by Anat Berko
Special to IPT News
August 2, 2013
Israeli society is currently dealing with the painful, emotional issue of the Israeli government’s willingness to release Palestinian murderers, “security prisoners,” from Israeli jails, part of the price demanded by the Palestinians for consenting to sit at a negotiating table with Israel.
When Gilad Shalit was released in 2011 after more than five years in a Hamas cellar, the prisoner exchange deal was universally accepted as the right thing to do. The entire country knew we would have to pay an outrageous price, but it was for the life and freedom of a young soldier who had been sent to defend his country. But “outrageous” did not mean too high, and Israel was willing to do anything to get him back safely and restore him to his family. The prisoner exchange deal also showed all IDF soldiers that the State of Israel would never abandon them. It made everyone feel that they would be proud to serve in such an army, and people spoke about nothing else for weeks.
Israel is not America. In America, most well-educated young people begin their adult lives after college, and the U.S. Army is a professional, volunteer army. In Israel, however, military service is compulsory and universal. University studies come after army service, and even decades later, the old school tie is never where you went to school but always what you did in the army. Your unit or corps immediately identifies your ability, motivation and love of country, and is source of immense pride for parents.
In April 1987, when Adi Moses was eight years old, a Palestinian terrorist threw a Molotov cocktail into the family car as it was passing through a West Bank village. The car caught fire and Adi’s pregnant mother and brother were killed; she bears the scars, both physical and emotional, to this day. Nevertheless, when it was a question of freeing Gilad Shalit, she said that painful as it was to release terrorists, she could accept it, as could the entire State of Israel.
Today, as Israeli-Palestinian negotiations are resumed, Adi is worried that, to convince the reluctant, intransigent Palestinians to sit across the negotiating table from Israel and engage in nine months of dialogue (after which there will probably be another intifada), the price will be the release of the Israel Arab who deliberately burned her mother and brother to death. Interviewed on television, she said she could not imagine a universe in which the cold-blooded murderer who destroyed her life and her family would get up in the morning, drink coffee and read the paper. Should that happen, she said, there would be no reason for her to go on living.
Unfortunately, that is exactly what every cold-blooded terrorist operative killer does in an Israeli jail. He gets up in the morning, meets his friends, eats breakfast, drinks coffee and spends the rest of the day in their company. If particularly motivated, he can get an Open University college degree. He will also receive first-class medical and dental care, courtesy of the Israeli taxpayer. In Israel, the attitude toward “security prisoners” – Palestinian terrorists – is less rigorously defined than, for instance in the United States.
There, terrorist murderers are sent to Guantanamo and held in solitary confinement. In Israel, although classified as terrorists, they are treated as prisoners of war. Their families are allowed to visit, the Red Cross comes to see them and the Geneva Conventions are in force – all of which were denied to Gilad Shalit. The various human rights organizations work day and night to improve their conditions, the same organizations that conveniently ignore the existence and rights of the families mourning the prisoners’ victims.
Moreover, as opposed to the ordinary felons who have to deal with the prison authorities on a one-to-one basis, the security prisoners have operational autonomy. In each jail, terrorists move within their own microcosms made up of prisoners from Hamas, Palestinian Islamic Jihad, Fatah, the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine, or even al-Qaida and Hizballah. Each group has its own spokesman. The spokesman’s role is to represent whichever organization he, and sometimes she, belongs to in dealing with the prison authorities.
In 2007, I interviewed members of the Hamas parliament after Shalit’s abduction. As I was speaking to deputy Hamas Prime Minister Abu Tir, he crooked a finger and a prisoner entered, a certified Hamas terrorist waiter, with a cup of coffee. For an instant, I forgot where I was. The prisoners’ conditions were idyllic: the radios were blasting Arabic music, the TV sets were tuned to Al-Jazeera, people were milling about, shouting at one another, I could smell food cooking, and I might as well have been a guest in the home of a Hamas leader.