As many as 3,000 demonstrators gathered Monday night outside the Ofer prison near Ramallah to protest the impending release of 26 Palestinian prisoners as a confidence-building measure amid ongoing Israeli-Palestinian peace talks.
Among the demonstrators were family members of the victims of terror attacks perpetrated by some of those slated for release on Tuesday. Demonstrators carried the victims’ pictures, and many of them shouted, “Jewish blood is not cheap.”
Housing and Construction Minister Uri Ariel addressed the demonstrating, declaring it was “time to stop” the release of terrorists.
The Israel Prisons Service published the names of the 26 prisoners late on Sunday night. All are convicted murderers.
The prisoners were slated for release within 48 hours of the list’s publication.
Six of the inmates have been imprisoned for just under 30 years. All but two were convicted for murders committed before the signing of the 1993 Oslo Peace Accords. A government statement said that 21 of the inmates were from the West Bank and five were from the Gaza Strip.
Ariel (Jewish Home) argued against the government’s decision to release the prisoners, despite being a cabinet minister in a government that voted for it. “Releasing terrorists is immoral for a Jewish perspective,” he told the demonstrators. “Enough terror, enough releases for terrorists.”
Headlined “Stop the release of terrorists,” the demonstration was organized by a coalition of groups opposed to the release, including some of the victims’ families; the My Israel organization, founded by Jewish Home chairman Naftali Bennett; Likud and Jewish Home activists; and officials of the Yesha Council, the umbrella organization of West Bank settlements.
Among the prisoners to go free is Damouni Saad Mohammed Ahmed, who was convicted in the 1990 killing of IDF reservist Amnon Pomerantz in the Gaza Strip; Pomerantz’s car was set on fire while he was inside. A second convicted murderer of Pomerantz is not among those set to be released.
The release has drawn a great deal of political fire for the prime minister, and led to a spat between coalition partners Bennett and Justice Minister Tzipi Livni (Hatnua party), who is in charge of peace talks with the Palestinians.
In part to offset the political fallout from the release and calm the anger on the right, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s office announced that the government would, this week, approve tenders for the construction of 1,200 new apartment units across the Green Line.
On Monday, Netanyahu called the decision to release the prisoners one of the most agonizing of his career.
“The decision to release prisoners is one of the toughest decisions that I’ve taken as prime minister,” Netanyahu told a Likud-Beytenu faction meeting. “I am certain that all the prime ministers who made this decision before me agonized over it as well, due to the injustice of villains being released before they serve the full term of their sentences. My heart is with the bereaved families, and it pains me. This decision is a necessity, given the reality in which we live.”
Lazar Berman contributed to this report.