President Shimon Peres on Monday commuted the sentences of seven security prisoners who had been given life sentences before the Oslo agreements, following years of Israeli refusal to do so.
The decision was reached after a special committee that was convened to discuss the matter suggested to Justice Minister Yaakov Neeman that he commute the sentences.
Over the years, the security services have stood firm in their refusal to release the prisoners, all of whom have blood on their hands, in any kind of prisoner exchanges. The committee members did not reach unanimous decisions on each sentence. For many of the prisoners, the committee suggested a range by which to shorten the sentence. Neeman and Peres chose the strictest option for each one.
Among the prisoners is Karim Younis, considered to be a leader among security prisoners in Israeli gails, and his cousin, Maher Younis Ara, who were convicted of being involved in the murder of Avraham Bromberg, an IDF soldier from Zichron Yaakov in 1980. The two have been serving a life sentence since 1983. The committee suggested commuting their sentences by 35 to 40 years. Bromberg, who was 20 years old, was shot in the head, and his weapon was stolen. A few days later, he succumbed to his wounds.
Following the deal to release Gilad Shalit, Younis sent a letter to Hamas leadership, in which he wrote that the release of Arab prisoners from Israeli prisons as a result of the deal was like a knife in his, and his cousin’s backs. Their uncle, Sami Younis, believed to be the oldest prisoner in Israeli custody, was released as part of the Shalit deal.
Another prisoner that stands out was Walid Daka, from Baka al-Garbiyeh, who was convicted of involvement in the murder of IDF soldier Moshe Tamam, in 1984. The committee also suggested reducing his sentence by 35-40 years.
Other prisoners include Samir Sarsawi (30 years), from Ibtin, a village near Haifa, as well as Rushdie Abu Much (30-35 years), Ibrahim Abu Much (35-40 years), and Ibrahim Biadseh (40-45) years – all from Baka al-Garbiyeh.
The Arab security prisoners have been petitioning Israeli law enforcement agencies for years, in attempts to receive the same rights as Jewish security prisoners, particularly rights pertaining to commuting sentences. The subject came up between Arab Knesset Members and Peres as well as his predecessors, Moshe Katzav and Ezer Weizman. One of the MKs stated that each time the subject arose it was made clear that the decision was a political one, or a decision to be made by the security services.
According to attorney Smadar Ben Natan, who represented some of the prisoners, the move provides a bit of hope for prisoners who have been in prison for almost 30 years. “We should praise the Justice Ministry and the President for making this first step for Arab-Israeli citizens, which should have been made long ago,” said Ben Natan.
Attorney Tamim Younis, brother of Karim Younis and uncle to Maher, said that their family sees the decision as a positive step towards the release of the prisoners, after they were overlooked in previous prisoner swap deals. “There is no doubt that the decision to commute their sentences according to the strictest standards was a blow, but we all hope that soon, we can begin a process with the adjutant committee, and we won’t be held up with security refusals – and we’ll see them at home soon.”