Legal proceedings still pending against 13 Arab Israeli women released in Hamas deal

Women were arrested for social media posts allegedly supporting terrorism; at least 5 objected to being freed in exchange for hostages held in Gaza

Jeremy Sharon is The Times of Israel’s legal affairs and settlements reporter

Freed Palestinian prisoners arrive in the West Bank city of Ramallah after being released under the terms of the Israel-Hamas hostage deal, on November 28, 2023. (Flash90)
Freed Palestinian prisoners arrive in the West Bank city of Ramallah after being released under the terms of the Israel-Hamas hostage deal, on November 28, 2023. (Flash90)

Legal proceedings against 13 Arab Israeli women who were released from prison under the terms of the hostage release deal with Hamas are still pending, the Adalah legal aid organization has said.

It remained unclear whether justice officials intend to move forward with prosecuting the women or whether proceedings would be dropped.

At least five of these women had explicitly requested not to be included on the list of those freed under the deal, and said neither they nor their legal representatives had been informed that this would happen.

All 13 women in question were arrested after Hamas’s October 7 atrocities for comments they posted on social media that allegedly violated laws against incitement to violence and supporting or identifying with a terrorist organization.

Some of the women have not been indicted yet, and none have actually been put on trial yet, although court proceedings are underway for several of them.

Adalah said the fact they were released without their consent or the ability to clear their names in court, and that upon their release the attorney general had not declared their innocence or immediately dismissed their indictments, constituted “a severe violation of their presumption of innocence, absurdly marks them as ‘terrorists,’ and may significantly stain their future.”

The Justice Ministry refused to comment on the issue.

Israeli security forces in front of the entrance to Ofer Prison, outside of Jerusalem, from where Palestinian terror convicts were released as part of a deal between Israel and Hamas, November 26, 2023. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

The State Attorney’s Office has indicted more than 80 Arab Israeli citizens since October 7 on charges of incitement to terrorism, or identifying with or supporting a terrorist organization, for social media comments they’ve made.

Overnight on Tuesday, 50 Arab Israeli citizens, women and minors, were added to the list of potential candidates for release from prison within the framework of the hostage release agreement with Hamas, 16 of whom had been arrested for social media posts after October 7.

Some organizations, including Adalah, have alleged that many of these allegations were based on comments that are protected under freedom of expression laws, and that the arrests are politically motivated.

At least five of the women opposed being placed on the list of those eligible for release under the deal with Hamas, and either appealed to district courts against the decision or wrote letters to the State Attorney’s Office or the Attorney General’s Office protesting the step.

In those communications, attorneys for the women also demanded urgent clarifications regarding the legal ramifications of their release, including whether criminal proceedings against them would remain pending, whether they would face re-arrest, or whether the charges had been or would be dismissed.

The lawyers and their clients are yet to receive responses, and the legal situation regarding their criminal status remains uncertain.

“These women, arrested as part of a politically motivated crackdown led by the far-right extremist [National Security] Minister [Itamar] Ben Gvir, are being used as bargaining chips and are part of a process imposed on them that might have significant ramifications and fuels incitement against them,” said Adalah.

“At the same time, these women did not receive any assurance that the cases against them will be dropped. The criminal proceedings initiated against these Palestinian women are groundless from the outset, and therefore, they must be promptly released outside of any political agreement, with all charges dropped.”

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