Op-Ed: Releasing Terrorists Encourages More Terror by Morton A. Klein, National President of the ZOA
July 18, 2003

The Palestinian Authority is demanding that Israel release all 5,500 terrorists from its prisons. According to media reports, the Bush administration is pressuring Israel to release a significant number of the terrorists, in order to advance the “peace process.” Should Israel surrender to this pressure?

The overwhelming majority of Israelis have always opposed releasing terrorists, for two reasons.

First, because it’s morally wrong to release them. Punishing criminals for their crimes is a fundamental tenet of Jewish and Western ethics. The concept of justice requires that terrorists pay a price for what they have done. Many countries —including the United States— impose the death penalty on murderers. Others, such as Israel, impose life imprisonment. But the idea that someone who murders, or assists in a murder, should be set free after a short time is unthinkable.

The second reason the vast majority of Israelis oppose setting terrorists free is that there is overwhelming evidence that releasing terrorists leads to more terrorism.

Releasing them sends a message to other terrorists that there will be no serious consequences if they are captured. Knowing that the most they will suffer is a few years in jail naturally encourages potential terrorists to commit terrorism.

Moreover, terrorists who are released frequently commit terrorism again. Many of the 1,150 terrorists whom Israel set free in a 1985 prisoner exchange with the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine went on to become leaders of the mass “intifada” violence against Israel that began in late 1987. And many of the 415 Hamas members whom Israel deported to Lebanon in 1992, and then permitted to return the following year, became leaders of the Hamas terror wave that began in late 1993 and has continued ever since. Same goes for the thousands of terrorists released by the Rabin-Peres government after the signing of the Oslo accords.

There is a chilling, common thread to be found in the biographical information printed by the media about suicide bombers after their attacks—they were in prison before, but were released.

The phenomenon of released terrorists returning to their terrorist ways is so frequent for a simple reason: they are motivated primarily by beliefs, and their beliefs did not change in prison. They are Islamic fanatics and Arab nationalist extremists. They hate Jews and Israel. They want to destroy the Jewish State.

They resort to violence not because they are impoverished; many have college degrees. And not because they are mentally deranged or come from broken homes; many come from normal, stable families, and some have wives (or husbands) and children.

Setting such people loose on the streets endangers Israeli lives. It also undermines America’s war against terrorism. It sends a message to terrorists everywhere that the United States is not serious about eradicating terrorism around the world. It says that the U.S. will compromise the fight against terrorism for the sake of political convenience or, in this case, for the sake of improving its relations with the oil-rich Arab world.

These are, then, two powerful and incontrovertible arguments against releasing terrorists: it will endanger Israeli lives and undermine America’s war against terrorism.

But the issue of the imprisoned terrorists has also revealed something very significant about the intentions of the Palestinian Authority and its prime minister, Mahmoud Abbas (Abu Mazen). If he were sincerely interested in peace —as his defenders claim— Abu Mazen would want to see the terrorists defeated. He himself would order the PA security forces to imprison terrorists, and he certainly would not be demanding that Israel release more terrorists.

But the fact is that since becoming prime minister earlier this year, Abu Mazen has maintained the PA’s traditional pro-terrorist polices. He refuses to outlaw terror groups, or arrest terrorists and confiscate their weapons, as the Bush Road Map requires. He has offered Hamas seats in his cabinet. The PA continues paying salaries to terrorists imprisoned by Israel. The official PA media and school textbooks continue to praise terrorists as “heroes” and “martyrs.” When Ahmed Jbarra, who carried out a Jerusalem bombing 1975 that murdered 14 people, was recently released from prison, Abu Mazen publicly embraced him and appointed him “special adviser” to PA chairman Yasir Arafat.

After the 9/11 attacks, President Bush said that every country must now decide whether they are on the side of America or on the side of the terrorists. Abu Mazen’s crusade to free the 5,500 terrorists jailed in Israel proves, once again, that he is siding with the terrorists.

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