Today - 23rd April - Israel marks Yom Hazikaron. This is the day of the year designated for remembering the dead of our wars of defence against those who want to see our borders and our children removed from the map. It's also (since 1980) the day we officially stop and remember the civilian victims of terror in our land. At 11 this morning, the entire country will come to a stop for two minutes of silence (see picture). The op-ed article below, originally published by FrontPageMag, is written by Frimet Roth, one of the two editors of this blog. Publications and blogs who choose to reproduce it are encouraged to please reprint in full the contents of the paragraph at the very bottom.
A Remembrance Day to Forget
By FRIMET ROTH
Does Israel have a nuclear reactor? Most of us can only guess at the answer. But there is no ambiguity about another potent reactor, Israel's Prime Minister. Ehud Olmert has honed "reacting" into a fine art to the exclusion of almost every other leadership strategy.
His handling of the Gilad Shalit case has made this painfully obvious. As far as anyone can tell, Olmert's efforts to get Shalit freed have been focused solely on the idea of a mass prisoner release. The public has grown accustomed to this routine: the Palestinians submit a list of prisoners whose release they demand; Israel peruses it and then duly responds. With each rejection, with each protestation by Olmert that he will never release murderers, it's plain that his inevitable cave-in has drawn nearer.
Is there no other way? Why haven't key Palestinian players been abducted for use as bargaining chips? Why haven't collective penalties, like disconnecting water or electricity, been meted out to Palestinian civilians. If they felt the repercussions of Shalit's abduction, they would take to the streets to demonstrate against their own leaders. We've seen them do this forcefully when the subject was unpaid public service salaries.
Israelis have come to accept as dogma that a mass release of Palestinian prisoners is the only way to bring Shalit home. And Olmert, nursing political injuries and maintaining a low profile, has carefully avoided any pro-active steps that might correct that misconception.
This year many bereaved families like mine will miss out on the customary collective hug and comforting words of past Remembrance Days. Instead we will be grappling with news of the impending release of our children's murderers: fresh salt on a chronic wound.
What this dreaded move tells me is that, in the eyes of some Israelis, my daughter's murderer is less evil than other murderers; that they don't deem him as worthy of lifetime incarceration as other mass murderers. The columnist Dan Shavit writing in YNet says it explicitly in a piece entitled "Return Shalit at any Price". A terrorist with blood on his hands, he writes, is different from your garden variety killer. He is a "pawn… bargaining chip… political merchandise", not merely a "regular criminal offender".
Abdullah Barghouti was convicted of murdering 65 innocent Israelis in addition to my daughter. I find it very difficult to comprehend why he should walk free because he also happens to be a card-carrying member of Hamas.
Other lame arguments for releasing convicted mass murderers have been making the rounds of opinion columns. One is that this is not the first mass prisoner release to be agreed by Israel so why the big deal? The obvious answer is that previous mistakes, deadly miscalculations, need to be avoided rather than repeated.
It is also argued that many of these prisoners conduct terrorist activities from prison in any case, so why bother to incarcerate them. The fact is that under our absurdly lenient prison policies, prisoners do enjoy outrageous perks. Celebrity murderer Marwan Barghouti, for instance, has conducted innumerable political meetings behind prison walls including a 30-minute phone call with PA Chairman Mahmoud Abbas from the prison warden's private office that attracted media attention. But the logical response to this is to right the wrong, not to exacerbate it.
No-one seriously disputes today that a substantial percentage of Palestinians release in previous deals - perhaps as many as 40 percent - have continued their terror activities. Proponents of the proposed release try to emphasize that not all do. Zvi Bar'el laconically writes in Haaretz: "Some of them returned to hostile activity and some did not." (Leaving us to wonder whether "hostile activity" is a euphemism for murder.)
Does Bar'el say this in order to reassure anyone? Has he forgotten that the Park Hotel and Cafe Hillel terror attacks were planned and executed by released security prisoners who had never even been convicted of murder? Those outrages took 27 innocent Israeli lives.
What can we expect then from someone like Barghoutti with 65 victims to his name already? A man who has proven that his passion is murder must never be set free.
There are those who opine that many of Israel's prisoners are involved in terrorism only peripherally and that the definition of "terrorist" has been stretched unreasonably to include them. Dan Shavit makes this preposterous comment about Israel's traditional attitude towards prisoners with 'blood on their hands': "[It] is an elusive definition that can be interpreted in flexible ways and is mostly "literary" rather than "legal".
To Shavit, I would say: The makers of the bombs that murder our children, in my case Abdullah Barghouti, are not "literary" killers; They are the primary culprits.
The reality is that Izzadin Al-Masri and Ahlam Tammimi - who jointly executed the Sbarro bloodbath in which my daughter died - would have vented their hatred of Jews even without Barghouti's input. But they would have carried a knife or a gun, instead of a guitar case packed with ten kilograms of explosives and with nails, nuts and bolts for heightened lethality. Barghouti alone turned their attack into a massacre.
I can never forgive the Prime Minister of the state I embraced nineteen years ago for rewarding my child's murderer with freedom. But I wonder why the rest of my people are willing to forgive him. He is demolishing Israel's justice system. He is erasing court decisions that were based on careful thought and deliberation and replacing them with his whim. Can we survive, in the words of our sages, in a society of "leit din v'leit dayan"-"no laws and no judges"?
A convicted murderer is a convicted murderer regardless of the political context. But especially, in our current precarious reality, surrounded by avowed enemies who regularly reiterate their bloody intentions, releasing convicted murderers is nothing short of insanity.
Frimet Roth is a freelance writer based in Jerusalem who frequently contributes articles dealing with terrorism and with issues connected with special-needs children. She and her husband founded and run (as unpaid volunteers) the Malki Foundation (www.kerenmalki.org) in memory of their fifteen year-old daughter who was murdered at the age of 15 in a terror attack on a Jerusalem restaurant in 2001. The foundation provides concrete support for Israeli families of all religions who care at home for a special-needs child.