The High Court of Justice on Tuesday rejected a petition by the families of terror victims to block the release of 26 Palestinian prisoners who were convicted of terrorism, ruling that it is not for the court to involve itself in what is a diplomatic rather than a legal process.
In their rulings the three judges said that the question of prisoner releases had been brought before the court many times in the past but had always been rejected when the proposed release was part of diplomatic negotiations.
“We see no reason to divert from the court’s decisions on these matters,” the judges wrote.
“There is no doubt that this is a difficult and sensitive matter. Our hearts are with the families. We are sure that those who made the decision [to release the prisoners] made it with a heavy heart, while considering the position of the bereaved families,” wrote the judges.
Family members of terror victims petitioned the High Court of Justice on Monday to issue a temporary injunction on the release of the prisoners, claiming that counter to government promises, six of those on the list were tried after Israel and the Palestinians signed the Oslo accords in 1993. The families’ lawyer, Naftali Wertzberger, said the ministerial committee tasked with selecting those to be freed were only authorized to include those convicted prior to the signing of the Oslo agreements.
The rulings did not make any specific reference to the timing of the prisoners’ convictions.
In arguing against the release, the petitioners claimed that the government was wrong in entrusting to a panel of just five ministers the decision of which of 104 prisoners would be released first. The court, however, determined that the government did have the authority to designate the decision, and that it did not require the approval of the full cabinet.
The prisoners are to be released as a goodwill gesture by Israel ahead of peace talks scheduled to restart in Jerusalem on Wednesday.
The Almagor Terror Victims Association responded in a statement: “Today the Supreme Court shut its doors to Jewish bereaved families and terror victims — something it never does to any Palestinian, from interfering with the construction of the security fence at a cost of hundreds of millions of shekels, all the way to terrorists’ demands to put an end to the use of physical pressure in interrogations and to the IDF’s ‘neighbor procedure.’
“The Supreme Court has effectively erased the standing of the victims and instead spread its wings over the terrorists, who from this point on can keep demanding the release of more and more murderers.”
The prisoners were transferred Monday to Ayalon Prison in Ramle, where they have begun a process of identification, medical exams, exit interviews with prison staff and discussions with the Red Cross, reported Israel Radio.
The prisoners will not be released until midnight Tuesday, at the earliest.