..."On the other side, they are greeted as shahids, as heroes, and they encourage more terrorism. Their release doesn't advance peace, and it doesn't advance the negotiations. It only advances more conflict and attacks on us."
28 March '14..
Sabria Tureq was just 21 when she was murdered. She loved sports. She lifted weights. She had even won the State Cup in women's boxing and was considered an Olympic medal hopeful.
In October 1989, Tureq was sitting in a kiosk in Jaffa when she suddenly heard her friend, Orly Hakim, scream from a nearby apartment. Sabria did not hesitate. She ran toward the darkened apartment and lit a match. The two killers, however, brothers from the Jabalya refugee camp in Gaza, were quicker. They hit her with a hammer and strangled her.
It was one of the most gruesome, horrific acts of murder ever witnessed in the country's history. Mohammed Halabi, a Shin Bet agent, and his brother, Hamas devotee Mahmoud Halabi, strangled four other women and two men in that apartment in Jaffa.
For years, investigators were convinced this was a criminally motivated act. After a years-ong legal battle, however, Tureq's family -- with the help of attorney Esther Bar Tziyon -- convinced the courts that Mahmoud Halabi persuaded his brother Mohammed, the Shin Bet collaborator, to murder Israelis -- both Jewish and Arab -- as a test of loyalty to Hamas.
Killing Israelis was a way to absolve Mohammed from the "sin" of working for the Shin Bet. The names of Tureq, Hakim, and the other victims were belatedly added to the names of the memorial on Jerusalem's Mount Herzl in honor of victims of terrorist attacks.
Tureq's mother, Gonai Tureq, makes a pilgrimage to Mount Herzl every year on Memorial Day to honor her daughter's memory. Tureq herself was buried in the Muslim cemetery in Jaffa.
Now Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas is demanding that the two murderous brothers be released. The Tureq family, which has been through the wars and experienced its fair share of trials and tribulations, refuses to keep silent. They have a unique perspective, as bereaved Israeli Arabs who fell victim to Palestinian terrorism. In their world, "we oppose the release of killers because they are killers."
Do Gonai Tureq and her brother, Orhan, fear that Israel will follow through on the fourth release of Palestinian prisoners convicted of acts of terrorism?
"Every murderer needs to pay the entire price, and it doesn't matter if he's Israeli Arab, Jewish, Russian, or Sudanese," Orhan said. "Freeing killers with blood on their hands is a horrible mistake. My mother, who is not a healthy woman, has been crying for hours on end ever since she was told that the killers are on the list submitted by Abu Mazen [Abbas]. They are killing Sabria all over again.
"People might be surprised that we are speaking this way, but this has nothing whatsoever to do with our ethnic origin. Indeed, we are Arab Muslims, but a killer is a killer, whether the victim is Jewish or Muslim. The person's nationality shouldn't matter to anyone. These killers took the life of my Israeli Arab sister, and the other killers took the lives of Jewish Israelis, children and others."
Orhan says he knows "what jail is like."
"After the murder of my sister, I got into trouble," he said. "I sinned. I got mixed up in crime. I was in jail for quite a few years. I paid my full debt to society. The release of such despicable murderers from prison is an affront to the living, and it's an affront to the dead.
"Israeli civilians -- be they Jews or Arabs -- who murder other Israeli civilians -- be they Jews or Arabs -- must remain in prison. Why release them before they serve their sentence? And why is it Abu Mazen's business?"
Whether or not the fourth prisoner release is implemented, one thing is clear -- it is different from the other three. First, Abbas is demanding that this batch of prisoners includes 14 Israeli Arabs who are serving life sentences for committing acts of terrorism.
By sheer symbolic coincidence, 14 Israeli Arabs have been indicted over the course of the past two years on terrorism-related charges. In previous years, the number was much higher, particularly during the Second Intifada and the period immediately afterward. Between 2001 and 2004, authorities uncovered 104 terrorist plots being hatched by a combined total of 200 Israeli citizens of Arab origin. These individuals were complicit in terrorist attacks which claimed the lives of 136 Israelis.
Recently, Hezbollah has exploited its familial and criminal ties with Israeli Arabs in an attempt to recruit them to its ranks. In May 2013, a joint operation by the Israel Police and the Shin Bet led to the arrest of a number of Israeli Arabs, residents of Shfaram, who allegedly were recruited by Hezbollah and carried out numerous actions at its behest. It seems that Hezbollah once again utilized the hajj pilgrimage to Saudi Arabia in order to cultivate ties with its Israeli agents.
Nonetheless, the level of Israel Arab involvement in terrorism and the execution of terrorist attacks has been on a decline in recent years. A Shin Bet report concluded that "those among Arab Israelis who commit acts of terrorism are on the extreme margins and they represent a very small percentage of this demographic."
