"Release Jews" Campaign Goes On

The Honenu legal & civil rights organization says it will not be deterred by the recent setback in its campaign to free Jewish security prisoners.

Hillel Fendel , | updated: 20:03

Israel news photo: Honenu.org.il

The Honenu legal and civil rights organization says it will not be deterred by the recent setback in its campaign to free Jewish security prisoners.

Honenu had been backing a legislative proposal by MK David Azulai of Shas that made a straightforward stipulation of equality. The government would not free terrorist prisoners, the proposal states, without freeing Jewish security prisoners at the same time.

“Most unfortunately, and even unfairly,” says Shumel (Zangy) Medad, indefatigable founder and head of Honenu, “the bill was rejected in the ministerial committee for legislation a number of weeks ago – despite the fact that we were never even informed that the vote was to be held, who voted against it, or why.”

The bill was backed by nearly a dozen MKs, including two each from Kadima, National Union, Shas and United Torah Judaism.

Medad says he is not anxious to have the bill brought for a vote in the Knesset, “because the coalition might actively oppose it, which would mean its automatic defeat. Our only options are to either push for a re-vote in the ministerial legislation committee, which is unlikely, or to lobby the government not to oppose it in the Knesset.”

Bill References Crimes Perpetrated in Response to, or Defense From, Terrorism
The bill states as follows: “The government shall not recommend before the relevant authorities that security prisoners [Palestinian terrorists] be released – unless it recommends at the same time the release of Israeli soldiers and civilians who were convicted or indicted of crimes that were perpetrated in response to or defense from terrorism perpetrated against Israelis.”

“This bill is very logical and moral,” said Medad, “in that it does not allow an absurd situation in which hundreds of terrorists are freed for various reasons – gestures to the PA, or to release an Israeli captive – while those who responded to the terrorism remain in jail.”

President Weizmann Agreed
“Even Ezer Weizmann, who said he barely agreed with me on anything, said he agrees that Jewish security prisoners must be freed, or at least have their sentences reduced, when terrorists are freed – and in fact, when he was President, he commuted many such sentences.” Weizmann, one of the first pilots of the fledgling Israel Air Force in 1948, served as
Israel’s president from 1993 until 2000.

Ne'eman and Blass
Medad said he was particularly disappointed in Justice Minister Yaakov Ne’eman, “who promised me that the bill would be passed in the ministerial committee. But apparently his name does not describe him well…” Ne’eman means “trustworthy, loyal.”

It could be that Ne’eman was swayed by the opinion of Deputy Attorney General Malkiel (Mike) Blass, who strongly objected to the proposal for the following reasons:

1) It would negatively affect the government’s authority in foreign affairs and defense, and reduces its ability to use its own judgment, in that when considering freeing prisoners, it would also have to take into account the “price” of freeing Israelis who committed crimes. 2) It would be a type of incentive for Israelis to commit ideological crimes, knowing that they could be released when the State has to release Arab terrorists. 3) Releasing terrorists is necessary under extreme circumstances, but that does not justify the release of others who committed grave crimes.

Freeing Terrorists as a Matter of Course?
Medad and other Honenu officials are particularly incensed by Blass’ logic and reasoning. “He takes for granted, as a matter of course, that terrorists can be freed by the Jewish State, while at the same time, Jews guilty of crimes carried out in response to the terrorists’ crimes should remain in jail. This is illogical and immoral!... And when he talks of the ‘incentive’ to commit a crime, does he not realize that the same exists, but even more so, in the case of Arab terrorists?”

Responding to the first objection, Medad says, “Yes, this law would restrict the government – just like many democratic principles restrict the government from doing what it might feel like doing in various cases. Should we outlaw democracy because it hampers the government?!”

Ofer Gamliel and Shlomi Dvir
Among Honenu’s
activities, it opened a protest tent in honor of the Jewish prisoners when one of them, Ofer Gamliel of Bat Ayin, began a hunger strike some 18 months ago. Gamliel is in the ninth year of a 15-year sentence for his role in a failed bombing attempt in an Arab village, following the terrorist murder of five-year-old Daniell Shefi in her home in Adurah. Gamliel, together with his neighbor Shlomi Dvir, are not allowed vacation time – a right normally accorded to prisoners – nor are they permitted to be visited by non-family members. Even their children are not granted the same cultural program rights granted to the children of other prisoners.