Why Did Israel Release Prisoners in Exchange for Peace Talks, Why Did the Palestinian Authority Demand the Release as a Pre-Condition to Peace Talks, and Just Who Are the Prisoners Being Released?
Israel and the Palestinian Authority are about to restart face-to-face negotiations with to the stated goal of a peaceful resolution of the conflict. However, there appears to have been quite a bit of arm-twisting and pre-negotiation negotiations before this new round of negotiations could be announced. And some of these pre-negotiation negotiations involved so-called “pre-conditions”; in other words, demands that one side (the Palestinians) had before they would return to the negotiation table.
Much has been made of Israeli “settlement” construction (see “Are Israeli Settlements Really Such a Problem? A Primer” for a more in-depth discussion of settlements) and the Palestinian demand for a freeze in new construction as a pre-condition of renewed negotiations. Apparently, under pressure from Washington, the Palestinians dropped the settlement freeze as a pre-condition. However, another pre-condition was either added or maintained. Palestinians, before they would return to the negotiating table, demanded that Israel free 104 prisoners that had been in Israeli jails since prior to the signing of the Oslo accords in the early 1990s. Israel agreed to this demand (over much anguish and anger within Israeli society). The first group of 26 prisoners is being released this week.
I want to take a brief look at three elements of the prisoner release pre-condition.
First, why did Israel agree to release these prisoners? To me, it’s a sign of how much Israel really wants to find a way to restart peace negotiations. Much like the idea of trading land for peace, Israel is willing to make very painful and potentially dangerous concessions in the name of peace (or, in this case, in the name of a peace process). Those who reflexively criticize Israel for every action ought to consider this prisoner release. I’d also suggest reading my post Gilad Shalit and Israeli-Arab Prisoner Exchanges. Of course, I’m sure that some will see this prisoner release as a sign of Israeli weakness. I don’t.
Second, why do the Palestinians want these prisoners back so much that they are willing to block peace negotiations if these prisoners aren’t released?
Actually, put that question aside for a moment. Instead, let’s look at my third point: The identities of these Palestinian prisoners and the crimes that they committed. You won’t find much discussion of this in any news source (for that matter, few seem to even mention the prisoner release at all, focusing instead of the issue of settlements). Anyway, take some time to learn about these prisoners. Then come back and consider, once again, what this release means with regard to Israeli motives, intentions, and desires, and, more importantly, why the Palestinians want these prisoners released, presumably to re-enter Palestinian society either in the West Bank or Gaza.
1. Kour Matwa Hamed Faiz (Fatah. Born 1964, resident of Judea & Samaria, arrested 1985) was sentenced to one life term for his part in establishing an armed Fatah cell and for the murder of Menahem Dadon in 1983 and for another attempted murder. Menahem Dadon from Netivot was 22 years old when he was murdered. He had been sent by his employer to purchase building materials in Gaza and whilst in the shop, was shot in the head at point-blank range. He left a pregnant wife and two daughters.
2. Tsalah Ibrahim Ahmed Mugdad (Fatah. Born 1966, resident of Judea & Samaria, arrested 1993) was sentenced to 32 years imprisonment for the murder of Israel Tennenbaum and was due to be released on 13/6/2025. Born in Poland in 1921, Israel Tennenbaum from Moshav Vered was a farmer who also worked as a security guard at a hotel in Netanya despite being 72 years old at the time of his death. In June 1993 Tsalah broke into the hotel and murdered Israel Tennenbaum by beating him over the head with a steel rod. He also stole a television from the hotel.
3. Na’anish Naif Abdel Jafar Samir (Born 1967, resident of Judea & Samaria, arrested 1989) was sentenced to a life term for his part in the murder of 24 year-old reservist Binyamin Meisner in February 1989. Na’anish was part of a group which lured Meisner into an ally in Nablus (Schem) in which they had pre-prepared a stockpile of rocks. They then stoned Meisner to death.
4. Arshid A’Hamid Yusuf Yusuf (Fatah. Born 1968, resident of Judea & Samaria, arrested 1993) was sentenced to five life sentences after having been convicted of the murders of Nadal Rabu Jaab, Adnan Ayaad Dib, Mufid Canaan, Tawfik Jaradat and Ibrahim Said Ziad by stabbing. Arsheed was also indicted on several additional counts of attempted murder of others he also suspected of ‘collaboration’.
5. Al-Haj Othman Amar Mustafa (Fatah. Born 1968, resident of Judea & Samaria, arrested 1989) was sentenced to a life sentence for his part in the murder of 48 year-old Frederick Steven Rosenfeld in June 1989. Rosenfeld was hiking in the hills near Ariel when he came across a group of shepherds who stabbed him to death with his own knife and hid his body.