Still, the Shin Bet continues to urge the expenditure of greater efforts in order to glean intelligence that would uncover terrorist plots, if they do indeed exist. In a conversation held with then-U.S. Ambassador to Israel Richard Jones, former Shin Bet chief Yuval Diskin described the agency's efforts.
According to documents made public by WikiLeaks, Diskin told the American ambassador that the Shin Bet was devoting great efforts to monitoring the activities of Israeli Arabs. He accused the Israeli Arab leadership of trying to paint the Israeli-Palestinian conflict "in a nationalist color."
"Thankfully," Diskin observed, "they are not succeeding, and their efforts are not filtering down to the general public, which is more concerned with daily life."
Meanwhile, the Palestinian demand to free terrorists who hold Israeli citizenship has been met with vehement opposition from the government. It's highly doubtful if the cabinet could muster a majority in support of such a proposal. In any event, the government resolved that any decision on the release of Israeli Arabs would be subject to approval by a majority of ministers.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has so far postponed the fourth release. Instead, he is demanding that the Palestinians commit to continuing with the negotiations. To complicate matters even further, Defense Minister Moshe Ya'alon has publicly come out against the release, particularly if it includes the prospect of Israeli Arabs being freed. Ya'alon hints that Kerry misled the Palestinians on this issue, offering Ramallah an Israeli commitment that was never made.
Professor Rafi Israeli, a lecturer at Hebrew University in Jerusalem who devoted years of research to the subject of Israeli Arabs, is adamantly opposed to the release of Israeli murderers.
"Ever since the intellectual and municipal leadership of Israeli Arabs published its manifesto, all doubt was put to rest as it relates to where the wind is blowing," he said. "Their choice is to oppose Israel. If we blink on this issue and create the impression that we are ready to consider the release of Israeli citizens, this will be a tremendous shot of encouragement for the Arabs in Israel to undermine the Jewish state and put into practice its opposition to the Jewish state. Even today, with the rise of Palestinian nationalist sentiment among the Arabs of Israel, the situation is quite grave. Why should we make it even worse with our own hands?"
According to Israeli, the U.S., which has been pressuring Israel to release terrorists who hold Israeli citizenship, has for the past 30 years refused the State of Israel's repeated requests to free Jonathan Pollard, arguing that as an American citizen he was convicted of treason under U.S. law. Hence, the Pollard case is none of Israel's business, the argument goes.
"That is exactly the approach we need to take in this case [regarding the release of Israeli Arabs]," Israeli said. "These are Arabs, citizens of Israel, who according to Israeli law committed treason. They were tried here, and it is of no concern to any foreigner, whether his name is Abu Mazen or John Kerry."
As for the prospect of Pollard being freed in exchange for Israel's agreement to free Israeli Arabs, Israeli believes this exercise is pointless. "It's as if we were saying there is a price to be paid for Pollard, and that price is the treachery of Israeli Arabs," he said.
The objection of the families of victims of terrorism is far less academic, but much more profound. Ten of the convicted terrorists came from Wadi Ara. The families of three of their victims live in nearby communities.
Karim and Maher Yunis, who were convicted of murdering IDF soldier Abraham Bromberg in 1980, lived in the village of Arara. Bromberg's nephew was born a year after the murder and was named Avi, after his uncle. Today, he and his friends are leading a public campaign against an additional release of prisoners, especially Israeli citizens. He has stated that he no longer believes the promises given by the Israeli leadership.
"We have repeatedly asked the prime minister to meet with us, but we've gotten no response," he said. "The state is plunging a knife into our hearts. We have a terrible sense of betrayal by the political leadership. It's not logical, it's not moral, it's not conceivable, and it's not right. The release of terrorists is simply a bizarre situation that the state is dragged toward time after time."
"Where did the other releases lead?" he said. "What negotiations did they advance? They only led to more murder and terrorism by terrorists who were released."
Bromberg also expressed his disappointment with the Israeli public, "which is ready to flood the streets in droves to fight the price of cottage cheese, but is not ready to fight to prevent murderers from returning to the streets."
Last week, Bromberg's killer, Karim Yunis, was quoted by the PA's official newspaper as calling Abbas "the president of Arabs in Israel."
"We stand alongside our president, Abu Mazen, in his determined efforts to end the longest occupation in modern history," he was quoted as saying. The comments were reported by Palestinian Media Watch.
Yunis is also quoted as saying that Israeli Arabs convicted of terrorism are "Palestinian prisoners," adding: "We fought and sacrificed for the freedom of Palestine and for the honor of our heroic nation."
