Look closely at this picture: The men triumphantly posing with Mahmoud Abbas are all convicted murderers. Qassem Hazem killed Holocaust survivor Isaac Rotenberg with an axe. Sharif Abu-Dahila stabbed Avi Osher, his employer for 15 years, to death. Haza’at Sa’adi and Othman Hussein shot Leah Elmakayes and Yossef Eliahu, both teachers, and threw their bodies into a water hole in the forest. And on and on - every last one of them.
The moral problematics in releasing these men are clear. Six of them, it turns out, murdered their victims after the Oslo agreement was signed, and that raises legal questions. But most of all, the reality in the background of this release is problematic: 3 Israelis were murdered in the West Bank in the last few weeks, 9-year old Noam Glick survived an attempted murder in her parents yard. Rockets were launched from Gaza the day this release was announced. You put your finger out in the air, and there are no winds of change out there. Not even a drift.
Palestinian terrorism goes systematically under-punished. Between all the instances of early releases from Israeli jails, it should be clear to the Palestinians who murder today that if they’re caught, they’re not going to really do the time. Only crime, no punishment. Some of the terrorists released today are in their early 40s, they still have sufficient number of years ahead of them, to raise a family, to pass on their legacy. The stark injustice in the opportunity given to them and the lack there of for their victims, is not something you want to correlate with a peace process.
What is the benefit to this cost? I wish there were metrics that can show the positive effect of releasing joyous killers on the level of trust between the peoples. I wish I could imagine a reality beyond the word “gestures”: a Palestinian John Doe saying “You know what? Now, that they’ve released these prisoners, I think I’m ready to believe them and to compromise”.
This seems far removed from reality, first because Palestinian public opinion sees the release as a successful blackmail, not as a gesture of kindness and good will. This is an aggressive exchange, rather than a gentle step towards understanding and reconciliation. Secondly, because attitudes, words and acts in the Palestinian territories seem to be inspired more by these men’s acts than by their supposed remorse and redemption. Inspiration that strengthens upon their release.
So what is the benefit to this cost? If trust is the goal, perhaps this is a qualifying consideration: When the current round of talks was announced, 85% of Israelis were against release of prisoners as a gesture. 70% said they didn’t believe anything will come out of these talks. How trusting are Israelis now? On the Israeli side of this coin, these releases, this masochistic ritual of anger, agony and philosophical wandering, is detrimental to the prospect of peace. Everything about it is in fact unbearably counter to peace.
To me, the Palestinians seem too proud and victorious for the moment. Where is the soul searching? The new realizations? One may imagine the amount of victimization and threats of imminent violence thrown around if the Palestinians had been required to go through soul searching. The picture of Abbas celebrating with murderers of women and children is telling. The occasion would be an embarrassment and a disaster to any leader of a civilized nation, but Abbas - he hugs them like they were heroic warriors returning with valor. Flip the coin and you find Palestinian celebrations that don’t lead to peace, but to the cement of the idea that terrorism is fine, it’s resistance, it’s legit. Celebrations that fuel the ugly Palestinian culture of glorification of terrorists and terrorism, which in turn guarantees the supply of fresh terrorists, and so on, and so on.
This is not a cost-benefit formula, it’s cost-cost. These releases are the fossil fuel to Palestinian violent nationalism’s CO2. I simply cannot imagine a vantage point from which an observing peace-lover may smile in satisfaction and note to himself: “Today was a good day for peace and good intentions.”
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