In deciding to pursue peace talks with the Palestinians, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu first had to make a tough concession: releasing 104 Palestinian prisoners in Israeli custody.
That decision has many Netanyahu critics at home and abroad seeing red, since the reported list of prisoners, who will be released in phases over the course of negotiations, includes individuals accused of carrying out devastating attacks on Israeli soldiers and civilians. It’s also an emotional issue for Palestinians, many of whom regard the men and women detained over the long course of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict as political prisoners.
In an open letter to his citizens, Netanyahu described the anguish he felt in freeing the prisoners. "This is an incomparably difficult decision; it is painful for the bereaved families and it is painful for the entire nation and it is also very painful for me," he wrote. To get a sense of just how emotionally charged this tradeoff is, consider the following individuals, who appear on a list published by the Palestinian Prisoner Society on Sunday of prisoners expected to be released. (Israel’s Ynet reports that Israeli authorities will eventually make the names public to allow for appeals to the country’s Supreme Court, and the final list may look different; this week’s New York Times and Washington Post reports on the prisoner release mention men not identified by the Palestinain Prisoner Society.) According to Haaretz, the prisoners identified by the Palestinian Prisoner Society have been involved in the death of some 55 Israeli civilians, 15 Israeli soldiers, one French tourist, and dozens of Palestinians thought to have collaborated with Israel.
Jum’a Ibrahim Juma Adam, imprisoned since 1988
In 1988, Rachel Weiss and her three children were traveling by bus to Jerusalem after attending a bar mitzvah in Tiberias. Weiss had moved with her children to the back of the bus to allow her husband, a rabbi, to study undisturbed at the front of the vehicle. When three Palestinian youths threw Molotov cocktails at the bus, one smashed a window and landed where her children were sitting. In vain, Weiss threw herself at her children to protect them. Everyone escaped from the bus except for Weiss and her children, who perished in the assault. David Delorosa, an Israeli soldier who entered the burning bus and tried to save those still trapped inside, also died in the attack.
Adam was one of the youths who threw the firebombs. The men behind the attack were not affiliated with a terrorist organization, and the attack was planned somewhat spontaneously over a game of cards. Some reports suggest that Mahmoud Kharbish, another perpetrator, will also be released.
Karim and Maher Younis, imprisoned since 1983
The Younis cousins, who landed in jail after kidnapping and killing a young Israeli soldier named Avraham Bromberg, are some of the longest-serving Arab prisoners in Israel. The Younis cousins picked up Bromberg, who was hitchhiking, on the side of the road in 1981 and later shot him in the head. They left him to die on the side of the road, and Bromberg succumbed to his wounds two days after being shot.
Ibrahim, Hassan, and Mustafa Ighbariya and Tawfiz Suliman, imprisoned since 1992
The brothers Ibrahim and Hassan Ighbariya, their cousin Mustafa Ighbariya, and Tawfiz Suliman infiltrated an Israeli army camp under the cover of darkness and brutally killed three Israeli soldiers using knives, axes, and a pitchfork. The four men, members of Islamic Jihad , killed the soldiers — Yaakov Dubinsky, Yori Farda and Guy Friedman — in their sleep, a crime that shocked Israel at the time both because of the brutality of the attack and the fact that the assailants were Israeli citizens. The four men were originally sentenced to three consecutive life terms, with an additional 15 years tacked on for other offenses. The murder of the three Israeli soldiers is now more commonly known as "the night of the pitchforks."
Riziq Ali Khader Salah, imprisoned since 1993
While walking through Jerusalem’s Valley of the Cross on his way to work in 1993, Menahem Stern, who at the time was an internationally renowned historian of the Second Temple period, was stabbed five times in the chest by Salah, who was alleged to have carried out the act as part of an admission test to Fatah, a Palestianian terror organization. Salah was handed a life sentence, and given another life sentence for the slaying a month later of the television technician Eli Amsalem . Israeli police alleged that Salah had to provide an identification card of the person he had killed; since Stern had not been carrying one, he proceeded to kill Amsalem as well.