On Tuesday, August 26, the Israeli government is set to release Palestinian prisoners as the first stage of a larger 104-person release. Israel announced the prisoner liberation prior to renewed peace talks between the embattled sides, which are set to take place on Wednesday in Jerusalem. Regardless of Israel’s political dilemma and strategic implementation, the release of hardened terrorists raises a moral question that must be addressed.
The Israeli government is well aware of the implications of the release and its political consequences. Israeli Defense Minister, Moshe Ya’alon, discussed the government's decision, saying it was “not between good and evil, but between bad and worse, and we concluded that it was better to avoid the worse alternative.”
Although they are releasing prisoners as a gesture of goodwill before the resumption of peace talks, there are unintended effects that also must be accounted for. Aside from the obvious pain it causes the families of the victims, it lifts the morale of terrorist groups and increases the likelihood of further extortion for terrorist release.
After Israel released 20 Palestinian terrorists in 2009, Khaled Meshaal, leader of the terrorist organization Hamas, stated, “This is a national achievement for the Palestinian people … We promise the rest of the Palestinian detainees to liberate them," he said. "Those released will return to armed struggle.” Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said in his book Fighting Terrorism that denying the release of terrorists was “among the most important policies that must be adopted in the face of terrorism.” International politics can often times bring about situations that test a government’s morality, especially when faced with ongoing conflicts such as the Arab-Israeli conflict.
The release has stirred up quite a bit of controversy in Israel because of the types of criminals set to be freed. Although the government has largely stood by their decision to release 104 Palestinian prisoners, the Israeli people have begun demonstrations, especially the families of the victims. Ya’alon also said, “We realized that, in this case, we had to go with releasing the pre-Oslo prisoners. We’re talking here about murderers, about the challenge of justice and of law, of bereaved families who were hurt and I hear their voices.” Many of the men being released committed serious crimes and had 20 to 30-year sentences.
In total, the 104 prisoners are responsible for the deaths of 55 civilians, 15 Israeli soldiers, and several Palestinians suspected of cooperating with Israel. A notorious terrorist incident known as Night of the Pitchforks was a brutal murdering of Israeli soldiers. Three men, in the name of Jihad, raided an Israeli army camp and using knives, axes, and pitchforks, and killed three Israeli soldiers in their sleep. Ibrahim and Hassan Ikhbariya, two of the assailants, are part of the 104 prisoners set to be released over the coming weeks. Many of the 104 prisoners have similar stories and the fact these men are being released to public is frightening.
On the other hand, some of the prisoners set to be released are not quite as dangerous as the Ikhbariya brothers. Qadura Fares, chairman of the Palestinian Prisoner Society, stated that many prisoners were part of cell units made up of activists that killed or injured a soldier or civilian. In most cases, the cells did not kill multiple Israelis. These collective cases resulted in cell members who did not murder any Israelis getting charged and convicted with murder. In most cases, activists associated with cell units were convicted of murder although only one or a few of the members were linked to the murder. These criminals, some would argue, are not as harmful to society and therefore its easier for Israel to justify their release.
After analyzing the circumstances surrounding Israel’s political decision to release these prisoners, it is evident there is more to the situation than mere right-or-wrong in dissecting the government’s course of action. Morally, the decision is very questionable when one takes into account who is being released and the unintended consequences it may have. Israel used this political strategy to help stimulate morale going into Wednesday’s peace negotiations. Israel hopes this decision will ultimately lead to a resolution of conflict which would eliminate further struggles and ethical dilemmas, giving the strategy some sort of moral justification.