A few hundred Israelis had a very tense weekend, keeping track of every scrap of information, every comment in the media. They moved from hope to despair, almost like the families of the passengers on the missing Malaysian airliner.
Their fate doesn’t interest anyone; Israel is insensitive to their suffering and enjoying their distress. Even the left is ignoring their plight.
Some of the relatives are feverishly preparing for the moment that might be the happiest of their lives; others are refusing to prepare lest they be bitterly disappointed.
These Israelis are the families of the 14 security prisoners scheduled to be freed this week in the fourth prisoner release Israel committed to when it resumed peace talks with the Palestinians in July. Only evil, the lust for revenge, nationalist demagoguery and stark inequality will prevent this – and these are present in abundance.
These 14 prisoners are Arab Israelis who killed soldiers or civilians more than 25 years ago; some have been in prison more than 30 years. All these decades Israel has treated them as if they were Palestinians from the occupied territories: no furloughs, no conjugal visits and not a single phone call – not even when their parents or siblings died. That’s how far the evil went. But now Israel is reluctant to release them because they are Israelis.
Most have served two-thirds of their sentences, but they won't be released based on the norm for criminal murderers. In general, murderers in Israel serve between 18 and 24 years in prison, while some of these Arabs have been in prison 32 years.
A country that last week honored the memory of one of its heroes, commando Meir Har-Zion, a murderer of innocents, continues to abuse those who followed in his path, the path of murder and revenge. It’s abusing them merely because they’re Arabs and not Jews; merely because they spilled Jewish blood and not Arab blood.
This is a country that pardons and releases the murderers of Arabs after only a few years – if they are even brought to trial. It’s a country where a mass murderer of Arabs – Ami Popper – gets frequent furloughs, and where the murderer of a bound Palestinian – Yoram Skolnick – was freed after eight years.
This is a country where the members of the Jewish underground who murdered three students and tried to assassinate three Palestinian mayors – one lost both legs and one lost one leg – were freed after seven years. What I’m about to say isn’t new but it remains true: Arab blood is cheaper in Israel and Jewish blood is thicker.
These 14 prisoners deserved severe punishment, but they should have been released by now. Not in a swap, not because soldiers were kidnapped or to barter for bodies, not out of pity or as a goodwill gesture. They would have been released if Israeli justice were equitable.
Their families are also entitled to a measure of justice, and their fate ought to move us. Samia Abu-Moch and Farida Daka are old and sick and dream of embracing their sons before they die. Now their dreams are dependent on the (oh so frightening) resignation threats by Deputy Defense Minister Danny Danon, the (petrifying) threats by Habayit Hayehudi to bolt the governing coalition, the ongoing diplomatic masquerade, and the degree of interest shown by the U.S. administration.
All this sends a message to Israel’s Arab minority, which faces discrimination everywhere it turns, now regarding prisoners as well. The feelings of terror victims’ families is of course understandable, but not the nationalist dance over “blood on their hands” with all the demonization and intimidation in the media. Walid Daka, Maher and Karim Younis, Rushdi Abu-Moch and most of their comrades have declared that they’re finished with terror.
They are Israelis who have paid their debt to society for acts they committed in their youth a generation ago. They killed innocents as part of their people’s national struggle, just as many Israelis have done, with the latter earning respect and prestige. The time has come for the (belated) release of their Arab fellow travelers.
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