Israel to Expunge Criminal Records of 400 Gaza Pullout Opponents

Most of those being pardoned were teenagers when arrested on minor charges during 2005 disengagement.

The Knesset approved on Monday a controversial bill that would expunge the criminal records of hundreds of people detained during demonstrations against Israel's disengagement from the Gaza Strip in 2005.

The law passed by a vote of 51-9, with all the votes against coming from opposition MKs.

The legislation will formally pardon about 400 of 482 people against whom minor criminal charges were filed - mainly teenage boys and girls. Most of those convicted have already completed their sentences.

After a stormy debate, lawmakers approved the second and third readings of the bill which sources earlier called "historic" for the ramifications it would have on future such arrests.

Israel has granted two general amnesties of such kinds - one in 1949, following the War of Independence, and another in 1967, after the Six-Day War. Another attempt to institute such a pardon, on the occasion of Israel's 50th anniversary, failed.

The bill to pardon disengagement protesters was initiated by Knesset Speaker Reuven Rivlin (Likud) in the previous Knesset.

It does not pardon those accused of crimes that endangered human life, and involved use of explosives or serious violence, or those who had a previous criminal record.

In attempting to enact the so-called "pardons law" the Knesset is bypassing the usual path to such amnesty, which is given at the discretion of the president on the recommendation of the Justice Ministry.

The bill states that law-enforcement bodies cannot pass on to other bodies information regarding suspicions and/or indictments of the offenders in question, so as to prevent problems in terms of future employment or military service.

Rivlin managed to garner extensive support in the previous Knesset for the bill - more than one-third of the members, including Labor Party lawmakers Orit Noked and Colette Avital.

Rivlin said over the years that he preferred that the matter not be enshrined in law, rather that the president grant pardons in the usual way. However, the speaker said before the bill passed its first reading, in July 2008, that disengagement was a national trauma that could not be compared with any other social crisis, and that "the pardons law will contribute to healing the rift" in society and to "correct the injustice done to the evacuees, who paid the heavy cost of democracy."

In presenting the bill, Constitution, Law and Justice Committee chairman MK David Rotem called the disengagement a "unique, one-time event in Israeli history."

"The Israeli people were almost torn apart. There are people, and I am among them, whose hearts still flow from this," he said. "We propose this bill today because the lawmakers, who set the orders in enforcing the law and also in essence the disengagement, are coming and saying 'I want to try to stitch together the tear caused by the disengagement.'"

Hadash MK Dov Hanin registered his firm opposition to the new law. "The pullout from Gush Katif will not be the final pullout," he said. "Whether this government wants to or not, there will be more pullouts from settlements. There will be opposition to these pullouts."

"The message that is being delivered to right-wing activists today is this: Oppose the pullouts, throw boiling water, throw rocks and act as if what you are doing is ok because in the end there will be Knesset members who defend your actions and pardon you," he said.

"Only those on the right-wing of the political map will be defended. A system that only expects responsibility from one side of the political map is a dangerous system and leads society to a dangerous place," he added.

"When patience is only expected from one side of the political map, the result is that the other side feels it is permitted to do anything, that there is no rule of law and that it is possible to do whatever you want because in the end there will be someone defending you, someone releasing you and someone enabling it all."