Responding to Sunday’s publication of the list of 26 Palestinian prisoners to be released on Wednesday as part of Israel’s confidence-building measures to help the restart of peace talks with the Palestinian Authority, the Almagor Terror Victims Association, which represents families of victims of terror, said in a statement that “this is a day of celebration for Palestinian terror organizations and a sad day for bereaved families and for Israeli society.”
The bereaved families were to stage a demonstration on Monday afternoon in front of the Kirya Defense Headquarters in Tel Aviv to protest the prisoner release. On Sunday, they petitioned Israel’s High Court of Justice in an attempt to prevent the release. The court has historically refrained from intervening in such processes.
Families of terror victims now have 48 hours to appeal the government decision.
Late Sunday night, the families sent an urgent letter to government ministers requesting the chance to appear before them to plead their case. They sought an hour for each family.
The families also sought to appear before President Shimon Peres, who is due to sign most of the pardons for the Palestinian prisoners. The president has no plans to meet with the families, Army Radio reported Monday.
Gila Molcho, whose brother Ian Feinberg was killed in Gaza in 1993, echoed the Almagor statement to Channel 2 television on Monday morning. She said that the released prisoners “are going to be celebrated” upon their arrival home. “It’s not (like) Gilad Shalit coming home,” Molcho said. “There is no gun to our head.”
Gilad Shalit was an Israeli soldier kidnapped by Hamas terrorists in 2006. He was released in 2011 in exchange for 1,027 Palestinian prisoners, some of whom, like those being released as a concession to the Palestinian Authority for the resumption of the peace talks, were convicted of murdering Israeli citizens.
Molcho said that the prisoners to be released “are murderers who …will return to their ways,” adding that that they will be considered heroes who will become Palestinian leaders while Israelis suffer.
“This is not a step toward peace, this is a step toward catastrophe,” Molcho said. “No one turned to us [the bereaved families] about this release,” she lamented. “There was no concern for our well-being.”
Molcho added that she hoped Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu would change his mind. “Our blood is not a gesture,” she said.
A statement by the Prime Minister’s Office released late Sunday night, after the panel approved the 26 names, read: “In the wake of the government’s decision to renew diplomatic negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians and to authorize a ministerial panel for prisoner releases for the duration of the negotiations, the ministerial panel met this evening.”
The identities of the prisoners were made public on the Israel Prison Service website, www.ips.gov.il, at approximately 1 a.m. The names and I.D. numbers of the prisoners were listed alongside the names of their victims. (Link is in Hebrew)
Initially, the PMO would only say that 14 of the prisoners “will be transferred to Gaza” and 12 “were from Judea and Samaria [the West Bank].” Eight of the prisoners were in any case slated to be released over the next three years, having served out their sentences, the PMO noted. Two were already slated for release in the next six months.
“In the discussion [of the panel on Sunday], it was emphasized that if any of the released [prisoners] return to hostile activities against the State of Israel, they will be returned to complete their prison term,” the PMO statement said.
The prisoner release is set to take place on Wednesday, the same day as the next round of peace talks is set to begin in Jerusalem. The two sides are set to meet again the week after in the West Bank town of Jericho.
Negotiations between Israel and the Palestinian Authority were restarted two weeks ago in Washington, after over three years without direct talks. The sides have agreed to a nine month timeline in an attempt to reach an agreement and end the conflict.
Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas said on Sunday that no freed Palestinian prisoners will be deported, despite claims by Israel that it will demand that some West Bankers be sent to Gaza or neighboring Arab countries.
Abbas added that Israeli Arabs and Jerusalem residents would be among the rest of the 104 prisoners to released by Israel in three more phases as the talks continue.
Ziad Abu Ain, the deputy Palestinian prisoners minister, told AFP that the PA “welcomed the release of any Palestinian prisoner from Israeli jails,” and expressed his hope that the older prisoners would be the first ones freed.
“We hope that Israel will commit to releasing the rest of the prisoners, and ask and hope the Palestinian side will have a partner to choose the conditions and names of those set to be released,” Abu Ain said.
The publication of the identities of the prisoners came several hours after Housing Minister Uri Ariel announced Sunday that some 1,200 homes for Jewish families would be built in east Jerusalem and the West Bank, a move slammed by the Palestinians as “destroying the chances for peace.”
Top Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat told Reuters Sunday that Israeli construction in settlements could force him and his team “to leave the negotiating table.”