Each time Israel prepares to let loose convicted arch-terrorists with blood on their hands, families of the victims and Almagor, the association that represents them, appeal against the impending releases to the High Court of Justice. It’s a hackneyed ritual whose results are already well-known in advance. There is never any variation and therefore never really any likelihood of a different outcome.
None of the participants in this tragically rerun melodrama has any delusions about how it will end.
Of course, our selectively interventionist Supreme Court’s record is full of precedents where it overruled government decisions. Nonetheless, the state recurrently couches its arguments in the need to uphold the executive branch’s decisions on various diplomatic deals. This purportedly takes precedence over prolonged and punctilious legal procedures and trials in which the perpetrators in question were duly convicted of some of the most heinous crimes imaginable.
These defendants were accorded full rights and the convictions can stand up to the most stringent legal scrutiny by any objective observer.
Yet these convicts are in the final analysis not treated as convicts but at most as prisoners of war whose incarceration is subject to give-and-take between the combatant sides. If the entire furor indeed revolved around POWs, then there’s ample legal logic to the state’s claims. Enemy troops captured in the course of battle can be held until such a time in which a mutually agreed swap is arranged. They are not criminals, were never tried in court and are by no definition convicts.
This patently is not the case with convicted terrorists, especially ones who also happen to be Israeli citizens. In their case, in addition, to homicide they also committed treason. They had their day in court and were sentenced – in many cases to multiple life sentences.
The legal status of convicts should altogether put them entirely out of bounds for either swaps (as in the Gilad Schalit case) or to express “goodwill gestures” as payment for kick-starting the current negotiating round with the Palestinian Authority.
Citing diplomatic considerations should be as much of a non-starter as criteria for premature release as it would be in a hypothetical case in which the government would decide to imprison anyone because of diplomatic undertakings.
It is unthinkable in our legal culture that a government would accede to the demands of a foreign ruler and put given persons behind bars as “a confidence-building measure” to appease said foreign ruler. By any reasonable yardstick, this would make mockery out of our legal system and national sovereignty.
Yet the identical is true in reverse. Citing diplomatic expedience as the rationale for absolving coldblooded mass-murderers from serving out their terms undermines our judiciary and independence in exactly the same manner.
In effect, we are giving power to a foreign ruler – PA chairman Mahmoud Abbas in this instance – to determine how long the murderers of Israelis would serve. In these circumstances we might as well close down out courts entirely and leave everything up to Abbas.
If the murderers of entire families are arbitrarily set free by his say-so, it’s not inconceivable that he would eventually demand the liberation of Amjad Mahmad Awad and Hakim Mazen Awad of Awarta, who in 2011 butchered five members of the Fogel family in Itamar – mother, father and their three children. The Awads, who decapitated a three-month-old infant, are already celebrated as heroes and role models in the PA-controlled media, schools and mosques.
Those whom Abbas now demands released to buy his entry into the talks, were guilty of no less bloodcurdling slaughters, even if these took place years earlier.
The fact that Abbas’s influence now extends to Israeli-Arabs is the most disturbing as it creates a clear precedent of incontrovertible discrimination. No wonder several Jews convicted of terrorist acts are already now preparing to petition the courts to cut short their sentences as well.
If the sentences of some Israelis can be commuted, why not those of others? Surely, the court cannot formally favor Arabs over Jews as that undercuts the principle of equality before the law.