Families of Israeli terror victims on came out strongly against Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who on Saturday night announced that Israel would be releasing dozens of Palestinian prisoners as a gesture concurrent with the resumption of peace talks.
Netanyahu’s decision constituted “surrender,” the families, who constitute the Almagor terror victims’ association, said in a harshly worded statement. “Again it seems that the prime minister falls apart and doesn’t stand up to pressure at the hard moment.”
The families alleged that Israel was being “pressed again into failed negotiation” because of the personal ambitions of US President Barack Obama and his secretary of state, John Kerry.
They said that Netanyahu had issued “repeated assurances” that Israel would not be releasing terrorists and had rebuffed with “various evasions” their requests that he meet with them.
“It turns out that those who have the courage to release murderers do not have the personal and public courage to face us and answer the questions of those who paid and are paying the price for their failures,” the families’ statement said, alluding to Netanyahu’s remarks to the effect that “Every now and then prime ministers need to take decisions that fly in the face of public opinion — for the good of the country.”
The families said they would come to the cabinet meeting Sunday morning during which Netanyahu was expected to pass the decision.
“We have enough pain and loss. We will not agree that more and more families will be forced to join the ranks of the bereaved families and victims of terrorism,” they said.
Amid reports that Israel has reluctantly agreed to release all 100-plus Palestinian and Israeli Arab prisoners held since before the Oslo Accords were signed in 1993, Netanyahu on Saturday night issued an open letter to the public, bracing Israelis for an extremely “difficult decision” that he was taking in defiance of public opinion but “for the good of the country.”
Netanyahu reportedly agreed to release all 104 pre-Oslo prisoners, including 20 or more Israeli Arab citizens, because the Palestinians made clear to US Secretary of State John Kerry that otherwise they would not come to the scheduled resumption of peace talks in Washington on Tuesday.
“This is an extremely difficult decision,” Netanyahu wrote in the open letter released on Saturday night. “It pains the bereaved families, it pains the entire Israeli public and it pains me very much. It clashes with a foundational value — justice.”
The letter continued: “Our best response to the loathsome murderers who tried to terrorize us into submission is that in the decades that they sat in prison, we built a state to be proud of.”
Netanyahu was almost certainly assured a majority in the cabinet.
It was unclear whether the list of 104 names, submitted by the Palestinian Authority for the Israeli cabinet vote, would indeed include 14 Arab Israelis and seven Jerusalemites or only Palestinian prisoners. A Channel 2 news report indicated it would, Hebrew news website Ynet published a list including the Israelis and Jerusalemites, while Haaretz claimed that the discrepancy between the original list of 82 names and the new list of 104 could be explained by a Palestinian insistence on freeing 22 prisoners jailed after the signing of the Oslo accords on September 13, 1993, but before the start of the agreement’s implementation.
The prisoners are set to be freed in four phases over the next nine months, as Israeli-Palestinian peace talks, set to resume in Washington on Tuesday, progress.
In any event, the list will include the most notorious Palestinian terrorists captured by Israel in the 1980s and early 1990s, many of whom are serving out consecutive life sentences. All the prisoners in question have already served between 19 and 30 years in jail.
Issa Abed Rabbo of Bethlehem, for instance, attacked a young couple, Revital Serry and Nir Levi, who were hiking near the Cremisan monastery south of Jerusalem in October 1984. Abed Rabbo told police that he tied the couples’ hands, blindfolded them with rags, and shot them in the head at point blank range.
Muhammad Tus, jailed in October 1985, was a member of a south Hebron terror cell which carried out five bus attacks, killing Zalman Avolnik, Michal Cohen, Meir Ben Yair, Edna Harari and Motti Swisa.
Fayez Hour, jailed in November 1985, killed two Israelis in the Gaza Strip and planned to assassinate prime minister Yitzhak Shamir while in jail.
Mohammed Daoud threw a Molotov cocktail at the Moses family car in December 1987, killing mother Ofra and son Tal.
Jomaa Adam and Mahmoud Harbish attacked an Egged bus north of Jericho with Molotov cocktails in October 1988, killing Rachel Weiss and her three young children, as well as soldier David Delarossa who tried to rescue them.
Nihad Jundiyeh of Gaza was only 16 when he killed Israeli contractor Zalman Shlein in July 1989.
Many of the jailed prisoners carried out attacks against IDF soldiers. Brothers Maher and Karim Younis, the longest-serving prisoners on the list, abducted and executed soldier Avraham Bromberg in 1981, and were arrested in January 1983. Brothers Mohammed and Yahya Aghbaria from the Israeli city of Umm Al-Fahm stormed an army base near Kibbutz Gilad in February 1992, killing three soldiers, in an attack known as “the night of pitchforks.”