Photo Credit: Asher Schwartz

It was a cool Monday morning outside the bustling Mahane Yehuda market when two teenaged cousins from northern Jerusalem decided to attack. Armed with scissors, Hadil and Nurhan Awad sought their prey, choosing an elderly man as their first victim. Had the girls been successful, several Jews may have been killed or wounded. Fortunately, they were not.

After mistaking a Bethlehem resident for a Jew and lightly wounding him, both girls were shot by an alert police officer whose calls to halt were of no avail as the two continued to threaten pedestrians with violent motions. Hadil died on the spot while her cousin is recuperating in an Israeli hospital. (She is already in the midst of filing a complaint with police for “ruthlessly” neutralizing her.) The question arises: was it not possible to avoid the death of Hadil and minimize the damage done to Nurhan?


In truth, Hadil and Nurhan’s case is but one of a number where some have begun to consider whether it would have been preferable to simply “neutralize” the terrorists without taking their lives. In fact, a recent survey carried out by the Israel ‎Democracy Institute found that a majority (53 percent) of Israelis support security forces eliminating “neutralized” terrorists “though they no longer pose a threat.” ‎Indeed, the issue is not a new one. In 1984, in what was one of the most notable cases, two Arab terrorists hijacked the Egged 300 bus line and were subsequently killed by security forces after already having been “neutralized” during the hostage rescue. The debate had already begun.

And so a number of leading rabbis, among them Safed Chief Rabbi Shmuel Eliyahu and senior Haredi posek Rabbi Ben-Tzion Mutzafi, ruled that it is not only permitted to take the life of a “neutralized” terrorist, but a requirement. Eliyahu noted that when Moses saw a fellow Jew being attacked by an Egyptian taskmaster, he did not “neutralize” him but slew him. Both Eliyahu and Mutzafi felt that the notion of sparing “neutralized” terrorists stemmed not from Jewish law but from a desire to impress those who have adopted a foreign code of values.

On the other hand, others have opposed the idea on what they perceived to be moral grounds. Last week, the far-left B’Tselem non-governmental organization sent a letter to the Prime Minister calling the recent “executions” a product of “moral bankruptcy.” The letter was signed by the group’s executive director Hagai Elad, a man who adamantly refuses to label Hamas a terror organization until this day. While the mere condemnation of the “executions” by such a figure should serve as reason enough to consider supporting them, here are five additional reasons why sparing a “neutralized” terrorist is not necessarily the wisest decision.

1. You can’t be sure he’s actually been neutralized

Outside of the realm of theory, as witnessed in several cases, a terrorist cannot be fully declared “neutralized” until he’s dead. There have been a number of attacks reported in the past whereby a terrorist, initially believed to be neutralized, continued to attack those around him. In one gruesome attack last month, a Jerusalem Arab rammed his car into a group of several Jews standing at a bus stop in Geula. He then exited his vehicle and murdered one of his injured victims with a meat cleaver, whereby the terrorist was shot by a nearby security guard. He fell, but rose up again, leading the guard to fire again. The terrorist then lunged at the guard and was shot a third time. Border Police then arrived at the scene and, seeing the terrorist proceed to rise up yet again, fired at him once again. He was subsequently arrested. Other cases involved terrorists who, while faking dead, opened fire at soldiers on patrol.

2. To deter future attacks

While many Arabs are more than willing to give their lives to attack Jews, many more are not as willing. One of the reasons many Arabs are deterred from attacking Jews is simply because they do not wish to be attacked and killed themselves. This is evident from the fact that the vast majority of Arabs in Israel approve of the terror perpetrated against Jews, with Israeli Arab Knesset Members defending the attacks as both legitimate and laudable, and yet only a minority of these supporters have, themselves, taken to violent actions.

Now let us imagine for a moment that Israelis adopted an uncompromising policy whereby the moment a terrorist is “neutralized” he would no longer be harmed under any circumstances, guaranteed. How quickly the word would spread and how many more Jews would be dead. All the Arabs who hitherto refrained from attacking Jews due to their unwillingness to be attacked or killed in the process, would run to the streets stabbing and ramming and killing until the moment a crowd closes in or an armed officer approaches. At that moment, the terrorist would drop his weapon, raise his hands, smirk and proclaim, “I am now ‘neutralized,’ you may not touch me.” This would be the end of a vital deterrent.

3. Justice will not be served otherwise

Whether a terrorist serves his full sentence or is released early, justice will not have been served. If the purpose of prison is to punish the perpetrator, causing him to rethink his actions in order that he never have to return to serve time, then Israel’s prisons have failed miserably when it comes to terrorists.

One reads of thousands of Arab prisoners convicted of terror acts against Jews, receiving stipends totaling 100 million dollars a year from the ‎Palestinian Authority with pay in proportion to the severity of the terror perpetrated. One reads of convicted terrorists privileged with an abundance of quality food, family visits, board games and courtyard breaks where they can enjoy some sun, a breeze and socialize with fellow terrorists. Prisoners are offered a variety of workshops and courses, while basketball, soccer and ping pong matches are common. Radios and televisions abound, with some “lucky” prisoners gaining access to ‎satellite Arab television. One doesn’t know whether to laugh or cry when reading an interview with one Israeli Arab inmate who stated: “I feel like I am in a hotel, nothing is lacking” while showing off a spacious cell with perks including bookshelves and a private bathroom. Many terrorists also have access to cellphones, despite official policy. Thus, just a few months ago, imprisoned Hamas chief Abdullah Barghouti, responsible for dozens of attacks, held a telephone interview with Gaza radio from within the confines of his cell.