6. Matslah Abdallah Salama (Hamas. Born 1969, resident of the Gaza Strip, arrested 1993) was sentenced to one life sentence for the murder of Reuven David in Petah Tikva in 1991. Together with an accomplice, Matslah entered 59 year-old Iraqi-born Reuven David’s mini-market, tied him up, gagged him and then beat him to death, before escaping in the victim’s car. He left a wife, three children and several grandchildren.
7. Abu-Musa Salam Ali Atia (Fatah. Born 1971, resident of the Gaza Strip, arrested 1994) was convicted of the murder of Isaac Rotenburg from Holon as part of an initiation rite for joining a terror organisation and sentenced to one life sentence. Holocaust survivor Isaac Rotenberg was born in Poland. Most of his family was murdered in the Sobibor death camp, but Isaac managed to escape and joined the partisans. After the war he tried to make his way by ship to mandate Palestine, but was interred by the British and sent to a detention camp in Cyprus until 1947. After his release Isaac arrived in pre-state Israel and fought in the War of Independence. He continued his work as a plasterer even after pension age and in March 1994 was at his place of work in Petah Tikva when he was attacked by two Palestinian labourers with axes. He died, aged 67, two days later.
8. Miklad Mahmoud Ziad Salah (Fatah. Born 1973, resident of the Gaza Strip, arrested 1993) was sentenced to one life sentence for the murder of 39 year-old Yehoshua Deutch in Kfar Yam, Gush Katif, in March 1993. In addition he fired shots at an army post and tried to murder a local resident. Yehoshua Deutch grew flowers and it was in his greenhouse that he was stabbed in the heart by Miklad.
9. Tsualha Bad Almajid Mahamad (Fatah. Born 1973, resident of Judea & Samaria, arrested 1990) was sentenced to one life sentence for the murder – together with accomplices – of Baruch Heizler and the attempted murder of Betty Malka, Shai Cohen and Avishag Cohen in 1990 whilst he was still a minor. Baruch Heizler – named after his grandfather who was killed by Jordanian shelling of the Old City of Jerusalem during the War of Independence – was 24 when he was stabbed to death whilst travelling on the number 66 bus in Ramat Gan after having missed the ride to his seminary. Three other passengers were injured in the same attack.
10. Sha’at Aazat Shaba’an Aataf (Fronts. Born 1964, resident of the Gaza Strip, arrested 1993) was sentenced to 29 years’ imprisonment after having been convicted of accessory to murder and was due to be released on 14/3/2022. Sha’at drove his accomplices to and from the scene of the murder of 51 year-old Simcha Levi in Khan Yunis in 1993. Simcha Levi was born in Persia in 1942 and immigrated with her family to Israel in 1950, settling in Moshav Patish in the Negev. Simcha’s job was to drive Arab labourers to their place of work and on the day of her murder she picked up female labourers in Khan Yunis in the south Gaza Strip. Three terrorists disguised as women beat and stabbed her to death in her vehicle in a pre-planned attack.
11. Abdel-Aal Sayid Ouda Yusef (Born 1979, resident of the Gaza Strip, arrested in 1994) was sentenced to 22 years for, along with accomplices, throwing 2 grenades – which did not explode – at Border Police forces. On a different occasion, he placed a bomb next to a Border Police facility but the explosion did not cause damage. Also, he knew about the intention to harm a civilian and aided the process of his murder (Ian Sean Feinberg) by passing information to the perpetrators regarding the absence of soldiers in the area. Also, together with his cell, tortured a local resident suspected of collaboration. After he left the scene, the victim was murdered by his two accomplices. On a separate occasion, he intended to murder a local resident suspected of collaboration. Ian Sean Feinberg was born in South Africa and immigrated to Israel after finishing High School. Having qualified in law before his enlistment, he spent five years serving as a lawyer in the Gaza Strip and was later involved professionally with Palestinian economic development as a legal advisor. On April 18th 1993, during a business meeting in the Rimal neighborhood of Gaza City, terrorists burst into the room announcing that they had ‘come to kill the Jew’. They then murdered him with gunshots and an axe. Ian was 30 at the time of his death. He was survived by his wife and three children.
12. Barbach Faiz Rajab Madhat (PFLP. Born 1974, resident of the Gaza Strip, arrested in 1994) was sentenced to life imprisonment for, together with his accomplices, stabbing his employer (Moshe Becker) to death. Moshe Beker was born in Poland in 1933 and immigrated to mandate Palestine in 1935. On January 21st 1994, Moshe arrived at his orchard in Rishon L’Tsion to see whether his employee had arrived. He was ambushed there by three terrorists, who had slept on site and waited for him. They attacked him, stabbed him to death with a knife and a pair of pruning shears, and fled. Moshe, 61 at the time of his death, was survived by his wife and four children.
