Rabbi Seth Mandell Headshot

Releasing Prisoners Is Unjust and Dangerous

Posted: Updated:

The first time the Oslo Peace process touched me personally was in 1993.

I was standing with some of my students in the lobby of the University of Maryland Hillel in College Park. We were watching the famous handshake on the White House Lawn between Yassar Arafat and Yitzhak Rabin.

After living in Israel and working as a Hillel director and Rabbi in the US I was well informed about the conflict between the Israelis and Palestinians so I was amazed at the sight of these two legendary enemies shaking hands. "Maybe peace is possible" I thought to myself, "maybe I'll be able to go back to Israel and my kids won't have to go into the army. Well, at least they won't have to go to war."

Three years later at the height of the Oslo Peace Process when many of us thought there would actually be peace, I moved my family back to Israel.

The second time the Oslo Peace Process touched me personally was at the beginning of the second intifada when my 13-year-old son Koby Mandell and his friend Yosef Ishran were murdered by Palestinian terrorists near our home in Israel. In response, my wife Sherri and I started The Koby Mandell Foundation to offer emotional support programming to children and adults who lost immediate family members to acts of terror. As I write this 12 years later hundreds of bereaved children are receiving healing care and camaraderie at Camp Koby and Yosef.

And now as the Israeli government announces the release of 86 Palestinian terrorists who murdered Israeli civilians I am being personally affected a third time. Through our work I am in touch with hundreds, if not thousands of families who have lost a loved one to terror and tens of them are facing the prospect of watching the murderers of their loved ones walk free.

I am personally opposed to a prisoner release for many reasons but I've distilled them down to five basic points, all of them meaningful from a psychological and social perspective.

1. It is the Very Definition of Injustice: The Palestinian demand that Israel pardon terrorists convicted of murdering innocent Israeli civilians. It is patently unjust for these murderers to be released from life sentences, to return to their previous lives, to reunite with their families and to be hailed as heroes on their return. Plain and simple -- it's not fair. It means that the law, the trials and punishments were meaningless. Justice would not be served.

2. It's Painful for Families of the Murdered: The Palestinian terrorists who murdered my son and his friend have not been apprehended. While I know what it feels like to have another human intentionally kill your child, I cannot fathom what it must feel like to have the murderer of your child captured, sentenced to life in prison, and then set free. The terrorist, Ahlam Tamimi, a 20-year-old woman sentenced to 16 life sentences for driving the suicide bomber to the Sbarro restaurant in Jerusalem where he massacred 15 innocent people, is now living in Jordan. When Tamimi was but released after 10 years in prison told a HAMAS TV station, "Why should I repent? All attempts to keep us in prison, and those who remain, will soon be forsaken."

Several of the families we've befriended as a result of our work at The Koby Mandell Foundation had children murdered in that bombing. To know that the murderer of your child walks free while your child lies dead is an added emotional torture.

3. It Will Result In More People Killed And Maimed: Many released Palestinian terrorists return to terrorism. In April of this year, Israeli security forces were already warning that terrorists released in the Shalit prisoner exchange had returned to terror activities; planning kidnappings, accumulating weapons and recruiting Palestinians in the West bank into Hamas terror cells. Since then, several have already made their ways back to Israeli prisons.

4. It Encourages Terrorism: The release of those who kill innocent Israelis encourages others to follow suit. A disaffected young Palestinian man or woman sees that in exchange for murdering an Israeli he or she will become a national hero and will eventually be released to national celebration. This must have an effect in how would-be terrorists make their future decisions.

5. It Legitimizes Terror Against Israelis: Terrorists and their supporters believe that attacks against Israeli civilians are a legitimate form of "self-defense." In effect they believe that there are no innocent Israelis. Palestinian society treats released terrorists as military heroes, not murderers. A prisoner release for the purpose of making a gesture sends a message that the Israeli and American governments along with international backers of such peace negotiations are agree that terror is a legitimate form of dissent.

The release of 1027 terrorists in exchange for Gilad Shalit two years ago caused immeasurable pain to those whose loved ones were murdered by those released. Further, it severely weakened the deterrent power of the Israeli military and may yet result in more innocent lives lost. Nevertheless is was arguably a reasonable decision that ended a national trauma, brought a captured Israeli soldier home, and strengthened the morale of soldiers in the Israeli Army.

Benjamin Netanyahu may believe that releasing prisoners so that the Palestinian Authority will come to the negotiating table is in the strategic interest of his country but the human truth is that it is unjust and dangerous.

Rabbi Seth Mandell is the Founder of The Koby Mandell Foundation named for his son murdered in a terror attack in 2001.