Like Thieves in the Night

Government attempts to soften impact of prisoner release on public morale by preventing public scenes of jubilation - but will it work?

Ari Soffer ,

Celebration at previous prisoner release
Celebration at previous prisoner release
Flash 90

It is a ritual which is becoming all too familiar for many Israelis: in just a few hours 26 terrorist murderers will be freed as the first "instalment" of 104 prisoners set to be released from Israeli jails as a "goodwill gesture" to the Palestinian Authority.

The freed terrorists will be received by the Red Cross, and will then be transferred to the Betuniyeh crossing near Ramallah or the Erez Crossing into Gaza, depending on their final destination. They will, as always, be given a hero's welcome for their role in deadly attacks against Israeli civilians.

This time, however, there will be one key difference.

In an apparent bid to lessen the impact of the release on public morale, the vehicles transporting the released terrorists will have blackened windows which they will not be able to open. Additionally, the release itself will take place in the middle of the night, and not in broad daylight. This arrangement will prevent a repeat of the kinds of jubilant scenes usually associated with such releases, as murderers celebrate their crimes and imminent release by cheering, laughing and flashing victory signs.

The decision to release terrorists has been met with widespread revulsion and public anger by the Israeli public - and with outright despair by the families of those they killed. There have been demonstrations throughout the week by victims of terrorism and their supporters, and even members of the ruling coalition have attacked the move. 

Following the rejection of a court appeal against the release, protesters blocked access roads leading to and from Ofer Prison, in a last-ditch attempt to prevent the release of terrorist murderers.

Meir Indor, chairman of Almagor, an organization that represents victims of Arab terrorism, accused the courts and government of simply ignoring the appeals against the release and not even bothering to relate to them properly.

"We regret very much that the court, like the prime minister, did not even listen to the serious arguments regarding the government's crossing of red lines, including the fact that some of the terrorists being released committed their crimes after the Oslo accords were signed," he said

Through this decision, the government is likely attempting to offset any further public backlash. Further demonstrations have been called, but it remains to be seen what impact this move will actually have on the public mood.

The Palestinian Authority, however, is furious at the plans, with a spokesperson accusing PM Netanyahu of "trying to humiliate Abu Mazen [Mahmoud Abbas] and preventing the public from seeing his victory over Israel."

Out of the 26 terrorists set for release today, 14 will be transferred to Gaza and 12 to Judea and Samaria. Most are serving life sentences, although two of them have only a year remaining of their sentences, and six of them were set to be released in the next three years.