13. Raai Ibrahim Salam Ali (Fatah. Born 1957, resident of the Gaza Strip, arrested 1994) was sentenced to life imprisonment for the murder – using an axe – of 79 year-old Morris Aizenshtat who was sitting on a park bench in Kfar Saba reading a book at the time.
14. Nashbat Jabar Yusef Mahmed (Born 1961, resident of the Gaza Strip, arrested in 1990) was sentenced to 25 years for taking part in a lynching of an IDF soldier, Amnon Pomerantz. He was due to be released on 20/9/2015. Amnon Pomerantz was an electrical engineer and scientist and worked in research and development. On September 20th 1990, Amnon left his home in Havatzelet Hasharon for reserve duty in Gaza. Three hours later, he was brutally murdered by a gang of Palestinian rioters after he took a wrong turn on the way to his base and accidentally entered Al Burj Refugee Camp. After they threw rocks at him, they poured gasoline on his vehicle and ignited it with Amnon inside. It was noted that Nashbat did not express regret for his acts. Amnon was 46 at the time of his death. He was survived by his wife and three children.
15. Mortja Hasin Ghanam Samir (Hamas. Born in 1970, resident of the Gaza Strip, arrested 1993) was sentenced to 20 years in prison for his part in the abduction, interrogation, torture and murder of four local residents suspected of collaboration with the authorities – Samir Alsilawi, Khaled Malka, Nasser Akila, and Ali Al Zaabot. Also, he abducted local residents suspected of ‘moral crimes’ for interrogation. His release date was 28.10.2013.
16. Sualha Fazah Ahmed Husseini (Fatah. Born 1973, resident of Judea and Samaria, arrested 1990) was given a life sentence for stabbing Baruch Heizler to death on a bus together with an accomplice and also attempting to murder three additional female passengers. Baruch Heizler – named after his grandfather who was killed by Jordanian shelling of the Old City of Jerusalem during the War of Independence – was 24 when he was stabbed to death whilst travelling on the number 66 bus in Ramat Gan after having missed the ride to his seminary. Betty Malka, Shai Cohen and Avishag Cohen were injured in the same attack.
17. Ramahi Salah Abdallah Faraj (Fatah. Born in 1966, resident of the Gaza Strip, arrested 1992) was given a life term for killing Avraham Kinstler. Also, whilst in Israel without a permit, he broke into a car a stole a gun. While in prison, he tried to obtain a weapon for another prisoner in order to kidnap a soldier. Avraham Kinstler was born in Polish Galicia in 1908 and immigrated to mandate Palestine with his wife. On July 7th 1992, Avraham – who had not retired – went to work in his orchard as usual. There he was ambushed by a terrorist and murdered with a farming implement. Avraham was 84 years old at the time of his death. He was survived by three daughters and six grandchildren.
18. Abu-Sitta Ahmed Sayid Aladin (Fatah. Born 1970, resident of the Gaza Strip, arrested 1994) was sentenced to two life terms for killing David Dedi and Chaim Weitzman together with accomplices.
19. Abu-Sitta Taleb Mohammed Ayman (Fatah. Born 1971, resident of the Gaza Strip, arrested 1994) was given two life terms for breaking into an apartment in Ramle and murdering two people, David Dedi and Chaim Weitzman together with accomplices. Afterwards, they mutilated the bodies and cut off their ears as proof of the action. David Dadi was born in Tunis and immigrated to Israel as a child, settling in Ramla. On December 31st 1993, David, along with his acquaintance Chaim Weizman, was stabbed to death in his sleep in his flat in Ramla by labourers from Gaza who were working in a neighboring apartment. David was 43 at the time of his death. Chaim Weizman was born in Morocco. His family immigrated to Israel in 1962 and settled in Ramla. On December 31st 1993 – aged 33 – he was stabbed to death in his sleep by terrorists whilst staying at the apartment of his friend David Dadi. He was survived by his son, parents and siblings.
20. Mantsur Omar Abdel Hafiz Asmat (Born in 1976, resident of Judea and Samaria, arrested in 1993) was convicted of accessory to murder and sentenced to 22 years. He found out during work about the intention of his colleagues to murder a civilian (Chaim Mizrahi) and during the murder, helped the murderers to overpower the victim and after his death, placed the body in the boot of his car. Chaim Mizrachi grew up in Bat Yam and Holon, later moving to Beit El. On Friday, 29th October 1993, he went to buy eggs from an Arab-owned farm near his home, and was met by terrorists who attacked him and fled in his vehicle after wounding him and stuffing him into the car’s trunk. The terrorists murdered Chaim, then burned and abandoned the vehicle north of Ramallah. Chaim was 30 at the time of his death, and was survived by his pregnant wife, his parents, his sisters, and his brother. Half-a-year after his murder, his daughter was born.
