Murderers, Not Freedom Fighters

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A court hearing on extending the remand of the escaped prisoners in Nazareth, last week.

The name Samuel Milshevsky means nothing to Israelis. He was an ordinary man who immigrated to Israel from Estonia in 2001 and lived alone in a small apartment in Herzliya. In November 2002, a year after his aliyah, he boarded the 823 bus one morning. When the bus crossed the Camp 80 Junction next to Pardes Hanna, the man sitting next to him blew himself up. Milshevsky died on the spot. Not many people came to his funeral. Even his children didn’t travel from Estonia to pay their last respects due to the security situation in Israel at the time.

No one knows Yehiav Elshad, 28, either. He immigrated from Azerbaijan and had suffered chronic injuries due to a car accident. He was on the same bus and was also killed. Next to him sat Inbal Weiss, 23, a student of political science. She was also murdered.

What were the contributions of Milshevsky, Elshad and Weiss to the Israeli occupation of the West Bank? What did these two new immigrants and a student on her way to class do to anyone that warranted sentencing them to a terrible death by suicide bombing?

The man who sent the bomber was Mohammed Aradeh, one of six prisoners who escaped Gilboa Prison earlier this month. My colleague, Gideon Levy, sees Aradeh and his friends as “the boldest freedom fighters imaginable” and believes that they “deserve understanding and appreciation for their courage and above all for their righteousness.” Their punishment, in Levy’s eyes, was an “unjust, evil decree.”

But, what is so audacious in dispatching a terrorist wired to a bomb to blow up a bus full of innocent people? Where is the heroism? Where is the righteousness?

Let’s put aside two of the escapees, Zakaria Zubeidi and Monadel Infiat, whose trials are now underway. The other four are convicted murderers who offered no shred of mercy to their victims. They took human lives at random. It’s doubtful that they know, even today, who they murdered. It doesn’t make a difference.

When you read in detail about what they did – the facts of which they don’t deny and even take pride in – it makes one feel nauseous. It is certainly no righteous struggle. But, when the victims are ordinary, nameless and faceless people, their murder is easier to justify and even glorify.

Let’s talk about Meir Eloush. He was a policeman and loving father, who was on his way to buy a toy for his son in the summer of 1996 in the West Bank village of Biddya, next to Ariel. Aradeh happened to notice him, pulled out a gun, and shot him to death. Eloush was a police officer, but he was dressed in civilian clothes. In the trial, Aradeh explained his choice of victim – it was simply because he was a Jew.

This doesn’t sound like acts aimed at ending the occupation or against the Israeli policies in the West Bank. It wasn’t an attack on the army or on soldiers. It was an execution. Can Levy look in the faces of Eloush’s family and honestly tell them that a shooting in a toy store was the work of a “freedom fighter?”

Next on the list of audacious fighters is Yakub Kadari, whose actions saw him dubbed “Satan’s envoy” by the military prosecutor. In September 2002, Kadari murdered Yosef Ajami of Jerusalem – shooting at his car with an automatic weapon near Mevo Dotan in the West Bank. The same day, Kadari sent a suicide bomber to the Um al-Fahm Junction with instructions to kill as many people as possible. People waiting for rides at the junction grew suspicious and informed police officer Moshe Hezkiyah, who approached the bomber and was killed in the explosion. Kadari also sought to dispatch a suicide bomber to the town of Beit Shean.

His targets speak for themselves: Cities and intersections, where Kadari’s bombs could take as many lives as possible. “We will have to make do with the knowledge that he [Kadari] will never see another day of freedom,” the judge who convicted him said.

What is it that brings a person, whether they are Israeli, British, Egyptian or Norwegian, to praise murderers? To take joy in knowing that they were free? When did Levy cross the line between opposing the occupation – his unrelenting criticism of Israel’s control of the Palestinians, unforgivable violence and the shocking behavior of soldiers – to singing the praises, however indirectly, of murderers? Levy’s words don’t include any criticism of the State of Israel or advance any sophisticated theory. It is sad to hear him cheering on the escaped prisoners when he has spent his career championing important values like human and civil rights.

We’ll end with the story of Eliyahu Asheri, an 18-year-old, who was making his way home one night in 2006. A car stopped to offer him a ride. Inside was Iham Kamamji, another of the escapees. Asheri’s body was found in Ramallah several days later. After he had entered the car, Kamamji levelled a pistol at his head and calmly pulled the trigger.

After he was arrested, investigators discovered that Kamamji had planned a suicide attack using a booby-trapped car carrying 100 kilograms (220 pounds) of explosive material. The plan was to pull up beside a bus and blow it up. Only the mysterious presence of smoke coming up from the car’s engineer prevented a disaster. Despite the failure, Kamamji told the court, “I hope that God will be pleased with me.”

I am sure that Kamamji could never have imagined that he would be dubbed a “freedom fighter” by an Israeli journalist. In what distorted world does Levy live, where the murder of civilians on a bus is a righteous struggle or even one that can be understood?

These are the people that Levy called “freedom fighters” - murderers of fathers, brothers and youths. The dispatchers of suicide bombers who seek to kill as many innocent Israelis as they can. They don’t wear uniforms, they don’t perform military operations and they don’t exchange fire with their enemies. A student on her way to classes, a father buying a toy, a man heading to work and a policeman trying to prevent a mass suicide attack.

Not only are we entitled to cast doubt on the righteousness of their acts, we have a moral obligation to do so. It makes no difference if you are on the left or right of the political spectrum. Murder isn’t combat and is in no way connected to freedom. It is simply a bloodthirsty act.

There is room to discuss prison conditions and rights while behind bars. Haaretz hosts these discussions, unlike every other Israeli media outlet, and receives a lot of criticism for it. But these escapees aren’t entitled to the faintest hope of freedom. There is no place for “understanding and appreciating” their “courage” or actions taken in the name of violent and fanatical religious extremism.

They deserve to stay in prison until their final days, not to be cheered on from the outside.

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