Lawmakers Visiting Terrorists' Families: A Humanitarian Mission or an Act That Encourages Violence?

On the line with Knesset Member Rachel Azaria, who argues that a meeting between three Israeli Arab lawmakers and families of slain assailants was politically motivated.

Palestinian relatives cry during a funeral held in the West Bank village of Sae'er for four Palestinians killed by Israeli military after trying to attack soldiers, January 9, 2016.
AP

Hello to MK Rachel Azaria, who is a member of the Knesset’s Ethics Committee, which this week decided to suspend the MKs of the Joint Arab List who belong to the Balad party. [Haneen Zoabi and Basel Ghattas are prohibited for four months, and their colleague Jamal Zahalka, for two months, from all Knesset activity other than voting.] Nir Gontarz from Haaretz here.

How are you?

Fine. How are you?

Fine. Let’s talk a minute about the committee’s decision. The Balad MKs met with family members of murderers whose bodies Israel has put on ice and is refusing to return to the families. What’s the ethical problem with that?

The Balad MKs claimed it was a humanitarian act to get the bodies returned.

And that is not the case?

That was the focal point of the discussion, and there were many indications that this was not the story. I was previously the deputy mayor of Jerusalem and found myself in complex situations. The first rule is that you don’t publicize it anywhere, and they immediately posted it on Facebook.

Israeli Arabs and Palestinian Arabs are members of the same nation. The Green Line split that nation into two artificially. I accept their argument that it was a humanitarian act and that the Facebook status was uploaded mistakenly. But even if it wasn’t, what’s the problem with the meeting?

No one from any other party came to the meeting. Three people from the same party went!

So?

Just a second, I am explaining to you what the crux of the committee’s discussion was. The discussion was whether it was a humanitarian mission or an act that encourages terror.

How does a condolence visit encourage terror?

Let me explain. There were a few things that made it clear to us that it was not a humanitarian mission. Only Balad MKs went. They alone. No other MKs. It wasn’t done behind the scenes. If they’d wanted to broach the issue with [Public Security Minister] Gilad Erdan, you don’t publicize it anywhere. So the understanding was that this was not a humanitarian story. It constituted a political declaration and encouragement of terror.

MK Rachel Azaria.
Emil Salman

In what sense does it encourage terror?

You meet with families of people who murdered I will tell you frankly: I know people who were murdered in a terrorist attack in East Talpiot. Very brutal attacks. A person boards a bus and massacres people one by one.

But the abominable murderer is dead. Absolutely dead. Completely dead. The terrorist is dead.

Okay. And so what?

You are a religiously observant woman, right?

Right.

How can you make use of a corpse for totally political or even security goals?

No I don’t think There are a few rules that the police laid down. I am not responsible for the rules of the police. Alright?

No.

But there are decisions and that’s how it works. The question is There was an attempt to see if there could be a solution. We considered the issue of whether the goal was to find a solution.

I’ll go along with you. Let’s say the goal was not humanitarian. And let’s say it was a condolence visit [which is not considered "humanitarian" by Israel if those being visited are the family of terrorists]. And let’s say that the Arab MKs view the Palestinian terrorists as victims of the occupation, too. What is not legitimate in that? They are members of the same nation.

Listen, that’s I I don’t think that we are dealing with victims here. You understand? That is the test. The discussion went on for a few hours

But I’m going along with you and I will add, let’s say, as you on the committee decided, that this was not a humanitarian act but a show of solidarity with the suffering of the terrorists’ families, who committed no crime themselves. What is the problem with that?

With what? With the fact that they were sitting with families of terrorists who murdered people in cold blood?

The families committed no crime. Besides which, the three Balad MKs condemn every act of violence. They did not praise, heaven forbid, the acts of terrorism. They condemned them.

In the end we deal with what we are presented with. We do not have an investigative commission. Confronting us was the question of whether this was a humanitarian act, as the MKs from Balad claimed –

But in the end you not only conducted an investigation, you also looked into their hearts and minds and decided, on the basis of a Facebook status, that their intention was not humanitarian. And beyond that, they view the whole Palestinian people as a victim of the Israeli occupation, including the terrorists who came from that people. It’s their right to see things that way. Moreover, they did not meet with the murderer, who was completely dead. They met with members of his family, who are suspected of nothing and who did nothing.

We did not think it was a humanitarian thing. We thought it was an act that encourages

Encourages in what way? The three MKs condemned the actions of the murderers. We are not dealing with murderers, because they are very much dead. This is abuse by the Israeli government of families who committed no crime.

I don’t think they condemned [the murders].

They did, they did.

But it makes no difference.

What?

We understood that this was not a humanitarian act, but encouragement of terror and strengthening of the families. There was a very long, complex discussion. There was wall-to-wall understanding.

Obviously, because everyone likes to get on the case of the Arab MKs: the media, the prime minister, the Jewish majority in the Knesset. Everyone is out to get them. Your decision is hardly surprising. The reason I called you was that I have been very impressed by your media appearances, and

I am very impressed by your column.

Thank you.

Yes, it’s mutual.

Well, so that’s the reason I’m calling you. I was looking for someone intelligent and open and liberal to talk to. But I still haven’t been able to understand what the problem with the meeting was. Maybe it’s not pleasant for the Jewish majority, but what more is there to it? The terrorists themselves are dead. Utterly dead. Frozen like stone. What kind of country are we to hold bodies as bargaining chips? How are you with that?

Uh I bring all my values to the Ethics Committee.

At the human and moral level, which do you think is worse: What Minister Erdan is doing with the bodies, or the Balad meeting with the families?

That’s something the police decided.

And who are the police to decide on freezing and holding bodies?

It doesn’t work like that. We are a democracy.

And in which democracy do the police use frozen bodies as a means of extortion for its ends?

The police laid down a few rules for holding the funeral. We are ready to return the body provided it doesn’t become a showcase funeral.

Nice. Along comes the Israeli occupier and decides that controlling the Palestinians’ lives is not enough and invents rules also for the death rituals and decides what kind of funeral is convenient and what kind is not. Nice. What’s next? After all, it’s this game with the bodies that encourages terrorism. You all took part in that celebration.

I wouldn’t call it a “celebration” That’s the last thing I would think about it.

Fine. I’ve run out of space. Thank you.

Thank you very much, and keep up the column!

For sure. Thanks.