Daily Israel Report

Terrorist Parole Law is 'Practically Ineffective'

Terror victims org head rips into law - which doesn't apply to military courts, or to terrorists convicted until now. And there's more...
By Shimon Cohen, Ari Yashar
First Publish: 6/10/2014, 10:35 PM

Freed terrorist in Jerusalem's Old City
Freed terrorist in Jerusalem's Old City
Flash 90

There has been much talk over the new "Life Without Parole" Bill, which passed a Security Committee vote on Sunday, and is slated for a preliminary Knesset reading in the coming days.

The proposed law, presented by Jewish Home MK Ayelet Shaked last December, would allow judges to block the future release of terrorists in a prisoner swap, as a "gesture," or presidential pardon, by handing down life without parole at the time of their sentencing. Jewish Home Chairman Naftali Bennett praised the bill, saying "today, we end the 'murder deal' - a deal which exists only in Israel."

However, Meir Indor, head of the Almagor terror victims organization, told Arutz Sheva that the new bill has so many legal holes, it is left practically bereft of relevant content.

Indor qualified his criticism by saying that the bill is a positive development, as it shows some consideration by the government for the families of terror victims. But while the bill constitutes a change in the direction of the government, Indor added that its contents cast a great doubt as to whether it can be at all effective in its current wording.

One key shortcoming in the bill according to Indor is that it applies only to terrorists captured and jailed from this point forward.

It does not apply to the thousands of terrorists currently in Israeli prisons, waiting for another deal to free them as occurred in 2011, when 1,027 terrorists were exchanged for IDF soldier Gilad Shalit, who had been kidnapped by Hamas.

The new law should apply to all terrorists, including those currently in jail, argues Indor, adding that a judge could assess their legal records and decide if their acts were serious enough to warrant losing the possibility of parole.

While Indor conceded that there is a certain logic to not allowing retroactive rulings, he noted the Yigal Amir Law, passed after the murder of former Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin by Jewish extremist Amir, which ruled that the murderer of a prime minister can never be released. The law applied to Amir retroactively, as it did not exist at the time of his sentencing.

Indor gave the further example of a law passed against Nazis five years after World War II ended, and according to which Nazi war criminals Adolf Eichmann and John Demjanjuk were sentenced.

What about military courts?

Aside from the issue of jailed terrorists, Indor points out that the bill does not cover terrorists sentenced in a military court trial; currently the bill only addresses civilian courts. 

Unless the point is corrected, Indor argues that there are enough sources in the State Attorney's office who will try to find a legal loophole saving terrorists from the law.

Indor emphasizes that the overwhelming majority of jailed terrorists were sentenced in a military court, thereby rendering the bill irrelevant for them. The reason for that is most come from the Palestinian Authority, not Israel, and hence are not Israeli citizens and therefore cannot be tried in civilian Israeli courts.

Just one example of the weight of the omission can be seen in the Arab terrorist murderers of five members of the Fogel family in Itamar, located in Samaria. The murderers were indeed sentenced by a military court, and so in theory terrorists who carry out similar atrocities in the future could still be released without violating the new law.

How will the judge decide?

Another issue Indor raised was the question of the judge's discretion concerning who is worthy of sentencing without parole. Clear definitions and standards are necessary to prevent judges from ruling based on their own opinion of what sort of act warrants such sentencing, argues Indor.

Indor argued that in a reality in which the public prosecutor's office has refrained from employing the death penalty despite technically having the option to do so, there is a high likelihood that it will similarly refrain from demanding life without parole. He added that the approach that has been taken until now emphasizes leaving a window of hope open for the "rehabilitation" of prisoners, including hardened terrorists. 

Something that Indor would like included in the bill to balance this is a legal mechanism allowing bereaved family members of terror victims to submit an official, recognized legal document, in which they demand the murderer of their loved ones be sentenced without parole.

As an aside, Indor expressed his distress that the bill is being presented as part of a political deal between Jewish Home and Yesh Atid, which has been advancing the latter party's surrogacy bill. That law has been criticized as an attempt to enable same-sex couples to easily hire surrogates for childbirth, a move raising concerns given the Jewish prohibition on homosexuality.

Indor said that many bereaved parents considered demanding that Jewish Home MKs give up on the parole bill, just to prevent the surrogacy bill. But after some reconsideration, they decided not to go ahead with the call, in order to keep all bereaved parents unified and not to create friction over political or religious issues not directly related to their struggle against terrorism.