Several angry protesters shouted at Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu as he took the podium at a ceremony in memory of Israelis killed in terror attacks, held at the Mount Herzl cemetery in Jerusalem on Monday.
The demonstrators, who were apparently members of families of terror attack victims, held red flags over their heads and yelled at Netanyahu as the prime minister rose to make his speech. They then staged a walkout.
One man, his face tear-streaked, shouted: “You’re releasing the murderers who killed our children.” Security guards approached the man, who calmed down and agreed to return to his seat, where he remained throughout the prime minister’s address.
The protesters were demonstrating against a series of Palestinian prisoner releases by Israel carried out over the past nine months as a goodwill gesture toward the Palestinians during peace talks. Bereaved families have in the past accused Netanyahu of refusing to meet with them to hear their reservations about slated prisoner releases and exchanges.
“I read your letter,” Netanyahu said to the protesters, referring to a communication he had received from those who opposed the prisoner releases asking that he not attend the memorial event. “It [the prisoner release] was a tough decision that conflicted with the values of justice.”
“In the complex reality in our region, successive Israeli governments were forced to repeatedly make tough decisions,” he continued. “I knew I’d meet you, but I saw it as my responsibility as prime minister of Israel to come here to meet with you on Memorial Day.”
Nearly 80 prisoners were released over the nine months of negotiations with the Palestinians, including many who had murdered Israelis in attacks over 20 years ago. The issue came to a head in March when, before a slated fourth and final prisoner release, Palestinian authorities demanded that Israeli-Arab terrorists also be set free as a condition for extending peace talks beyond their April 29 deadline. Israel balked at the demand, saying that it had never been part of the original agreement with the US, and the talks were cut off before their deadline.