Court reviews petition against releasing terrorists

Victims’ families accuse judges of turning a deaf ear to their concerns; ministerial panel set to put together list of Palestinians to be freed

Stuart Winer is a breaking news editor at The Times of Israel.

The High Court of Justice on Sunday began reviewing a petition by families of terror victims against the planned release of Palestinian terrorists held in Israel prisons. The hearing was held just hours before a ministerial panel was set to put together a list of the first 26 prisoners to be set free in a goodwill gesture to help restart peace talks.

As the Sunday court session began before a three-judge panel headed by High Court President Asher Grunis, the mother of Lior Tobol, who was stabbed to death in a terror attack in Jerusalem, heckled the judges and called on them to heed objections against the prisoner deal.

“These murderers are about to be released and so they can give the ‘V’ for victory sign and you don’t even want to hear from us,” Miriam Tobol cried out. “They stabbed my son 24 times. You are supposed to let people like that rot in prison and not let them go free.”

The petitioners asked the court to arrive at a decision before a Sunday evening meeting of the ministerial panel charged with deciding on the identities of the first group of prisoners set to be released Tuesday. Almost 80 more prisoners, held since before the Oslo Accords were signed in 1993, are to go free in three further phases as the talks progress in the coming months.

Outside the courthouse Bereaved Families for Peace and Justice, an Israel-based grassroots group resisting the release of convicted terrorists and murderers, demonstrated against the move, which would grant freedom in total to 104 Palestinians convicted of killing Israeli soldiers and civilians.

Gila Molcho, whose brother Ian Feinberg was killed in Gaza in 1993, took part in the protest outside the court and argued that even using the term “prisoners” is inappropriate.

“We are setting free terrorists,” she said. “My brother was a lawyer, a man of justice, and we also deserve justice.”

Supreme Court Justice Elyakim Rubenstein questioned the appropriateness of debating the matter of prisoner releases in court rather than in the political arena.

“We sympathize with your pain but this is the legal system that we are talking about and these are question that should be directed at the politicians and diplomatic,” Army Radio quoted him as saying.

The committee that will oversee the prisoner release process is composed of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon, Justice Minister Tzipi Livni, Science Minister Yaakov Peri, and Public Security Minister Yitzhak Aharonovitch. It will decide, based on criteria established by the Shin Bet security agency, which of the 104 prisoners on the list will go free at what stage, and determine whether they will be allowed to return to their homes or be sent abroad.

Netanyahu will not attend the meeting, as he is still recovering from an emergency hernia operation performed over the weekend.

Last month the cabinet approved the prisoner releases, which were a Palestinian precondition for peace talks, and while the decision was widely criticized by politicians on the right and the Israeli public, Netanyahu said it was for the “good of the country.”

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