The Palestinian Prisoner Release and its Shades of Grey

August 16, 2013 by Gabsy Debinski
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This week, I planned to write something a little more upbeat and uplifting. It seemed overdue. But then the release of twenty-six Palestinian prisoners to Gaza and the West Bank warranted some deep reflection and analysis…writes Gabsy Debinski.

Gabsy Debinski

Gabsy Debinski

The week’s unnerving events began on Monday night when a rocket was intercepted by the Iron Dome anti-missile system on the outskirts of Eilat. Palestinian sources reported that a Muslim terrorist group operating in the Sinai Peninsula and the Gaza Strip took responsibility for the attack. In response, the IDF issued an airstrike on Gaza.

Peter Lerner, an IDF spokesman, said “this is an absurd situation that would not be tolerated anywhere else in the world. The IDF is charged with, and will continue to operate in order to safeguard Israel’s civilians, and combat terror and its infrastructure the in the Gaza Strip.”

Indeed, this rocket fire is hard to reconcile at a time when Israel is making such an extraordinary sacrifice, and it does not foster much optimism.

Regardless of one’s personal views or political affiliation, the release of Palestinian prisoners is always a time of great sadness in Israel. Everyone has lost a brother or sister, mother or father, aunt or uncle in the army or in acts of terror, and so there is a great feeling of identification with the distraught families. At the same time, however, it is also a period of bitter divide and opposition.

The prisoners to be released were named by the Israeli Prison Service shortly after midnight on Sunday, giving Israelis 48 hours to submit legal challenges to the Supreme Court.

Family members of terror victims petitioned the High Court of Justice on Monday to issue a temporary injunction on the release of the prisoners, claiming that “counter to government promises, six of those on the list were tried after Israel and the Palestinians signed the Oslo accords in 1993.” However, the court rejected the appeal by a victims’ rights group. And so, eleven Palestinians were returned to the West Bank and fifteen to Gaza.

I was moved to receive an open letter from the Bereaved Families of Peace and Justice, written to US Secretary of State, John Kerry. All signatories to the letter have lost children or parents in acts of terror.

“We are left with many questions and few answers. The deep pain within us expresses not only our private grief but the expectation of more unbearable losses in the future that will threaten our society and grimly enlarge the ranks of those like us – families who have lost our children, parents, aunts, uncles, grandmothers and grandfathers to Palestinian murderers.”

“Meet with us. Let us explain why being complicit in turning the killers of our children and

parents into heroes and ‘freedom fighters’ must not be part of any policy befitting a great

nation and moral exemplar like the United States. It is not too late. We ask you to make time

to meet with a small group of us when you come back to this area in the coming days. We urge you to re-connect with the human dimension of the process you have started.”


As many of you may have already read, the acts committed by these terrorists are chilling. They include the murders of high school children travelling on a bus, as well as a Holocaust survivor. The crimes are cowardly and appalling. The full list of prisoners can be seen here.

Most disturbing and difficult to stomach is the celebratory reception of these terrorists by Abbas, the PA and the Palestinian population in the last thirty-six hours. Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas greeted the 11 sent to the West Bank, while crowds met the other 15 in Gaza.

As reported by Haaretz, in the northern Gaza Strip, hundreds of people gathered at the Palestinian side of the Erez crossing. Fireworks lit the night sky, as supporters of Hamas and Fatah waved flags and chanted victory.

“We congratulate ourselves and our families for our brothers who left the darkness of the prisons for the light of the sun of freedom. We say to them and to you that the remainder are on their way, these are just the first,” Abbas said.

Like many I was also repulsed by these images of jubilee on the streets, and very quickly felt angry with the Israeli government for agreeing to what seems such a futile arrangement. Yet, the words of a very brave and admirable woman changed my perspective full circle.

Einat Kinstler’s father, Avraham, was 84-years old when he was attacked and killed by Ramahi Salah Abdallah Faraj in 1992. This killer was amongst the group released early this week.

In an interview with the Times of Israel Einat said:  “If the government believes releasing the murderer will help advance peace, there is no doubt that it is the right thing to do. It is not only its right to do so, it is its obligation. We have to separate feelings from politics.”

She continued: “Just because our father was murdered doesn’t give us any special privileges in making political decisions. The state is authorized to do as it feels with this murderer and the other murderers.” Einat stressed that she supported the families’ right to protest, but not to impede the government’s decision.

I was blown away by the humbling attitude of this grieving woman. By no means does this diminish the pain of the victims’ families, or their personal right to campaign to keep the killers locked up. However, Einat’s statement should be cause for a re-evaluation of our responses to the government’s decision as Jews living in the diaspora.

Many people in our community have taken to social media and blogs to condemn the Israeli leadership for releasing these killers. However, I echo the sentiment of our President, Philip Chester, who said in a statement to the Jewish News that, “living in Australia we are not in a position to judge the Israeli government on the release of Palestinian prisoners, and we appreciate the complexity of the situation. However, we think it is intolerable that Israel has to agree in advance to the release of many terrorists with blood on their hands.”

Announcing the imminent releases late last month, it was obvious to any observer that Prime Minister Netanyahu was pain stricken at what he described as an “extremely difficult decision.” As one of the most right-wing leaders Israel has seen in the last decade, it is undoubtedly not a decision he or his leadership team take lightly.

