Defense Minister Yoav Gallant on Saturday said he was revoking the entry permits to Israel of three senior Palestinian Authority officials, after the trio paid a visit to a newly released prisoner who served decades in jail for murdering a soldier.
Karim Younis, the longest-serving prisoner jailed for security-related offenses, was freed from prison Thursday after serving 40 years behind bars following his conviction on terrorism charges for murdering an Israeli soldier in 1980.
Since his release, celebrations have been held at his hometown of ‘Ara in northern Israel. Younis is part of Israel’s Arab minority, many of whom identify as Palestinians.
On Saturday, the three members of the PA’s ruling Fatah party — Mahmoud al-Aloul, Azzam al-Ahmad, and Rawhi Fattouh — visited Younis, entering Israel with their valid permits given to senior Palestinian officials. Former Hadash MK Mohammad Barakeh, who directs the National Arab Higher Follow-Up Committee, was also spotted at the gathering.
The Defense Ministry said Gallant ordered the head of the Coordinator of Government Activities in the Territories (COGAT) — the Defense Ministry body responsible for Palestinian civil affairs — Maj. Gen. Ghassan Alian, to revoke their permits following the visit.
Gallant’s decision was made following an assessment he held with the Shin Bet security agency and other officials, according to the ministry.
Finance Minister Bezalel Smotrich, who has an additional role as a minister within the Defense Ministry, hailed Gallant’s “right and necessary decision” in a post on Twitter.
Smotrich’s role in the Defense Ministry ostensibly allows him to appoint the generals leading the hybrid civil-military COGAT and its office overseeing many settlement issues, the Civil Administration, subject to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s approval.
Smotrich has not yet made any decisions with his secondary ministerial position, and the Knesset’s legal adviser said last month that Gallant would still be able to overrule him.
Cousins Maher and Karim Younis, both from ‘Ara, murdered Cpl. Avraham Bromberg in 1980. The assailants offered the soldier a ride as he was heading home from his army base in the Golan Heights, then overpowered him, shot him in the head, and stole his weapon. They left him on the side of a road where he was found and brought to a hospital, but he died days later. The killers were arrested two years later and sentenced in 1983.
Maher is due to be released in two weeks. Both and his cousin were given life sentences but these were commuted in 2012 by then-president Shimon Peres to 40 years.
According to Channel 13, National Security Minister Itamar Ben Gvir ordered Younis be released on Thursday before dawn in an effort to thwart festivities outside the facility.
Kan news reported that Ben Gvir had also instructed police to prevent public celebrations in ‘Ara. Ben Gvir, who leads the far-right Otzma Yehudit party, justified the order with a legal opinion that such celebrations offer support for terrorism.
But videos posted on social media showed Younis being warmly greeted by friends and family in ‘Ara and apparently giving interviews to Arabic-language media.
‘Ara is a few kilometers from Zichron Yaakov, where Bromberg lived. His family still lives in the area.
Younis’s decades in prison made him the longest-serving Palestinian detainee, either from Israel or the Palestinian territories, according to the Palestinian Prisoners’ Club advocacy group.
On Thursday, now 64-year-old Younis said: “Every prisoner’s story is the story of an entire people and I am proud to be one of those who sacrificed for Palestine.”
“Forty years have passed as if they were nothing, because we consider this to be one of the main pillars of the struggle,” said Younis, who was carried through the village while holding a Palestinian flag.
Right-wing lawmakers are working on a bill to annul the citizenship of convicted terrorists. It is set to be reviewed by the Ministerial Committee for Legislation. Interior Minister Aryeh Deri has asked Attorney General Gali Baharav-Miara to allow the bill to proceed through the Knesset.
Times of Israel staff and Agencies contributed to this report.