There’s a well-known story the late Rabbi Meir Kahane used to relish telling:
In 1985, Israel’s Shamir government carried out a prisoner exchange with the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine-General Command, releasing 1,150 Arabs incarcerated for terrorist activities against Israelis in exchange for three Israeli soldiers. All the “Palestinian revolutionaries” had signed agreements before their release foreswearing any future violent activity. Three days after release, one of these “repentant activists” was brought into an Israeli hospital’s emergency room; he had blown himself up – what is commonly called a “work accident” these days – preparing a bomb for his next “revolutionary act” of murdering innocent Israeli shoppers.
Kahane, at the time a member of Knesset, had received a phone call from one of the doctors involved and tried to publicize the incident in the Israeli media. He spoke to several journalists, giving them full details. After a couple of days went by and nothing appeared in the newspapers or on radio or television, he again contacted the journalists and was told that the military censor had blocked the story.
Kahane tried several more journalists, waited, and got the same response. He then contacted the censor’s office itself, and was told that the government didn’t want the public to know that the released terrorists were returning to “work.” Rather than warn the public to be on heightened alert – and by implication admit to a failed policy – the Israeli government chose a media blackout.
Later, after the first intifada “broke out” in December 1987, many among the leadership were traced back to that prisoner release.
Zoom ahead to December 1992. Yitzhak Rabin is now prime minister, and he “exiles” 400 Hamas and Islamic Jihad terrorists to Marj az-Zuhour in Southern Lebanon. The international media portray their daily struggles against hunger, cold weather, etc., when in fact they get hold of cell phones, make contact with Hizbullah operatives, and for months receive continuous Jihadist indoctrination, bomb-making lessons, and practice in guerrilla warfare techniques.
In an interview on Israel Television the night of the expulsions, Rabin explained his decision to temporarily deport the Hamas and Islamic Jihad activists, saying, “I was motivated, on the one hand, by the reality of the situation. The reality in recent months has been a worsening of murderous terrorist activities by fundamentalist Islamic organizations such as Hamas, such as the Islamic Jihad…At the same time, I considered the political and legal ramifications.”
Rabin said that in his view, the action was not a deportation, even if it was described as such by legal terminology: “This is the temporary removal of inciters and abettors to inciters of repugnant acts of murder. Some of them for two years, some temporarily removed for one year.” He added that a great deal of thought had been given to what means were necessary to fight terrorism. “…Let’s not forget,” he said, “what alternatives did we have? Capital punishment, destruction of houses?”
Interestingly, an Israeli poll conducted right after the deportation showed that 91 percent of the public supported the government’s decision to deport the Hamas and Islamic Jihad terrorists. Those surveyed were also asked how they thought this act would influence terrorism. Fifty-five percent answered that it would reduce terrorism; 26 percent thought it would intensify terrorism; and 18 percent said it would have no influence.
The UN Security Council strongly condemned Israel for these temporary expulsions and threatened sanctions. Under mounting international criticism and wishing to avoid such sanctions, the Rabin government offered to take back more than a hundred of the exiled terrorists and to cut in half the time of exile for the remaining terrorists. By September 1993, half of the deportees had returned to Israel and the remainder – with the exception of eighteen who decided to remain in Lebanon to avoid arrest – returned in December 1993. Not coincidentally, terror by Hamas and Islamic Jihad has grown exponentially since the mid-
Fast forward to late July 2003. The Israeli cabinet decides, by a 14-9 vote prior to Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon’s trip to Washington, to release 540 Palestinian prisoners, including more than 400 Hamas, Islamic Jihad, and Fatah terrorists. These include relatively senior officials in Hamas’s civilian leadership in the West Bank, as well as activists who served as liaisons with Hamas’s leadership overseas – people involved in arranging the transfer of
funds to Hamas institutions in the territories or military training for Hamas members.
All this is being done as a “confidence building measure” to convince the Palestinians and Americans that Israel wants to move forward on the road map peace plan. But Palestinian Prime Minister Mahmoud Abbas has consistently said this is not enough, flatly stating that Israel “must release 6,000 prisoners in order to push the road map forward.”
It’s true that President George W. Bush, after meeting with Abbas at the White House, said, “We ought to look at the prisoner issue on a case-by-case basis…Surely nobody wants to let a cold-blooded killer out of prison….I would never ask anybody in any society to let a prisoner out who would then commit terrorist actions.”
And it’s true that Sharon, with Bush in Washington a few days later, said that he and the president agreed there would be no release of Palestinian prisoners ‘with blood on their hands’ or those likely to return to terrorism or prisoners who, when released in the past, resumed terror activities.
But how can we be guaranteed that isn’t exactly what will happen, since it keeps happening?
Sensing the weakening of Israeli resolve, Hizbullah leader Sheik Hassan Nasrallah Nasrallah called upon Germany to send an emissary for a final attempt at reaching a mutually agreeable deal for a prisoner exchange with Israel. Nasrallah threatened that if a deal were not reached, Hizbullah would resume the abduction of Israelis.
Hizbullah, which taught Hamas and Islamic Jihad terror techniques and set the example of how to drive the mighty Israeli army out of a field of operations, is now learning from the Palestinian prime minister, who, in violation of the road map, has publicly refused to disarm and dismantle Hamas, Islamic Jihad and the other terror groups, all the while demanding the release of thousands more terrorists.
Israeli government policy regarding terrorist prisoner releases may not have changed much over the last two decades, but there are some signs of improvement among the Israeli people. A telephone poll, which included Israeli Arabs, conducted for Israel Radio in early July asked: Do you support or oppose the release of Hamas and Islamic Jihad prisoners who are labeled as being “without blood on their hands” within the framework of the negotiations with the Palestinians? Only 43.4 percent supported it, 48.5 percent opposed, and 8.1 percent held no opinion.
In another Israel Radio poll taken at the end of July (also including Israeli Arabs), respondents were asked, Do you support the decision of the government to release Hamas and Islamic Jihad prisoners who do not have ‘blood on their hands’? Opposition to the release had risen to 80 percent while only 14 percent supported it. (Six percent gave no reply.) Clearly, Israelis today don’t believe in the “ostrich” approach – the hope that by ignoring terror it will somehow go away.
Israel Defense Forces Chief of Staff Lt.-Gen. Moshe Yaalon told reporters at the Tel HaShomer Army Base recently that the IDF is preparing for a renewal of terrorism, “as the Palestinian Authority is currently not dismantling the terror infrastructures….There could be an interim period of quiet, maybe even a long one, but I’m starting to count the days until the next outbreak of violence.”
Yaalon explained that the terrorists are taking advantage of the hudna – the temporary cease-fire – to manufacture combat materials.
How much will this latest prisoner release bolster their forces and abilities?
There’s a well-known story the late Rabbi Meir Kahane used to relish telling: