ISRAEL AT WAR - DAY 149

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Arab Israeli prisoners on list of candidates for release in Hamas hostage deal

Concerns have been raised that releasing Arab citizens charged with incitement could bolster support for Hamas in Israel

Jeremy Sharon is The Times of Israel’s legal affairs and settlements reporter

Israeli security forces in front of the entrance to Ofer Prison, outside of Jerusalem, from where Palestinian terror convicts were released as part of a deal between Israel and Hamas, November 26, 2023. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)
Israeli security forces in front of the entrance to Ofer Prison, outside of Jerusalem, from where Palestinian terror convicts were released as part of a deal between Israel and Hamas, November 26, 2023. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Some 25 jailed Arab Israeli citizens are part of a new group of 50 prisoners who were added Monday night to the list of candidates for release in return for Israeli hostages currently held by Hamas in Gaza.

Almost all of the Arab Israeli citizens added to the list were arrested after Hamas’s savage invasion on October 7, on charges of incitement and supporting terrorism, although their trials have either not begun or a ruling is yet to be handed down.

Three of those on the list have been tried and convicted of serious crimes, including attempted murder.

Concern has been raised that the development may bolster support for Hamas among Israel’s Arab population.

Hadash, the far-left mostly Arab political party, also said it was worried the state may revoke the citizenship of those released under the deal.

The State Attorney’s Office has indicted over 60 Israeli citizens, the vast majority Arabs, for incitement to terrorism and violence on social media networks since the October 7 attack, and many have been remanded in custody until the end of the legal proceedings against them.

International Red Cross workers wait outside Ofer Prison in the West Bank ahead of the release of Palestinian security prisoners on the fourth day of the ceasefire between Israel and Hamas, November 27, 2023. (Screenshot)

Civil rights groups have objected to many of these indictments, arguing that the alleged actions were not explicit calls to violence or terrorism and that indicting people for such comments violates their right to freedom of expression.

Miri Eisin, executive director of the International Institute for Counter-Terrorism at Reichman University, said the addition of the Arab Israeli citizens charged with incitement to the list is likely an attempt by Hamas to harm Israel’s public image and garner support among Israel’s Arab citizens.

“Hamas is trying to get Arab citizens of Israel released from prison to show that they will bring about the release of all those who support them, including Israeli citizens,” said Eisen.

“They are trying to say that ‘the Israelis arrested them just for supporting the resistance,’ that Israel is trying to shut down these free voices,” she continued.

Hadash expressed different concerns over the addition of the Arab citizens to the list of prisoners for release.

In a statement to the press on Tuesday, it said including Arab citizens who have not been convicted of any crime on the list could lead to severe repercussions against such people once they are released.

The party said it could heighten the possibility that the government will revoke the citizenship of such people, and could result in threats to their lives by extreme nationalists.

Interior Minister Moshe Arbel has sought to advance emergency legislation that would grant him the powers to revoke the citizenship of those who express support for terrorism in the wake of the October 7 atrocities.

“What is needed right now is an immediate end to the false arrests and ‘witch hunt’ against Arab citizens, the release of these young women to their homes regardless of any deal, and at the same time, we call for the completion of the prisoner exchange agreements [with Hamas] as soon as possible and an end to the fighting [in Gaza],” Hadash said.

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