In an open letter to the public, Netanyahu added: “It pains the bereaved families, it pains the entire Israeli public and it pains me very much. It clashes with a foundational value — justice.”

But, he added, “Every now and then prime ministers need to take decisions that fly in the face of public opinion — for the good of the country.”

It is precisely this, which as a community, we must remember. We should recognize that the situation, as always, is not black and white, but is shaded in all sorts of grey. It is not our place here to condemn the Israeli leadership for making this move, which it deems necessary in striving for security for its citizens. Rather, it is our obligation to come out in stark support. In my social media travels, I have seen some who have done this, but many who have not.

In representing the Zionist Federation of Australia, which is committed to representing the interests and aims of the Israeli government of the day, we must come out and offer our unwavering backing for the Israeli leadership when it needs us most. I mean this with no condescension. But rather, it is a result of my own reflection and attempt to reconcile the week’s difficult events.  After all, if Einat Kinstler can rise above, what’s our excuse?


2 Responses to “The Palestinian Prisoner Release and its Shades of Grey”
  1. George says:

    “In representing the Zionist Federation of Australia, which is committed to representing the interests and aims of the Israeli government of the day, we must come out and offer our unwavering backing for the Israeli leadership when it needs us most. ”

    Really? Must we? Why do I have a headache right now? This is pure toadying, and indicative of why many of these roof bodies are held in so little regard by those who take the trouble to actually read their spineless utterances.

    We are not talking about AIPAC (USA) here, whose role IS to support the current Israel Government, but presumably a body with the power of independent thought. When I received this in my email, I immediately wrote back to the author questioning this “policy” reply.

    Just as I wrote back to AIJAC (and ZFA as well) asking to kindly refrain from the anodyne and propagandist term “West Bank”. If it’s good enough to use the terms Judea and Samaria in the UN, its good enough for Diaspora Jewish Leaders to use. Why are they so meekly adopting the Palestinian discourse,. He who dominates the discourse (or “the narrative”) wins the war. Next we’ll be calling Jerusalem Al Quds.

    As far as usage is concerned, we need only look here – let’s call a thing by what it is.

    Calling things by their right names – Judea and Samaria

    Letter to several Australia Jewish Roof Bodies (no reply), and the AJN (not published).

    There are many who think that the terms Judea and Samaria are used only by right wing extremists, the fanatically religious, Biblical loonies and other assorted nut cases. In fact, most of the world thinks this way, but that doesn’t make it right.

    If we actually look at the famous UN (Partition) Resolution 181 of 1947 (really no more than a Recommendation, but that’s another story), especially:
    Part II. – Boundaries
    “The boundary of the hill country of Samaria and Judea starts on the Jordan River at the Wadi Malih south-east of Beisan and runs due west to meet the Beisan-Jericho road and then follows the western side of that road in a north-westerly direction to the junction of the boundaries of the Sub-Districts of Beisan, Nablus, and Jenin…..” etc.

    The point being, of course, that this is what that land has always been called, including in a document as auspicious as this one, oft-quoted , but rarely read, written by no less than the UN itself, and (erroneously) considered a foundation document of Israeli history.

    Of course those who illegally conquered it in 1948/49 had to change the name.
    Judea = The Jews, definitely not good for the cause, and so a more neutral, anodyne, almost romantic name was selected i.e. The West Bank. Romantic, as one is reminded of Paris’s Left Bank (well, I am).

    Since then, the world has participated in the continuing de-Judaization of what was both the heart of the ancient Jewish home, as well as being assigned by the League Mandate for reconstitution of a Jewish National Home in Palestine

    Language is extremely important in politics, as it constitutes the basis for discourse, and conditions all thinking about it.

    This neutral language makes it seem almost natural that this was always destined to be part of a Palestinian State, if not part of an illusory pre-existing sovereign Palestinian State.
    Let us banish this name from our discourse once and for all, and call the thing what it is, and always has been called. And when opponents of Zionism accuse you of being a right-wing extremist or Biblical fanatic, just refer them the always right (sic) United Nations, Resolution 181.

  2. Gil Solomon says:


    Quite frankly I am sick and tired of that usual mantra from what is referred to as Diaspora “leadership”.

    Phillip Chester says:
    “living in Australia we are not in a position to judge the Israeli government on the release of Palestinian prisoners, and we appreciate the complexity of the situation”.
    Who is Phillip Chester to state that Diaspora Jews should not express an opinion that is in line with the majority of the Israeli population?

    I’ve said this before and will say it again.
    For Israel to have taken these terrorists alive in the first place is one matter, to actually capture and then release them is a totally different matter. So too allowing them to have access to media outlets while incarcerated is the height of insanity.

    Then there is that ex-general assuring everyone with words to the effect: “If they repeat their offences they will be back in jail to complete their sentence” to which I respond that is, if they don’t escape capture. More importantly, I would also remind him that if they repeat, they should be summarily executed.

    And for Israel to launch an ineffective and meaningless air strike on Gaza in response to the latest missile provacation is beyond the pale. For the air strike to be effective the entire area from where the missile was launched should have been obliterated.

    So Gabsy, next time you meet Phillip, please tell him that what I’ve written above is in line with the feedback I receive so could he cease the uniform mantra always uttered by our so called communal “leaders”.

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