Hagai Amir - Moti Milrod - 4.5.2012
Hagai Amir, center, following his release from Ayalon prison, May 4, 2012. Photo by Motil Milrod
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Moti Milrod
Hagai Amir, walking out of Ayalon Prison, May 4, 2012. Photo by Moti Milrod

Hagai Amir, who was convicted of conspiring with his brother Yigal Amir to kill Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin, was freed from Ayalon Prison on Friday morning, after being held for 16 and a half years in solitary confinement.

Members of his family met him outside the prison and take him to a West Bank settlement for the weekend. His parents are expected to join him there for a family celebration.

A police contingent was present as Amir was released, because of the presence of his family, as well as both left-wing and right-wing activists. Roughly 40 activists loyal to Meretz and Working and Learning Youth movement were on site to protest Amir’s release.

Some activists said to Amir’s family: “We will yet wipe the smile off of your faces.”

Dror Morag, the Meretz party secretary-general, responded to the release. “We are here to prevent the next Yigal Amir. We must remember that even today, this man does not regret his actions, nor apologize for them,” said Morag.

“He has the support of rabbis and other people who believe in him. He has still not paid his debt to society. He didn’t only kill a prime minister, he killed an entire democracy. We are here, and we will always be here to remind him of what he did,” continued Morag.

Eyal Moutner, of the Working and Learning Youth, called this day a “sad day for Israeli democracy.” Moutner continued, “This day, after 16 and a half years, a man who conspired to assassinate Rabin is released. During this whole period, he did not express any regret over the actions of his brother. We stand against those who embrace Hagai Amir.”

“All must remember that Hagai Amir and his brother are not uncommon, today there are many people who share the same extremist point of view, and put religion and Jewish law before democracy,” said Moutner.

Noam Federman, a right-wing activists clashed with the left-wing protesters. “The man deserves to be freed, he deserves to be congratulated. Hagai Amir did not do anything. The State of Israel could not believe that Yigal Amir acted alone, and sought to find for an underground organization. Hagai did not do antying, he did not even know that there was a plot to kill the Prime Minister,” said Federman.

According to Federman, “Rabin caused the deaths of thousands of Jews. I do not support murder, but even today, I’m not shedding any tears for him [Rabin]. We will greet him [Amir] warmly, and throw him a party.”

Amir has never expressed regret for his crime, reportedly telling people close to him in the past few days that he has no regrets. Those who spoke to him said he still believes his acts were "vital to prevent bloodshed," presumably as a result of the Oslo Accords.

In addition to his original sentence, he was given another year of prison time for threatening the life of former Prime Minister Ariel Sharon. In 2004, when Sharon was gearing up for the disengagement from Gaza, Amir told his jailers that he could "pick up the phone and arrange that someone kill Sharon, blow him up."

During Amir's trial, it emerged that he, his brother Yigal and his friend Dror Adani conspired to commit the murder, exploring several possible ways to do it and conducting surveillance around Rabin's home. On the night of November 4, 1995, Yigal Amir waited for Rabin to leave a giant peace rally in Tel Aviv's Kings of Israel Square (since renamed Rabin Square ), and shot him fatally in the back.

Hagai Amir was held in solitary confinement in an isolated prison wing throughout his sentence. Until three years ago he was allowed to keep a television set in his cell and visit his brother in prison once every three months.

His family lives in Herzliya's Neveh Amal neighborhood. "I don't want to mention that family's name," a neighbor said yesterday.

Labor Young Guard activists said they would demonstrate outside the home, holding placards protesting Amir's release from prison.

"We'll be there to protest both as Laborites and Herzliya residents," said Michal Silberberg of the Young Guard. "We won't forget and won't forgive. We'll remind him of the abominable act every year," she said.

"Sometimes I wonder if it wouldn't be easier to give up. To raise my children somewhere else," Rabin's granddaughter Noa Rothman wrote on her Facebook page. "Sixteen and a half years have passed and it's as painful and offensive as if it were yesterday. I want to scream, but what can I say? I'm not giving up on this place. It's my home. My language. My country. ... I'll bite my lip and so will my family. We'll respect our democracy and defend it, hoping that one day it will do the same for us."