Arab Israeli prisoners oppose release under hostage deal, prefer to go to trial

Most of the 25 citizens eligible to go free were arrested after Oct. 7 on charges of incitement, supporting terror; lawyer says they don’t want to be part of exchange with Hamas

Michael Horovitz is a breaking news editor at The Times of Israel

Israeli security forces guard outside the entrance to Ofer prison, outside of Jerusalem, November 26, 2023. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)
Israeli security forces guard outside the entrance to Ofer prison, outside of Jerusalem, November 26, 2023. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Arab Israeli prisoners slated to be released in exchange for hostages in Gaza announced Wednesday that they were opposed to being freed under an agreement with the Hamas terror group, and instead wished to prove their innocence in court.

Defense lawyers representing the prisoners notified state prosecutors of their position after the government included 25 Israeli citizens in a list of 50 female Palestinian prisoners expected to be released in exchange for hostages. Most of the Israeli citizens were arrested on charges of incitement or supporting terror after October 7, and have not yet been tried.

“This whole idea that they are included in the deal is completely unclear to us,” Hassan Jabareen, a lawyer and founder of Arab rights group Adalah, told the Walla news site. “We don’t see at all any justification for an indictment or extending custody, which is illegal in our eyes, and we are sure that with the end of the war, the courts will begin to free them.”

“We know that Hamas didn’t ask for them, and they don’t what to be part of this deal — they want to prove their innocence in court,” he added.

Jabareen said that far-right National Security Minister Itamar Ben Gvir was behind the move, and complained that defense lawyers or relatives were not contacted about it.

“We don’t know what kind of document if at all they will be demanded to sign when they are released, and the families are worried about it and we are requesting to receive information,” he said, claiming that authorities were preventing contact with the detainees.

Aya Khatib, convicted of using her position as an aid worker to funnel money, supplies, and intelligence to Hamas. (Shin Bet)

Bader Agbaria, a lawyer for Aya Khatib, an Arab Israeli woman serving a four-year sentence for using her position as an aid worker to funnel money, supplies, and intelligence to Hamas, said his client may also be unhappy about being included in the deal, Walla reported.

“It all depends on what she decides, but we don’t know her position because we aren’t in contact with her since they aren’t allowing visits by lawyers and phone calls. The family doesn’t know either,” Agbaria said, adding that requests to meet her have been denied.

Arab Israeli leaders released a joint statement Wednesday opposing the inclusion of the prisoners in the deal.

“Including the names of Arab citizens without them requesting and before their legal process has been carried out according to the law is an unusual and dangerous step that we oppose,” read a statement by the High Follow-Up Committee and Arab-majority political parties Ra’am and Hadash-Ta’al.

The initial four-day ceasefire in Israel’s war against Hamas started Friday and had been due to expire Monday, when it was extended by two days. The deal, reached last week, provided for the release of 50 Israeli women and children abducted by Hamas during its October 7 attacks, in which 1,200 people were murdered, most of them civilians, and more than 240 were taken hostage.

An Israeli helicopter transporting newly released hostages, held since Hamas’ October 7 attacks, lands outside Ramat Gan’s Sheba medical centre in the Tel Aviv district on November 28, 2023. (JACK GUEZ / AFP)

In the first four days, Hamas released a total of 30 Israeli children and 20 Israeli women, 10 of them mothers of freed kids, as well as an Israeli-Russian man set free as a gesture to Moscow, and 18 foreigners — 17 Thais and a Filipino — released as part of a separate, Iran-brokered deal.

On Tuesday, 10 more Israeli hostages were released and another two Thai nationals were set free in a separate agreement.

The original deal stipulated that the ceasefire could be extended by more days — up to a total of 10 days, including the first four — if Hamas releases at least 10 additional hostages each day, with Israel freeing more Palestinian inmates at a ratio of three prisoners for every hostage.

Israel had freed 180 female and underage Palestinians serving time in Israeli prison for security offenses by Tuesday night and is expected to release 30 more, all women and minors, on Wednesday, if Hamas releases 10 more Israelis.

Given the provisions set out in the deal, the truce could potentially extend to Sunday, assuming more Israeli hostages are set free.

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