The Zionist Organization of America (ZOA) has criticized the Israeli government for proceeding with an earlier decision to free 26 convicted and jailed Palestinian terrorists from Israeli jails as part of a phased freeing of 104 such terrorists. The freeing of the terrorists, decided upon in July 2013 and strongly opposed by the ZOA at the time, came about as an Israeli concession –– not to in return for any Palestinian concession or moderation, but merely for the Mahmoud Abbas’ Palestinian Authority (PA)’s agreement to meet Israelis at the negotiating table.
We oppose this latest freeing of jailed, blood-soaked terrorists.
The ZOA has long argued that freeing convicted terrorists:
- Rewards terrorists;
- Makes a mockery of justice –– and inflicts unimaginable pain on families of the victims –– when murderers walk free;
- Allows terrorists to go undeterred at the prospect of long prison sentences when experience confirms that they have a good chance of being released early;
- Boosts the standing and morale of Palestinian terrorist groups;
- Encourages the kidnapping of Israelis for the purpose of extorting the release of further terrorists; and, worst of all,
- Results in the subsequent murder of additional Israelis by terrorists freed under such deals.
The paramount duty of the state is to protect its citizens. It follows that the most important consideration for the Israeli government must be preventing the loss of further innocent lives to terror. That in turn means not freeing terrorists, not boosting the terrorist organizations that clamor for their release and not making one-sided concessions that stimulate the aggression of the Palestinian terror groups.”
This latest freeing of terrorists is a morally unjust, tactically unwise, strategically harmful, militarily hazardous and life-endangering unilateral concession.
The ZOA has noted the following:
- When Prime Minister Netanyahu was not under massive political pressure from Washington to make one-sided concessions to Mahmoud Abbas’ PA, he showed he fully understood that freeing jailed Palestinian terrorists is a dangerous mistake. In his 1995 book, Fighting Terrorism: How the West Can Defeat Domestic and International Terrorism, Mr. Netanyahu observed that exchanging terrorists for kidnapped soldiers is “a mistake Israel made over and over again” and that refusing to release terrorists from prison was “among the most important policies that must be adopted in the face of terrorism … The release of convicted terrorists before they have served their full sentences seems like an easy and tempting way of defusing blackmail situations in which innocent people might lose their lives, but its utility is momentary at best … Prisoner releases only embolden terrorists by giving them the feeling that even if they are caught, their punishment will be brief. Worse, by leading terrorists to believe that their demands will be met, they encourage precisely the terrorist blackmail they are supposed to defuse.”
- The Almagor Terrorist Victims Association (ATVA) disclosed in April 2007 that 177 Israelis killed in terror attacks in the previous five years had been killed by terrorists who had been previously freed from Israeli jails. An earlier ATVA report showed that 123 Israelis had been murdered by terrorists freed during the period 1993-99. Also, in September 2009, IDF Colonel Herzl Halevy told the Ma’ariv newspaper that terrorists freed in the 2004 swap with Hezbollah comprised “the entire infrastructure of Islamic Jihad” in subsequent years, during which Islamic Jihad bombings killed at least 37 Israelis. Also, journalist Yitzhak Tessler has noted that, “former Mossad Chief Meir Dagan admitted that the terrorists released in the Elhanan Tenenbaum [prisoner exchange] deal caused the death of 231 Israelis” (Yitzhak Tessler, ‘Shalit deal wrong move,’ Yediot Ahronot, October 10, 2011).
- The Jerusalem Post correctly noted in an editorial at the time of the July 2013 original decision to free terrorists that ”The PA never owned up to the fact that these convicts were found guilty and deserved to be sentenced, as they would be in any democratic setting with a sense of self preservation. What is the value of compromise without acceptance of the fundamental prohibition against attacking civilians? The PA never cracked down on terrorism despite myriad promises. Moreover, its headliners funded, nurtured and dispatched these very murderers. The PA officially celebrates them as heroes instead of condemning them as villains. The impression deliberately imparted by Palestinian spokesmen is that these prisoners were arbitrarily and unjustly incarcerated. There is no PA appreciation for these releases. Each Israeli goodwill measure is greeted with ill-will and fiery rhetoric about how insufficient the concession is. Such ingratitude undercuts the cost-benefit computation.”
- When the previous Olmert government also concluded a deal that involved freeing jailed terrorists, then-Opposition leader Netanyahu rightly said that, “This weakens Israel and strengthens the terror elements. Most of the public –– a huge part of the public –– understands that this is faulty and reflects weakness and loss of way.”
- Palestinian affairs analyst, Khaled Abu Toameh, wrote prior to an earlier, ill-advised freeing of jailed terrorists by Israel that, “The argument that the release of Palestinian prisoners from Israeli jails strengthens the [Palestinian] ‘moderates’ has never proven to be correct. The best way to strengthen the ‘moderates’ at this stage is by putting pressure on them to reform the PA and end financial corruption and the state of lawlessness and chaos in the West Bank. Since the signing of the Oslo Accords 15 years ago, Israel –– citing the need to strengthen ‘moderate’ Palestinians –– has released thousands of security prisoners. Ironically, in some cases the released prisoners turned out to be a big headache for the ‘moderate’ Palestinian leadership. Shortly after the signing of the Oslo Accords, Israel freed hundreds of Fatah security prisoners with the hope that they would help Yasser Arafat and his security forces in imposing law and order and fighting Hamas and Islamic Jihad. But many of the released prisoners soon became involved in various criminal activities ranging from armed robberies, extortion, theft and arms trafficking. Others later joined Hamas and other radical groups and became actively involved in armed attacks on Israel during the second intifada. They also became a financial burden on the shoulders of the PA, which had to put the local ‘heroes’ on its payroll and pay them salaries, although many of them were not doing any work” (Khaled Abu Toameh, ‘Analysis: Prisoner release does nothing for Abbas,’ Jerusalem Post, August 18, 2008).