Bereaved Families Lambaste Israel’s Plan to Shorten Terrorists’ Sentences

Some 300 Palestinian security prisoners would see their sentences shortened as a way to ease prison overcrowding, but a key minister says he’s with the families

Security prisoners at Nitzan Prison in Ramle.
Nir Kafri

Ninety-three families who lost loved ones to terrorism sent a letter Tuesday to Public Security Minister Gilad Erdan opposing the early release of security prisoners, a move that would meet court-imposed requirements to reduce overcrowding in Israeli prisons.

Over the weekend, sources told Haaretz that starting on December 20, the government planned for the early release of about 1,000 prisoners, including 300 Palestinians serving sentences for security offenses.

The families said such a release would be “the declaration of World War III” against them; they sent their letter at the initiative of organizations including the right-wing group Im Tirtzu.

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“If it is implemented, it is a slippery slope that will lead to terrorists with blood on their hands, some of whom actually murdered, returning to the circle of terrorism and harming more Israelis,” the families wrote. “We demand courageous and genuine action against terrorism.” The existence of the letter was first reported by the Arutz Sheva news organization.

On Twitter, Erdan wrote that he agreed, adding that “as opposed to what may have been understood in the letter from the bereaved families, I have demanded since the High Court of Justice’s ruling on prisoners’ living space to distinguish between criminal prisoners and terrorists. The Justice Ministry refused and claimed that this was unconstitutional, so such a differentiation was not included in the administrative-release bill now in the Knesset.”

Erdan said he told the chairman of the Knesset Interior and Environment Committee, Yoav Kish, that he supported an exception in the legislation that would “remove the security prisoners from it .... It is unacceptable to allow the shortening of terrorists’ sentences.”

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The bill, which will go to the Knesset for its final votes after the winter session begins on October 15, grants early release of between two and seven months for prisoners serving up to 20 years in prison. This provision would begin in December.

The bill calls for the shortening of all sentences; for example, one-year sentences would be reduced by three months, and sentences four years or more would be reduced by seven months.

The bill aims to ease prison overcrowding after the High Court of Justice ruled that current conditions violated human dignity. The state has promised the High Court that by April, each inmate will have at least 3.5 square meters (38 square feet) of living space.

The version of the bill that was approved by the Knesset Interior and Environment Committee in August included the security prisoners, though it was agreed that the panel would revise the bill before it went to the full Knesset. But after the prospect of releasing security prisoners was made public, Kish said he would not allow this, even if it meant a postponement in passing the bill.

The security prisoners expected to be eligible for early release include Waed Tamimi, who was sentenced to 14 months for throwing stones at Border Police officers. He is the brother of Ahed Tamimi, the high-profile Palestinian teenage girl who served eight months for assaulting soldiers. Her brother’s sentence is expected to be shortened by 16 weeks, which would free him in March.

Another Palestinian prisoner who could be released early if the law passes is Hani Dari, who transported the terrorists who, after entering Israel illegally in June 2017, stabbed to death Border Police officer Hadas Malka at Damascus Gate in Jerusalem. Dari, who said he did not know his passengers’ intent, was convicted of negligent manslaughter and was sentenced to 14 months, which he began serving in April.

His sentence was recently shortened by one-third, but the government appealed last week at the Be’er Sheva District Court. If the new bill is passed and is applied to Dari, he will be released in February.