Israel's release programme seen as immoral

2013-12-30 16:09
Relatives and friends of various Palestinian prisoners celebrate after receiving the news of an impending release from an Israeli jail. (Abbas Momani, AFP)

Relatives and friends of various Palestinian prisoners celebrate after receiving the news of an impending release from an Israeli jail. (Abbas Momani, AFP)

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Jerusalem - From a rudimentary tent outside the Israeli prime minister's residence in Jerusalem, Ortal Tamam, whose uncle was killed by Palestinians, rails against the imminent release of Palestinian prisoners.

"I feel my uncle is being killed for a second time, this time by my government," the 25-year-old woman says, explaining she was there to "protest the release of Palestinian terrorists".

Her uncle Moshe Tamam was a 19-year-old soldier on leave when he was abducted, tortured and killed by Palestinians in 1984, years before her birth.

"My family was crushed by Moshe's death, but his killer could be released from prison, receive money from the Palestinian Authority and a hero's treatment," she says indignantly.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has agreed to the phased release of 104 Palestinian prisoners in line with commitments to US-backed peace talks, which resumed in July.

Twisting a knife'

A first batch was freed in August and a second in October, with a third tranche of 26 prisoners expected to walk free late on Monday night.

The vast majority of those to be freed were behind deadly attacks on Israelis prior to the 1993 Oslo peace accords, and have by now served long prison terms.

Holding pictures of victims of Palestinian attacks carried out by some of those to be released on Monday, Tamam says she wants to be the voice for "the many Israelis who reject this immoral release".

"Even if this release goes through, we are crying out to prevent it from happening again," she says.

Tamam, who has been at the protest tent since Wednesday, was not the only person bracing the winter chill in protest.

For Yitzhak Maoz, aged 66, releasing Palestinian murderers is "like twisting a knife in my wound again".

His daughter Tehila was 18 years old when she and 14 others were killed in an August 2001 suicide bombing at a Jerusalem pizzeria.

"I came to express my pain, which increases each time I hear terrorists are going to be released", he says.

Maoz says he has "never recovered" from his daughter's death.

Hatred and violence

The perpetrators of the bombing at the Sbarro pizzeria were set free in 2011 as part of a deal that saw the release of over 1 000 Palestinian prisoners in return for Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit, who had been held by militant movement Hamas in Gaza for over five years.

"When we released my daughter's killers there was a reason: saving Gilad Shalit," he says. "But what do these new releases bring us? So long as the [Palestinian] incitement, hatred and violence continue, I can't understand the reasons behind them."

Many voices from within Netanyahu's coalition have been raised against the prisoner releases, including from far-right Jewish home party ministers Naftali Bennett, Uri Ariel and Uri Orbach.

Deputy defence minister Danny Danon of the ruling Likud party has gone further, saying he would ask the premier to consider "the death penalty for terrorists" instead of their release.

Call for discussion

Dozens of demonstrators holding signs against the impending releases joined the protest in front of Netanyahu's residence on Sunday.

Elsewhere, police arrested two people demonstrating against the releases at an entrance to Jerusalem.

"We requested a meeting with Netanyahu, but he didn't even reply," Tamam says bitterly.

She recalls that when he was leader of the opposition at the Knesset, Israel's parliament, Netanyahu had said that "crossing the line of releasing murderers is a very dangerous move in the war against terror".

"What has changed since?" she asks.

Read more on:    benjamin netanyahu  |  israel  |  palestine
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