, this would make a mockery of our legal system and national sovereignty.
The reverse is also true. Citing diplomatic expedience as the rationale for absolving cold-blooded mass-murderers from serving out their terms undermines our judiciary and independence in exactly the same manner.
In effect, we are giving power to a foreign ruler – PA President Mahmoud Abbas – to determine how long the murderers of Israelis would serve. In these circumstances, we might as well close our courts and leave everything up to Abbas.
If the murderers of entire families are arbitrarily set free by his say-so, it is not inconceivable that he would eventually demand the liberation of Amjad Mahmad Awad and Hakim Mazen Awad of Awarta, who in 2011 butchered five members of the Fogel family in Itamar – mother, father and their three children.
The Awads, who decapitated a three-month-old girl, are already celebrated as heroes and role models in the PA-controlled media, schools and mosques.
Those whom Abbas now demands released, to buy his entry into the talks, were guilty of no less bloodcurdling slaughters, even if these took place years earlier.
The fact that Abbas’s influence now extends to Israeli-Arabs is most disturbing as it creates a clear precedent of incontrovertible discrimination. No wonder several Jews convicted of terrorist acts are already preparing to petition the courts to cut short their sentences as well.
If the sentences of some Israelis can be commuted, why not those of others? Surely, the court cannot formally favor Arabs over Jews, as that undercuts the principle of equality before the law.