Israel Pursuing Revenge for Revenge’s Sake in Etti Alon Case

As the state prosecutor’s hounding of convicted embezzler Etti Alon shows, some criminals in Israel will never be granted forgiveness.

Gideon Levy
Gideon Levy
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Etti Alon in court, 2005.Credit: Moti Kimche
Gideon Levy
Gideon Levy

You need quite a bit of evil in your heart to seek to prevent the release of Etti Alon after 11 years in prison. You need a little bit of pigheadedness to appeal the decision last week of the parole committee, which decided to release her after she served two-thirds of her sentence. The State Prosecutor’s Office, which appealed the decision on Thursday, is endowed with both these characteristics: they require a twisted mind.

The Trade Bank clerk, who embezzled 250 million shekels ($64 million) over five years between 1997-2002, was, of course, worthy of a severe punishment – but not the punishment given to murderers. Alon, who was the victim of her patriarchal family, of her father and brother who pushed her into crime and viciously extorted from her for their gambling needs, and who confessed her crime to the police before anyone had even noticed, has already spent 11 years in prison.

Nuclear whistle-blower Mordechai Vanunu.Credit: Moti Kimche

Another banker who also stole an unbelievable sum, Yehoshua Ben-Zion, was sentenced to 12 years in prison and served less than three (!) after he was pardoned in 1977. But not Alon: she did not come from the same environment as Ben-Zion (or Danny Dankner).

Her father died; her husband abandoned her; her children grew up without her; her entire world was destroyed – and all that is not enough for the State Prosecutor’s Office. I saw her once, curled up in the corner of the dining room in Neveh Tirza Prison, the harshest one in Israel. Her eyes, filled with repressed sorrow, stared at the floor, and the sight was painful. Her heartrending cry on the day of her sentencing still echoes.

But that is not enough for the prosecutors. They want her to pay the accompanying 5 million shekel fine from money she doesn’t have. Or, in other words, that she serve the entire 17 years she was sentenced to, and be damned with the attributes of mercy and compassion that Alon deserves.

Because in Israel, the law of the “pursuer” exists: The uncontrolled lust for revenge – in the guise of pursuing justice; cruelty for its own sake – masked as enforcing the law. Evil, evil thou shall pursue.

Etti Alon is not alone. There are criminals who will never find forgiveness; there are criminals who will be pursued throughout all the generations. Yigal Amir was sentenced not only to a life sentence – which is understandable, of course – but also to inhumane conditions of imprisonment, which included complete isolation for years. Why? Revenge and retribution.

Mordechai Vanunu was also thrown into solitary confinement for 11 straight years. Again, he did not win early release and, after serving 18 years in prison, was not really set free upon his release. Vanunu continues to be pursued outside of prison, too. Almost 11 years after his release, his movements are monitored and he is forbidden to leave Israel.

These restrictions have now reached their grotesque peak, when, in a reply to a petition submitted by his lawyers Avigdor Feldman and Michael Sfard, Home Front Command chief Maj. Gen. Eyal Eizenberg signed an order allowing this eternal prisoner to hold – get this – “A chance conversation orally with foreigners, as long as it is a onetime conversation, which takes place face to face, is not planned in advance, is held in a public place open to the general public, and takes place for a period no longer than 30 minutes.” Can you believe it?

The statute of limitations will never run out on the acts of a handful of the Israeli-Arab security prisoners who have been sitting in prison for 30 years already, without a single day of freedom. The government was willing to detonate the entire pseudo-peace negotiations with the Palestinians so long as, even in their old age, these men do not enjoy even a single day of freedom.

Walid Daka from Baka al-Garbiyeh, who denied his involvement, who changed his ways, will never enjoy forgiveness. Because that is how we are. The persecution and harassment know no bounds. First, draconian punishment for those whom the lust for revenge is directed at; second, the continuation of the persecution – in some cases, even after completion of the full sentence.

The last of the Nazi hunters still succeed occasionally in bringing some unfocused old man in a wheelchair, attached to a catheter, to trial in a city somewhere in Europe. No justice has been done in this; only satisfaction for the lust for revenge. And only the craving for revenge directs the State Prosecutor’s Office now in its objection to the release of Etti Alon.

Gideon Levy tweets at @levy_haaretz