What About Those Who Murdered Innocent Palestinians?

Unlike the prisoners released this week, the Israeli soldiers and settlers who have blood on their hands never even served time in jail.

Anat Matar
Anat Matar
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Anat Matar
Anat Matar

The murderers of Nibin Jamjum, a 14-year-old girl, were not released this week. Neither were the murderers of Yousef Fahkri Ikhlayl, 15. Neither was the soldier who fired a tear gas canister at point blank range at Mustafa Tamimi; nor the soldier who killed Bassam Abu Rahma during a quiet demonstration, or the pilot who dropped a one-ton bomb on the home of [Hamas military commander] Salah Shehadeh in Gaza, killing, in addition to Shehadeh himself, 14 civilians, including three-year-old Muhammad Khweiti, three-year-old Ahmad Ashwa, five-year-old Dinia Matar and her three younger brothers Muhammad, Iman and Radia. No, none of these murderers was released this week.

How can it be that none of these killers was included in any of the prisoner releases and not one is expected to be released in the near future? The answer, of course, is that they were never put on trial. They did not serve long prison sentences, cut off from their families and communities. They did not fight the occupation; they were its strong arms. The police, who had access to much more than sporadic clues, did not arrest the settlers who killed Jamjum in her home. Nor was it difficult to locate the settlers who fired shots at Ikhlalyl in the middle of Safa village. The identity of the soldiers who aimed and fired tear gas canisters at close range is known, but a decision was made not to put them on trial. Whereas the pilot and his commanders, it appears, “demonstrated all along,” according to the Strasberg-Cohen Special Investigatory Commission, “awareness and sensitivity to the issue of possible injury to uninvolved citizens and the obligation to avoid harming them or reduce harm as much as possible, so it maintains proportionality.”

The hypocrisy that characterizes the public discourse on the issue of the release of Palestinian prisoners is getting worse. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu reprimands Mahmoud Abbas for his celebration of the prisoners’ release, saying that “murderers are not heroes,” and no eyebrows are raised. All the speakers interviewed on radio broadcasts – including those who support prisoner release, such as Meretz MKs and analysts considered moderate – writhe in discomfort facing the release of people imprisoned decades ago, giving no thought to the fact that in their very own neighborhoods, murderers no less vile than the Palestinians walk free. According to data provided by the B'Tselem human rights agency, since the assault on Gaza five years ago, about 100 minors and women have been killed in the occupied territories by Israeli security forces. Who are the murderers of these people? We do not know, and we shall never know.

What happened to the investigations of their cases? Were they put on trial? Sent to prison? These questions are easily answered.

I’m not asking for a mutual settling of accounts, for more and more prison terms on all sides. On the contrary: We can learn something from the way in which some of the major political problems of the twentieth century were settled, and think of a path that will lead to the end of the occupation and a just political solution for our region as well. The release of the Palestinian prisoners is an important step on the way to mutual reconciliation and forgiveness.

The writer teaches philosophy at Tel Aviv University and is the chair of the Israeli Committee for the Palestinian Prisoners.

Mustafa Tamimi just after he was hit by a tear gas canister that killed him. Credit: AP

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