Of the 1,000 prisoners eligible for early release, 300 have committed terrorist or other security-related crimes
Israeli families that have lost loved ones to terrorist attacks have expressed anger and frustration over expected government legislation ordering the early release of some 300 prisoners serving time in Israeli jails for terrorist and other security-related crimes.
The 300 prisoners are part of a group totaling some 1,000 inmates who could be up for early release on December 20. The government plan came after the High Court ruled that the country’s prisons are overcrowded and the lack of space violates the prisoners’ human rights.
The ruling stipulated that each prisoner must have at least 4.5 square meters (roughly 15 square feet) of personal space; currently, each inmate is allotted only three square meters (10 square feet).
In accordance with the ruling, the Israeli parliament’s Interior Committee put forth and approved a bill on the matter in August. Public Security Minister Gilad Erdan and the Finance Ministry added their approval. After these legislative hurdles, the bill is expected to pass into law, forcing the Israel Prisons Service to implement the early release dates at the end of the year.
The proposed legislation calls for a six-month sentence to be reduced by two weeks; a one-year sentence reduced by a month, and a sentence of 20 years reduced by seven months.
But another factor complicating matters are reductions for good behavior. According to Haaretz, which reported on the story, all prisoners can receive a one-third reduction of their sentence if they show a record of good behavior. Therefore, a reduction for good behavior, when coupled with the early release plan, would allow some prisoners to be freed after only serving half of their sentence.
Waed Tamimi is among those eligible for early release. He is the brother of Ahed Tamimi, the West Bank teen who became a Palestinian icon when she was filmed slapping an Israeli soldier late last year; she received an eight-month sentence for the act. Waed is currently serving a 14-month sentence for throwing stones at Israeli soldiers.
Hani Dari is another prisoner who could be set free early. Dari was convicted of aiding a terrorist who stabbed to death Hadas Malka, a female border police officer, in Jerusalem’s Old City last year. Driving a bus, Dari illegally transported the terrorist from the West Bank into Israel via the Dead Sea route, which security forces generally do not check as thoroughly as other entry points.
On Thursday, however, the Be’er Sheva District Court cancelled Dari’s shortened sentence. Prime Minister Benyamin Netanyahu praised the decision, issuing a statement that read: “This is the correct decision. Murderers and their accomplices need to be punished severely and to serve their sentences in full.”
In response to the government bill, 93 families that have lost loved ones to terrorist attacks sent a letter to Erdan voicing strong criticisms and anger. They stated that it amounts to a “declaration of World War III” against them, Haaretz reported.
“If implemented, it is a slippery slope that will lead to terrorists with blood on their hands, some of whom actually murdered, returning to the circle of terrorism and harming more Israelis,” the families wrote. “We demand courageous and genuine action against terrorism,” they added.
Responding to these criticisms, Erdan told The Media Line that since the High Court ruling, he has “demanded that those incarcerated for criminal acts should be separated from terrorists.”
“The Ministry of Justice refused, declaring it unconstitutional, and therefore did not include such a distinction in the Administrative Release Bill currently in the Knesset [Israeli parliament].
“I informed Yoav Kish, chairman of the Knesset Internal Affairs Committee, of the matter. I support excluding from the bill those security prisoners set to be freed. We must not allow a reduction in the punishment of terrorists,” Erdan concluded.
Maurice Hirsch, a former Israeli Defense Forces (IDF) prosecutor, told The Media Line that the idea of granting these prisoners an early release “is simply disgraceful.”
“First, the High Court decided about three years ago to prohibit the construction of privately run prisons. Secondly, the court made the decision regarding the space each prisoner should have.
“So, combining the two separate decisions,” Hirsch continued, “the High Court tied the hands of the government to a great extent, and then forced it to release early a group of prisoners.
“In a normal society, those sentences should be served in full,” he added. “A solution has to be found so that terrorists are not released early, even at the expense possibly of releasing other criminal prisoners.
“Instead of now releasing hundreds of prisoners and terrorists who will likely go back to their homes and continue terrorist activities, it is shocking that nobody is even discussing the idea of re-creating military prisons. The conditions of these prisons do not necessarily have to be much different from other prisons, and they can be set up relatively quickly.”
He explained that in 2005, the Israeli government decided to close down military prisons, based on the idea that the IDF should concentrate solely on performing military functions, not on running prisons. Nevertheless, it continues to maintain prisons for its own soldiers.
“It is still a skill the army possesses, and it should be reconsidered, or the army will find itself again fighting and re-arresting those same terrorists,” Hirsch concluded.