Jewish Terror Victims Group to Petition Israel High Court Against Prisoner Exchange

'This deal empties the justice system of content in the name of values the prime minister considers are more important', says Almagor Terror Victims Association chairman.

The High Court of Justice will hear a petition by a terror victims organization against the release of Palestinian prisoners in exchange for Gilad Shalit. The petition is to be submitted early next week, only after Israel officially releases the names of prisoners to be included in the first stage of the swap.

Individual families of terror victims may also submit petitions, in addition to that of the Almagor Terror Victims Association.

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'A Row and a Half'

"This is not a political decision, but a philosophical one. This deal empties the justice system of content in the name of values the prime minister considers are more important," Almagor's chairman, Meir Indor, told Haaretz Thursday.

The 477 names will be released on Sunday at the latest, the Justice Ministry said Wednesday.

High Court approval of the petitions against the release, or the refusal of President Shimon Peres to pardon them, could thwart implementation of the exchange deal. However, in the past the courts have turned down petitions by families seeking to prevent the en masse release of prisoners, and presidents have rubber-stamped such releases.

One such petition was submitted to the High Court two days before the release of Elhanan Tennenbaum in exchange for 400 terrorists in 2004. The reasons given to prevent the release were reasons of principle - that the released prisoners could return to terror and that the president could not properly use discretion when it came to 400 cases.

"With all due understanding of the families, there is no choice but to reject their petition," Justice Theodor Or ruled at the time.

In 2008, Justice Eliezer Rivlin ruled, in the case of Samir Kuntar - who was convicted of murdering a policeman and members of the Haran family in Nahariya in 1979 and released in exchange for the bodies of Israel Defense Forces soldiers Ehud Goldwasser and Eldad Regev - that the release of prisoners was at the government's discretion.

It seems unlikely that Peres, who has spoken enthusiastically in favor of the Shalit swap, will stand in the way. Moreover, Peres was prime minister in 1985, in the so-called Jibril swap, when 1,150 security prisoners, were released in return for three IDF soldiers, Hezi Shai, Nissim Salem and Yosef Grof, who were captured during the first Lebanon war. Included in that swap were Kozo Okamoto, among the perpetrators of the Lod airport massacre in 1972, and Ahmed Yasin, who became Hamas' spiritual leader.

According to procedure, the Israel Prison Service posts a list of names on its website for 48 hours, to allow interested parties to examine it and petition the High Court.

Indor said Almagor is still debating whether to submit one or two petitions to the High Court - one petition on the principle, or two, one on principle and the other based on specific names on the list when it is released.

Justice Ministry director general Guy Rottkopf, who is coordinating an interministerial committee on the release, held a meeting Wednesday to finalize legal and organizational aspects.