National Security Minister Itamar Ben Gvir on Sunday reportedly summoned Israel Police Commissioner Kobi Shabtai for a dressing down, after public celebrations were held upon the release of a prisoner who served decades in jail for murdering a soldier. There had been a directive in place to prevent that from happening.
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. On Saturday, three senior Palestinian Authority officials paid him a visit. The newly released prisoner is part of Israel’s Arab minority, many of whom identify as Palestinians.
Ben Gvir’s office said Sunday that he had ordered police to probe the celebrations, while Channel 12 news said he had summoned Shabtai, along with the police attorney general and the northern district commander to his office, to receive explanations as to why his directive had not been carried out.
The order on Sunday was the first implicit rebuke of police by the new far-right minister, who demanded and received extensive powers over police policy during recent coalition negotiations.
The minister’s office released a statement saying his instructions to prevent celebration tents from being erected in Younis’s honor were “only partially fulfilled,” with Younis’s family and friends putting up a tent and PA officials paying visits to honor him.
Ben Gvir, who leads the far-right Otzma Yehudit party, had ordered Younis be released on Thursday before dawn in an effort to thwart festivities outside Hadarim Prison, north of Tel Aviv. He also ordered police to prevent public celebrations in ‘Ara. He justified the orders with a legal opinion that such celebrations offer support for terrorism.
But Younis was warmly greeted by friends and family in ‘Ara and gave interviews to Arabic-language media on Thursday and over the weekend.
Ben Gvir held a phone call with Shabtai on Sunday and ordered an internal police probe, to be presented to the minister, his office said. Unrelated to the rebuke, Ben Gvir was slated to visit police headquarters in Jerusalem for the first time on Monday.
“The purpose of the probe is to ensure such events do not repeat in the future,” the statement said.
Ben Gvir said the events held in Younis’s honor “are celebrations of incitement and explicit support for terrorism, and it’s unacceptable for such events to happen in our home. The State of Israel has no place for terror-supporting celebrations, and I will do everything in my power to prevent them, until we pass a law on the death penalty for terrorists.”
Ben Gvir, a far-right firebrand, has spoken multiple times in the past in support of capital punishment for terror offenses.
He has been a critic of police enforcement efforts against Jewish nationalists and what he considers a too-soft approach toward non-Jewish suspects.
Defense Minister Yoav Gallant on Saturday revoked the entry permits to Israel of the three senior PA officials — Mahmoud al-Aloul, Azzam al-Ahmad, and Rawhi Fattouh — who visited Younis.
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 shortly. The pair were given life sentences but these were commuted in 2012 by then-president Shimon Peres to 40 years.
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, which 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.
Agencies contributed to this report.