Australia/Israel & Jewish Affairs Council

Palestinian leaders praised prisoners’ crimes of murder

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Last week Israel released an additional 26 Palestinian prisoners, as part of a deal made in July to encourage the Palestinians to return to negotiations with Israel. The prisoners were all convicted for murder before the 1993 Oslo Accords were signed, and were serving life sentences. Despite the horrific nature of their crimes (see previous blog post), they received a hero's welcome upon their return to the West Bank and Gaza Strip as virtually all Palestinian prisoners do upon their release.

But what is particularly worrying for any hopes of future Israeli-Palestinian coexistence was the terminology used as Palestinian leaders lined up to praise the prisoners - including Palestinian Authority (PA) President Mahmoud Abbas. At a PA ceremony celebrating the release of 21 Palestinians to the West Bank, Abbas embraced and kissed each of the former prisoners and appeared on stage raising Issa Abd Rabbo's hand. Abd Rabbo was serving two life sentences for murdering two Israeli university students - Ron Levi and Revital Seri who were hiking south of Jerusalem on 22 October 1984. Abbas reportedly said at the ceremony:

"We welcome our heroic brothers who come from behind bars to the world of freedom. We congratulate ourselves and we congratulate all of you in this great celebration that unifies and returns our sons to us. We assert that they will return to their homes and to no other place... Today is the second celebration, and in two months - the third celebration, and then the fourth, and then the fifth, until the prisons are emptied and our families return to us... I am telling you that there will be no agreement as long as there is one prisoner behind bars..."

The ceremony was also attended by the Minister of Prisoners' Affairs Issa Karake who reportedly stated, "Each one of you prisoners is a sun lighting up Palestine's sky..." Many senior PA and Fatah leaders also attended including: Prime Minister Rami Hamdallah, Minister of Religious Affairs Mahmoud Al-Habbash, Head of the President's Office Hussein Al-A'araj, Fatah Central Committee members Mahmoud Al-Aloul and Mohammad Shtayyeh, and Governor of Ramallah Laila Ghannam.

At another event celebrating the release of three prisoners, Fatah leader Abbas Zaki said that the prisoners "have become medals of honor on the chest of this nation." He then went on to apparently deliberately twist the knife by triumphantly mocking the families of the Israeli victims, saying:

"We say to Israel: Die in your rage. Go to your cemeteries and recite over your dead whatever you recite. Here they are [who Israel said] 'have blood on their hands' (i.e., murderers); here they are [back] among their own people: fighters, knights, free men!"

Two of the prisoners, Ziyad Mahmoud Ghneimat and Mustafa Ghneimat, had received a life sentence for shooting and murdering two Israelis - Meir Ben Yair and Michal Cohen, in a forest on 27 June 1985. The other prisoner was Najeh Muqbil who was serving 38 years for participating in the stabbing and murder of his employer, Yaacov Shalom, on 20 May 1990.  The three prisoners received plaques of honour from each of the following three official bodies: The Ministry of Prisoners' Affairs, the Hebron District and the PA Security Forces, and the Fatah branch of Northern Hebron.

Meanwhile, a week before the prisoner release, the official Fatah Facebook also praised the prisoners and referred to Abd Rabbo as "one of our greatest leaders". The page administrator reportedly wrote:

"Oh giants of struggle, victory and Martyrdom-seeking, oh lions of resolve and defiance despite the repressive chains. Oh you, who with your resolve, your blood, and your souls inscribe the most glorious battles of bravery and sacrifice on the pages of the struggle, and paint the most beautiful painting of the resistance and the struggle...
On this great day, October 21, 1984 (i.e., the day terrorist Issa Abd Rabbo murdered two Israelis, see above), we stand respectfully, proudly, and with admiration for one of our nation's symbols and one of our greatest leaders, who spent his best years in the Zionist occupation's fortresses (i.e., prisons). On October 21, 2013 our symbol and [the symbol] of our pioneer movement, the Palestine National Liberation Movement, Fatah, the symbol of the prisoners, our brother and leader Issa Abd Rabbo, known as Abu Ghadab, begins his 30th year in the dungeons of Zionist captivity...
Our leader and the prisoners' symbol, Issa Abd Rabbo, stands firm and promote the slogan that says 'We will die standing and will not kneel.' Yes, we will die but we will uproot death from our land and not kneel...
On this great day we express feelings of utmost loyalty and devotion to our brother Issa [Abd Rabbo]. We will continue to walk in his path, the way of resolve and defiance, the way of loyalty to our great Martyrs, foremost among them our symbol and great leader, Yasser Arafat 'Abu Amar.'"

Each of these statements - praising those who murdered innocent civilians in the name of the Palestinian cause as both heroes and great leaders - comes not from radical groups like Hamas but from the mainstream Fatah organisation which runs the Palestinian Authority - with whom Israel hopes to negotiate peace. It is very clear from these statements that Fatah is not preparing its people for peace but is instead actively fostering a culture of hate. For what else can you say about a leadership which offers its highest praise for those who murder members of the "enemy" group, regardless of the circumstances, without worrying about whether those murdered are soldiers or civilians. It hardly needs saying that this bodes ill for a peaceful future.

Sharyn Mittelman

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