Israeli Arab prisoners skeptical about imminent release

List of inmates who may be freed includes some of the most notorious terrorists captured in the 1980s and early ’90s

Elhanan Miller is the former Arab affairs reporter for The Times of Israel

Illustrative photo of security prisoners in an Israeli prison (photo credit: Moshe Shai/Flash90)
Illustrative photo of security prisoners in an Israeli prison (photo credit: Moshe Shai/Flash90)

Ahead of an expected Israeli cabinet vote Sunday on the release of 104 security prisoners jailed before the signing of the Oslo Accords, a representative of 14 Israeli Arab prisoners is unrepentant and skeptical that they will be included in the final list.

“These lists include prisoners that the PA is demanding be released, but whom the occupation government has not yet officially agreed to free,” wrote Ayman Hajj Yahya, secretary of the Arab Union of Prisoners and Liberated Prisoners, an NGO dealing with incarcerated Palestinians and their families within Israel, in a press release Saturday night.

“Our long experience with [Israel’s] treachery, procrastination and violation of commitments causes us to deal with this publication as if it never happened,” he added in a statement. “We continue to operate under the assumption that the occupation government continues to refuse their release, pending an official government decision.”

It was unclear whether the list of 104 names, submitted by the Palestinian Authority for the Israeli cabinet vote, will indeed include 14 Arab Israelis and seven Jerusalemites. A Channel 2 news report indicated it would, Hebrew news website Ynet published a list including the Israelis and Jerusalemites, while Haaretz claimed that the discrepancy between the original list of 82 names and the new list of 104 could be explained by a Palestinian insistence on freeing 22 prisoners jailed after the signing of the Oslo accords on September 13, 1993, but before the start of the agreement’s implementation.

The prisoners are set to be freed in four phases over the next nine months, as Israeli-Palestinian peace talks, set to resume in Washington on Tuesday, progress.

In any event, the list will include the most notorious Palestinian terrorists captured by Israel in the 1980s and early 1990s, many of whom are serving out consecutive life sentences. All the prisoners in question have already served between 19 and 30 years in jail.

Issa Abed Rabbo of Bethlehem, for instance, attacked a young couple, Revital Serry and Nir Levi, who were hiking near the Cremisan monastery south of Jerusalem in October 1984. Abed Rabbo told police that he tied the couples’ hands, blindfolded them with rags, and shot them in the head at point blank range.

Muhammad Tus, jailed in October 1985, was a member of a south Hebron terror cell which carried out five bus attacks, killing Zalman Avolnik, Michal Cohen, Meir Ben Yair, Edna Harari and Motti Swisa.

Fayez Hour, jailed in November 1985, killed two Israelis in the Gaza Strip and planned to assassinate prime minister Yitzhak Shamir while in jail.

Mohammed Daoud threw a Molotov cocktail at the Moses family car in December 1987, killing mother Ofra and son Tal.

Jomaa Adam and Mahmoud Harbish attacked an Egged bus north of Jericho with Molotov cocktails in October 1988, killing Rachel Weiss and her three young children, as well as soldier David Delarossa who tried to rescue them.

Nihad Jundiyeh of Gaza was only 16 when he killed Israeli contractor Zalman Shlein in July 1989.

Many of the jailed prisoners carried out attacks against IDF soldiers. Brothers Maher and Karim Younis, the longest-serving prisoners on the list, abducted and executed soldier Avraham Bromberg in 1981, and were arrested in January 1983. Brothers Mohammed and Yahya Aghbaria from the Israeli city of Umm Al-Fahm stormed an army base near Kibbutz Gilad in February 1992, killing three soldiers, in an attack known as “the night of pitchforks.”

PA President Mahmoud Abbas had demanded the release of the entire list of pre-Oslo prisoners as a precondition for resuming talks; Israel refused to free them at once, but agreed to a phased release.

A communique released by the Palestinian Prisoners’ Club on July 21 warned Abbas not to neglect any of the veteran prisoners and threatened to disrupt any negotiations taking place without a full release “through widespread public mobilization that will encompass all the nation’s provinces.”

“We will not allow the prisoner issue to be neglected this time, the way it was in previous negotiation rounds,” read the statement.

Speaking at a press conference organized by the Arab Union of Prisoners and Liberated Prisoners on Thursday, MK Ibrahim Sarsur (Ra’am-Ta’al) said that the liberation of 21 Israeli Arabs and Jerusalem residents would constitute an important precedent ahead of future prisoner releases, disabling Israel from upholding a distinction between Palestinian and Israeli Arab prisoners.

Sarsur told The Times of Israel at the same event that Kerry had promised Palestinian officials that negotiations would not resume before Israel agreed to release all 100-plus pre-Oslo prisoners. He said the group included the 21 prisoners who are either Israeli citizens or Jerusalem residents.

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