And so one reads of Israel nabbing terror cells planning ‎attacks from within prisons. Yet, more disturbing than the decent conditions provided for these terrorists is the fact that they are likely to be released, no matter how heinous the crime committed. And so the prisons have become the means by which terrorists live well, get paid and then leave for home, all without need for relinquishing terror activity.

And so meet Samir Kuntar, the Lebanese Druze terrorist who kidnapped and killed Danny Haran and his 4-year-old daughter Einat off the coast of Nahariya. Danny was shot by Kuntar in the back and forcibly drowned at sea. Kuntar then barbarically smashed little Einat’s skull against rocks until she died. During his imprisonment, Kuntar married an Israeli Arab woman who received a monthly stipend from the Israeli government due to her status as a prisoner’s spouse. He received conjugal visits, took online courses provided by the Open University of Israel and graduated with a bachelor’s degree in social and political science. (He is but one of the many Arab prisoners who enroll as students with the Open University.) Kuntar was eventually released, given a hero’s welcome back home and granted a medal of honor by the President of Syria.

And so meet Abed Alaziz Salaha, the notorious Arab photographed in Ramallah nearly 15 years ago proudly displaying his blood-soaked hands after having taken part in the strangling, stabbing and disembowelment of two Israeli soldiers. Salaha was sentenced to life in prison but, lo and behold, was released within a few years. ‎Government guarantees proved worthless. Michael Norzich, brother of one of the lynched soldiers, stated that: “Prime Minister Ehud Barak personally promised me that this terrorist [Salaha] would never see the light of day. I knew then that he was lying and that it was only a matter of time.”

And so meet Al-Sayd, a prisoner sentenced to 35 life sentences and then released. Concerning his harsh sentence, Al-Sayd stated: “Life sentences of the occupation [Israel] are meaningless… the success of the resistance [Hamas and Hezbollah] in kidnapping of occupation soldiers and the carrying out of [prisoner] exchanges have made these [prison] sentences meaningless.” [Al-Hayat Al-Jadida, July 19, 2008]

These are but a few cases of what is a reality for countless terrorists in the Israeli prison system. Justice? Hardly. And this brings us to reason number four.

4. If taken prisoner, he will serve as a strong incentive for more kidnappings

Every terrorist who sits in an Israeli prison is another reason for terrorists to kidnap Israelis, for they have learned well that terror pays – and it pays well. Numerous exchanges of terrorists over the years have convinced the Arab world that it only takes a few kidnapped Israelis to free hundreds and thousands of terrorists from Israeli prisons. After one such exchange, Abbas Zaki, the Lebanese PLO Executive Committee representative, stated: “Israel has now become a paper tiger; it is weak.”

After the Shalit prisoner swap, Khaled Mashaal, head of the Hamas political bureau, stated: “The resistance [Hamas] which has succeeded in capturing Gilad Shalit… is capable of capturing another Shalit and another Shalit and another Shalit, until not a single prisoner will remain in the enemy’s jails.” One Hamas cleric declared on Al-Aqsa TV: “I want to tell the residents of Gaza that the next captives’ exchange deal will be stronger and more painful for the descendants of monkeys and pigs [i.e. Jews]… you [Israel] will pay dearly for this deal [prisoner exchange], and in the deals that will follow it, and in the deals that will follow those.”

In 2011, the renowned Saudi cleric Sheik Awadh al-Qarani offered a financial reward ‎of 100,000 dollars for anyone who would manage to kidnap an Israeli soldier to be exchanged for ‎more Palestinian prisoners. Four days later, the Saudi royal Prince Khaled bin Talal raised the stakes ‎to one million dollars.‎ Subsequently, reports of kidnapping attempts targeting soldiers has risen significantly, with over 400 Israeli ‎soldiers reporting being subject to a kidnapping attempt in one year alone. ‎

5. The terrorist is likely to attack again

Many released terrorists, after having been received in their hometown as national heroes, have been re-arrested or killed after having resumed terrorist activities. According to data compiled by the Israeli government, many released prisoners have resumed paramilitary ‎activity, joined Hamas leadership positions, ‎developed weapons, fired rockets, recruited members for terror cells, planted bombs, plotted to ‎kidnap Israeli soldiers, rioted, hurled Molotov cocktails and handled funding for ‎terrorism. Thus, after serving nearly 30 years in Israeli prison, Samir Kuntar stated in an interview with Al-Jadid TV, that: “Hopefully, I will get the chance to kill more Israelis.”

While Kuntar is hoping, a number of Israelis have already been murdered in incidents involving released prisoners who hastened to return to militant activity. They include the recent murders of Malachi Rosenfeld, Danny Gonen and Baruch Mizrachi. Even the murders of Naftali Frenkel, Gilad Sha’ar and Eyal Yifrah were directed by a Gaza-based terrorist who had previously been released from prison. While many terrorists have returned to terror, more “moderate” terrorists have undertaken to merely educate others to attack. Wafa al Biss, originally convicted for being caught with 22 lbs. of explosives, told Gaza schoolchildren shortly after her release that she hopes they follow her lead. “G-d willing, we will see some of you as martyrs,” Reuters reported her saying. Additionally, soldiers who are given the task of re-arresting terrorists who return to terror activity risk being wounded or killed in the process, needlessly.

In conclusion, one must understand that sparing a terrorist is simply immoral. There is nothing good that can come out of such a decision. Let us not be overly “pious.” Nachmanides put it best when he stated that, “through the mercy of fools all justice is lost.” Let us seek out justice, true justice; let us possess mercy, but real and intelligent mercy for all those who have been attacked and all those who may someday be attacked if we fail to understand.


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Mark Cohen made aliyah nearly 15 years ago from the United States and currently lives and teaches in the heart of Jerusalem.