Court Decides Today on Hearing Victims' Petitions

Advocacy group seeks time to vet list.

The High Court of Justice is expected to announce today whether it will hear a petition by a nonprofit group representing survivors and families of victims of terror attacks by Palestinian prisoners due for release in the exchange deal.

The Almagor Terror Victims Association is asking the court to delay the exchange, scheduled for Tuesday, by 48 hours "to allow families that will be hurt by the deal as well as senior officers to examine the list of terrorists ... and properly appeal to the authorities."

Hovav Nuriel
Michal Fattal

Officials of the organization say the fact that the list of names was made public only last night means they do not have enough time to review it and determine whose release they must challenge.

The petitioners will submit to the High Court this morning a security assessment critical of the prisoner exchange in its current format, by Brig.-Gen. (res.) Amatzia Chen and a former Shin Bet security service investigator identified only by the initial R. They submitted their petition Friday.

Almagor's chairman, Lt. Col. (res.) Meir Indor, said he expected more families to appeal independently to the High Court against the deal. "It's a humanitarian issue of one soldier against an entire country that will be in danger," Indor said. "That equation should be examined by the High Court and should not be immune from investigation."

Almagor's petition consists of two parts, one opposing the principle of releasing such a large number of terrorists for a single captive soldier and the second objecting to the release of specific prisoners. The second part could only be submitted after the list of names was made public.

Almagor is aware that the High Court may decide not to hear its petition at all. "I hope the court will ignore the pressure by the public and the media, as it has in the past," Indor said. "It should show independence and resilience, and not allow a street campaign to determine the most important decisions for Israeli society."

Regarding criticism of him and his colleagues at Almagor, Indor said: "The Shalit headquarters did wonderful work in terms of the media; it will be taught in journalism and public policy schools."

Five people who lost family members in terror attacks are signatories to the petition. They include Yitzhak Maoz, whose daughter Tehila was killed in the Sbarro restaurant suicide attack in Jerusalem in August 2001.

"How would the Rabin family feel if someone were to demand a law for the release of Yigal Amir," Maoz said yesterday, referring to Yitzhak Rabin's assassin. "That's how we feel when someone wants to release the terrorist who is responsible for my daughter's murder."

Rina Hamami, whose husband Amram Hamami died in the Park Hotel suicide bombing in Netanya in 2001, discussed her opposition to a prisoner exchange deal two years ago, when an agreement seemed close.

"You have to think of the day after. For me it's very hard to think about more than 1,000 murderers going free, and I'm not sure we have the means to protect ourselves," she said this weekend.

"The question here is how the prime minister will be able to look future grieving families in the eye, because there will be more. The arch-murderer who planned the attack in Netanya had already served time and was released in one of the deals, and he murdered 36 more people in three different attacks."

Hamami, a mother of two, supports the death penalty for terrorists "with blood on their hands." She says she does not seek revenge and that she does not place much importance on the punitive aspect. "My husband was murdered and nothing will fill that vacuum for me," she said.

"Punishment is what you give children so they'll learn. These are people who sat in prison and learned how to carry out bigger, more sophisticated terror attacks. You can plan and carry out attacks even from Turkey; today there's the Internet and free information. That's my fear, that we'll hear from them again."

Alex Tagilchev, whose 14-year-old daughter Maria Tagilchev was killed in the Dolphinarium discotheque bombing in Tel Aviv in June 2001, is also against the exchange.

"I very much understand the Shalit family; Gilad must come home, but not at this price," Tagilchev said last night. "We oppose the deal. Many terrorists will be freed, and Israel's security situation requires that they remain in prison. It seems to me that the cabinet didn't give it a lot of thought and took the easiest and simplest road, while they should have thought about a military operation, something, to free him."

Despite his opposition to the deal and insistence that releasing the prisoners will lead to more terror attacks, Tagilchev and his family are not joining the High Court of Justice petition against the agreement.