Gilad Shalit prisoner swap: Israel names 447 to be freed; victims’ families protest
By Ernesto Londoño,
JERUSALEM — Israel on Sunday released the names of 477 prisoners it intends to swap Tuesday in exchange for a soldier abducted by the militant group Hamas, while some Israelis opposed to the deal asked the Supreme Court to intervene.
News of the imminent swap, which includes the release of more than 1,000 prisoners in two phases, elated Israelis who have followed the plight of Staff. Sgt. Gilad Shalit as their own. But it also has reopened old wounds for Israelis who have lost loved ones in attacks and reignited the debate over whether Israel should negotiate in cases of kidnapped citizens.
“This just raises the price of the next hostage,” said Yitzchak Maoz, 64, whose daughter Tehila was killed in a 2001 suicide bombing at a pizzeria in Jerusalem. “This will increase terror in the country and throughout the world.”
Maoz is among the relatives of attack victims who filed a motion before the Supreme Court on Sunday asking it to halt the deal. The move, he acknowledged, amounts to little more than an act of protest; the court has declined to intervene in similar cases.
“We don’t have many options,” the 64-year-old father said Sunday, holding a green folder in which he keeps news clippings and other documents about his daughter’s death. “We can demonstrate and we can go to court. I’m doing both.”
The court on Monday will hold a hearing during which relatives of victims will be given a chance to speak.
Opinion polls show that a majority of Israelis support the release of hundreds of Palestinian prisoners in exchange for Shalit, who was abducted in a Hamas raid near Gaza in 2006. The 25-year-old soldier’s abduction has captivated a nation where military service is compulsory.
It also became a political thorn for Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. He had to constantly face the soldier’s parents, who erected a tent outside his residence.
Many here are torn about the price Netanyahu agreed to pay for Shalit’s release: pardoning more than 1,000 people in Israeli jails, many of them Palestinians serving multiple life sentences for deadly attacks. Among those with mixed feelings is Tehila Maoz’s sister Mili, 26.
“I believe if my son had been captive, I would have wanted him released,” she said, sitting next to her father. However, she said she fears the swap sets a dangerous precedent. “They can still kidnap soldiers,” she said. “They will do it over and over. I don’t think people like them change.”
Among the Palestinian prisoners Israel has agreed to release is Ahlam Tamimi, the woman convicted of driving a suicide bomber to the Sbarro restaurant where Tehila Maoz was working the register on Aug. 9, 2001. The afternoon bombing killed 15 civilians and wounded more than 100.
Tamimi’s brother, Mohammed, 36, said his sister would walk out of prison unrepentant.
“She’s proud of what she’s done,” he said, citing interviews his sister has given from prison. “She did it in full conviction.”
Tamimi was 21 when, unbeknownst to her family, she began planning the Sbarro attack under the direction of Hamas commanders, her brother said. At the time, Tamimi, who was born in Jordan, was among the Palestinians with a permit that allowed her to travel in and out of the West Bank.
Mohammed Tamimi said he doubts his sister, who Israelis intend to deport to Jordan, will continue to be involved in militancy. He said he and his relatives are rejoicing — and not just because they will get to see her again.
“It’s an achievement for the Palestinian people,” he said. “It’s a success for Palestinian resistance.”
Netanyahu struck the deal in recent days with Hamas after years of false starts. When he announced it Tuesday, the prime minister described it as the best deal Israel was likely to get and said he thought failing to act now could mean forgoing Shalit’s release.
Israeli officials said they have mitigated the risk posed by the release by limiting the number of prisoners who will be allowed to return to the West Bank and East Jerusalem.
That is of little consolation to the father of Ofir Rahum, the 16-year-old Israeli who was fatally shot in January 2001 after a Palestinian woman seduced him over the Internet and tricked him into traveling to Ramallah.
After his son’s killing, Shalom Rahum said, Israeli investigators vowed they would do everything in their power to bring the killers to justice and lock them up for life. Amna Jawad Ali Muna, the woman who lured him online, offering sex, is among those on the release list.
“These people were sentenced according to the law,” Rahum said. “With each swap, we end up paying more and more. With each swap, they end up finding that terror is worthwhile.”
Rahum said he would not oppose the release of all Palestinian prisoners if Israel and the Palestinian Authority were to reach a peace deal. But he called what the government is doing now reckless.
“You take 1,000 terrorists and release them in the midst of chaos,” he said, “all you’re doing is adding fuel to the fire.”
Special correspondent Samuel Sockol contributed to this report.