Yaron Friedman, Bromberg's partner in the public campaign and the brother of Guy Friedman, who was killed in the infamous "Night of the Pitchforks" incident, is no longer willing to stay silent. One February night in 1992, three terrorists from Wadi Ara armed with knives, axes, and pitchforks entered a tent filled with fresh Israeli conscripts on a base near Kibbutz Gilad in the north. They murdered Friedman and two of his charges, Yuri Parda and Ya'akov Dubinsky.
"My parents live in Zichron Ya'akov, which is 10 minutes away from where the families of the killers live in Wadi Ara," he said. "One day, they are liable to run into them in the mall. I and the other family members feel that we are fighting windmills. We met with Silvan Shalom, and we sat down with Tzipi Livni, Yair Lapid, and Ya'akov Peri. Nobody wanted to make any promises to us on anything. We tried to set up a meeting with the prime minister, the chief of staff, and the head of the Shin Bet, and we were turned down.
"To the best of our knowledge, these terrorists are still dangerous. They continue to undertake subversive activities against the State of Israel from their jail cells. The release of terrorists is a crime, and the release of Israeli terrorists is a sin on top of a crime. I don't understand how Abu Mazen, our enemy, is allowed to apply his sovereignty on citizens of the State of Israel."
Harsher sentiments were expressed by Varda Shaltiel, the mother of Akiva Shaltiel, who was kidnapped and murdered by Israeli Arabs just before Passover in 1985.
"If Akiva's killer is released, I will not be able to stay silent any longer," she said. "I will devote all my life to pursuing the killer. I won't let them rest one day, not the killer, not his family, and not even our ministers, if they let him go."
Her daughter, Orna Amrani, a resident of Oranit, is also fearful of the prospect of one day seeing her brother's killer, from the nearby village of Kafr Qassem, on the street. She said that she would be unable to continue with her life as she has known it until now if her brother's murderer is released.
"Even if I have to kill him and go to prison as a result, I will do it," she said. "Two of the killers have already been freed. One of them was released in the second installment, and the other one was freed in the Gilad Shalit swap."
Orna acknowledged that she was able to live with the Shalit deal.
"That was a case where we had a boy who was alive and freed in exchange for a despicable killer," she said. "We brought Gilad home, but what, for goodness sakes, do they want to achieve with this release? They are murdering Akiva a second time. Whoever says that time heals all wounds is invited to come to our home. My father died a broken man in 1996, and my mother lives with Akiva's memory and his murder every day. Do you also want to kill her?"
The emotional firestorm stirred up over the prospect of yet another prisoner release is not only being generated by the families whose loved ones were killed by Israeli Arabs. Many more of the names on Abbas' list are Arabs from Judea and Samaria, and Gaza.
One gruesome murder that shocked the country was the kidnapping and murder of two Jerusalem youngsters, Ronen Kremeni and Lior Tuvol, in 1990. I was a cub reporter at Haaretz at the time. The families called me and a few of my colleagues, asking us to publish a missing person's notice. Thousands took part in the search. For two whole days, an entire country was on edge, teetering between hope and despair. Two days after their disappearance, in the midst of August's heat, their bodies were discovered in a wadi between the neighborhood of Ramot and Beit Hanina. They had been bound and had stab wounds all over their bodies.
The discovery of the corpses touched off a mini-Jewish intifada in Jerusalem. Arabs were beaten and stoned. An Arab woman was stoned to death while driving along Jerusalem's Hebron Road. Three years later, the killers -- Jawad and Mohammed Shmanse -- were apprehended. Jawad was freed in the Shalit deal. Mohammed could be released in the fourth release.
During the investigation, it was learned that as Tubol and Kremeni were going to see their girlfriends in Pisgat Ze'ev, the terrorists forced them to enter their cars at gunpoint. They were then transported to Beit Hanina, where a struggle ensued before dishrags were stuffed in their mouths. They were then stabbed 24 times. Before their arrest, the two killers also murdered cab driver Rafi Doron and soldier Yehoshua Fridberg.
Mazal Kremeni, Ronen's mother, has a difficult time talking about her son, even today. She also struggles to talk about the anticipated release of his killer.
"I lived for years on pills," she said. "When one of the killers was freed in the Shalit swap, I supported it a bit. I told myself that if there's a chance that this release will bring back a living boy, then it wasn't for nothing.
"But now, it's as if they are taking Ronen and Lior and killing them anew. Ronen's and Lior's murderers were sentenced to four life terms, but they served just 20 years. What purpose does this release have? It's simple. It has none.
"On the other side, they are greeted as shahids, as heroes, and they encourage more terrorism. Their release doesn't advance peace, and it doesn't advance the negotiations. It only advances more conflict and attacks on us."