Moriah Shlomot, the director general of Peace Now, was a 14-year-old at a kibbutz high school when her literature teacher came into the room and said "The state ended today, they killed a Peace Now activist at a demonstration."
The memory of that February 1983 evening, when university student Emil Grunzweig was killed by a hand grenade outside the Prime Minister's Office in Jerusalem during a demonstration against the war in Lebanon demanding that then-defense minister Ariel Sharon resign, became a turning point for Shlomot and many others of her generation who would make up the ranks of the peace movement between Grunzweig's killing and Yitzhak Rabin's assassination.
Even more than those who were demonstrating that night, the youngsters under the influence of of the murder, have been the spirit behind making the annual memorial ceremonies a political event. "It became an integral part of the culture of the movement," says Shlomot, "dictating much of the culture of the demonstrations, the fear of the dangers posed by the right wing, and proof of the price that we might pay for our activities."
The parole approved yesterday for Yona Avrushmi, the Jerusalem street punk who told the court during his trial that he was influenced by right-wing rhetoric to throw the hand grenade at a crowd of Peace Now demonstrators as they sang "Hatikva" at the end of their rally - killing Grunzweig and wounding nine others - has sparked memories of that night, anger at the parole, and a sense of resignation about what has happened to the country since the political violence of that night.
Peace Now issued a statement saying that "Yonah Avrushmi's early release is another sign of the weakness of the law enforcement agencies in the face of political violence in Israeli society. Today, too, Peace Now activists are subject to physical and verbal violence from right-wing activists, without any appropriate response from the law enforcement agencies, including the attorney general. No committee can free the inciters to political violence and the law enforcement officers who ignore it, from the responsibility for the next political assassination."
Nineteen years ago, on a cold, wet and windy Jerusalem night, then Hebrew University graduate student Amiram Goldblum, now a professor at the university, marched alongside Grunzweig, as did Avraham Burg, now speaker of the Knesset. At the time, Goldblum was the spokesman for the movement, and now, he says, "the parole committee decision is an opportunity for some of the soul searching that wasn't done by those who used Avrushmi; starting with then-defense minister Ariel Sharon, who incited against the opponents to the Lebanon War, and Tzachi Hanegbi, who was Sharon's field worker for incitement and later became a minister. They are the ones who led the campaign that led to the hand grenade being thrown. They should be asked what they think about what they did then. One of them, Hanegbi, shed crocodile tears afterward, but he remained a professional inciter in later periods, including the weeks leading up to Rabin's assassination."
Goldblum, for whom the killing of Grunzweig was a catalyst for more intensive political activity, says that there's no comparison to be made between the mood on the street then, and now. "Not only does the public not perceive the current situation as a war, but most important, there's no real opposition," he says.
Among the wounded that night was MK Yuval Steinitz, now of the Likud, who was a Peace Now demonstrator at the time. He was angry yesterday about Avrushmi's early release for good behavior - but not at the parole committee. As far as Steinitz is concerned, the real problem is the legislature and the courts, which do not impose much tougher sentences for political crimes like Avrushmi's, and other very serious crimes. "Someone who commited a crime like Avrushmi's should go to jail for 30 years, not 19," he said. And in Avrushmi's case, he should have had consecutive sentences for each of the nine people who were wounded.
Perhaps most personally affected - other than Avrushmi - by the early parole, is Eliezer Grunzweig, Emil's brother. "I still hope the state will appeal the parole board decision, but I suspect it's final. But my personal pain is my problem and that of my friends. The real problem is that the decision is dreadful for public awareness." An industrial engineer, Grunzweig said that the early release of his brother's killer "is a slap in the face to democracy that could encourage the next political murder when the political debate heats up again."
Grunzweig is particularly angry about Avrushmi's statement of remorse. "Any reasonable person reading it can see it's a boilerplate written only for the sake of his release, and that it is not sincere," he complained.
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