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Turning Killers Into Heroes

We have in the past expressed our dismay at U.S. pressure on Israel to release Palestinians from prison – many of them serving life sentences for murdering Israeli citizens – as confidence-building gestures to promote the peace process. That dismay was only exacerbated by the unwillingness of the U.S. to release convicted Israeli spy Jonathan Pollard, imprisoned now for nearly three decades.

After all, as Edward Snowden recently confirmed, countries spy on each other (friend and foe alike) all the time; the murder of civilians for political gain, on the other hand, still strikes civilized people as far from routine. So it always struck us as hypocritical that Israel was expected to release cold-blooded killers almost as a matter of habit while the U.S. balked at letting Pollard go.

The issue came into focus again this week with the news that Israel and the U.S. may be close to a deal in which Pollard would be freed in exchange for hundreds of Palestinian prisoners, a settlement freeze, and an Israeli commitment to extend negotiations well beyond Secretary of State Kerry’s original sell-by date.

Whether or not Mr. Pollard ends up in Israel as part of a release agreement, there is still something unseemly about Israel’s repeated and wholesale freeing of so many hard-core terrorists and criminals, a practice that subverts any notion of justice having been served and that turns the released monsters into heroic figures in the minds of impressionable young Palestinians.

And it’s not just young Palestinians who are given to romanticizing the deeds of freed killers. Naïve Western liberals are susceptible to falling hard for the well-worn trope of the political revolutionary who stoically serves his time only to emerge from his jail cell a better person. Exhibit A: New York Times Jerusalem bureau chief Jodi Rudoren, whose front-page mash note to a freed Palestinian prisoner this past Sunday read more like a cheesy romance novel than a dispatch by a foreign correspondent for a once great and still influential American newspaper.

Titled “Remaking a Life, After Years in an Israeli Prison,” Ms. Rudoren’s long article was filled with passages of the following cringe-inducing quality:

 

Muqdad Salah is a man in a hurry.

He inhales food, and bristles at lateness. His wife, Kefaya, said he expected her to make rooms immaculate immediately, “like a magician.” They married in November, and he is already pressing her to start fertility treatments.

“I want a son – or a daughter – I want someone to inherit me,” said Mr. Salah, 47, one of 78 long-serving Palestinian prisoners freed from Israeli jails as part of the American-brokered peace talks that started last summer….

It has been seven months since Mr. Salah was welcomed before dawn by a cacophonous crowd in this village of 4,000 near the Palestinian financial hub of Nablus….

Demonized as terrorists by Israelis and lionized as freedom fighters by Palestinians, prisoners like Mr. Salah have become a flash point in the troubled peace talks…. Amid the charged debate, these middle-aged men – 69 of them convicted of murder, 59 of them escaping life sentences – have begun to rebuild disrupted lives. They are earning their first drivers licenses, leveraging $50,000 grants from the Palestinian Authority to build apartments or start businesses, searching for wives and struggling to start families.

Mr. Salah was flush with more than $100,000 saved from the Palestinian Authority’s monthly payments to prisoners’ families. He remodeled and refurnished his mother’s home. He bulldozed the rocky slope out back and built a 2,400-square-foot pen for livestock. He invested in a Nablus money-changing storefront in December, and, last month, bought his first car, a silver 2007 Kia Pride.

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