21. Asakra Mahmad Ahmed Khaled (Fatah. Born 1972, resident of Judea & Samaria, arrested in 1991) was convicted of the murder of French national Annie Lei in April 1991 and sentenced to life imprisonment. 64 year-old Ms Lei was a tourist visiting Bethlehem and was eating in the restaurant where Asakra worked when he stabbed her to death.
22. Jandiya Yusef Raduan Nahad (Fatah. Born 1973, resident of the Gaza Strip, arrested in 1989) was sentenced to 25.5 years’ imprisonment for his part – whilst still a minor – in the murder of 64 year-old Zalman Shlein with his release due on 13/1/2015. Zalman Shlein was born in Poland and as a fifteen year-old boy was forced to escape Nazi persecution by leaving his home and family. He arrived in mandate Palestine in 1947 and settled in Gan Yavne where he married and raised his family, working as a building contractor. In July 1989 he was stabbed and beaten to death by Jandiya and another Arab labourer at a construction site. Jandiya later tried to escape from prison but was caught.
23. Hamdiya Mahmoud Awad Muhammed (Fatah. Born 1972, resident of the Gaza Strip, arrested in 1989) was also convicted of the murder of Zalman Shlein and sentenced to 25.5 years with his release scheduled for 13/1/2015. Like his accomplice, he also tried to escape from prison and was caught.
24. Abdel-Nebi a’Wahab Gamal Jamil (Hamas. Born 1963, resident of Judea & Samaria, arrested in 1992) was sentenced to 21 years’ imprisonment having been convicted of accessory to murder and was due to be released on 14/12/2013. Abdel-Nebi drove the getaway vehicle after a terrorist shooting at the Machpelah Cave in Hebron in October 1992 in which reservist Shmuel Geresh was killed and Ronen Cohen was injured. 32 year-old Shmuel Geresh – the son of Holocaust survivors – left a wife and two children.
25. Ziwad Muhammed Taher Taher (Palestinian Islamic Jihad. Born 1971, resident of Judea & Samaria, arrested 1993) was sentenced to 21 years in prison for his part (together with two others) in the fatal shooting of Avraham Cohen and was scheduled for release on 05/02/2014.
26. Tsabiach Abed Hamed Burhan was arrested in 2001 for the murder of four Palestinians – Jamil Mohammed, Naim Tsaviach, Ayisha Abdallah and Haradi Marwach.
Now I will acknowledge that several of these prisoners were convicted of attacking and/or murdering soldiers; perhaps, those attacks fall within the category of incidents related to armed conflict (a much broader discussion that I’m not conceding, other than for the point of this post). So, for purpose of this discussion (and this discussion only; I’m not conceding the point), I’ll put those prisoners aside and assume that the Palestinians have a legitimate interest in their release (be it as “political prisoners” or “prisoners of war” or whatever). But hacking old men to death with axes, stabbing tourists, or hiding out overnight to ambush the owner of an orchard, don’t seem to be much related to the actual conflict between Israel and the Palestinians. Rather, most of these crimes seem to be … well, crimes.
So imagine that you are one of the surviving family members of a victim of one of these crimes and you’ve learned that the person responsible for the death of your husband or father or loved one was being released from prison long before the end of his sentence. How would that make you feel? Is the resumption of peace negotiations (obviously, without any promise of fruition) worth it to you? Are you willing to trade the remainder of a lengthy prison sentence for negotiations? Why or why not? (Essays are due Monday, at least 2,500 words…)
But more curiously, ask again why the Palestinians demanded the release of these prisoners. Did you note that at least two of them were convicted, not of killing Israelis or Jews, but of killing other Palestinians who were merely suspected of collaboration with Israel? Does the Palestinian Authority — and do the Palestinian people — really consider these men to be heroes? Are they heroes worthy of holding up the prospect of peace talks? What is it about these men that makes their release so important that the Palestinians would be willing to forego peace negotiations absent their release? And what does all of that say about both the Palestinian Authority and the culture of Palestinians?
Or, think of it this way: Israel is willing to give up murderers for the potential of peace; Palestinians won’t talk about peace until they’ve won the release of murderers. Which brings me back to something I’ve paraphrased before from Alan Dershowitz: If the Palestinians were to put down their weapons, there would be peace; but if Israel were to put down its weapons, there would be genocide.