Israeli Court: No Point in Naming Prisoners in Shalit Swap
Supreme Court President Dorit Beinisch on Monday said there was no point in naming the prisoners whom Hamas wanted freed in exchange for Gilad Shalit, since a deal had yet to be reached for the abducted Israeli soldier’s release.
“What we have learned that one can say is that there is still no deal,” Beinisch told the High Court. “It is complex and not agreed upon, there are gaps between the sides and it is possible that there will be no deal. In this situation, there is no place to publish details about it.”
Also Monday, three bereaved parents told the High Court that the military censorship over the developing deal for Shalit was preventing them from fighting the prisoner swap with Hamas.
Beinisch voiced some support for the parents’ arguments, saying that in the defense establishment there were “interested parties who use information manipulatively, and not all of the details are known to everyone involved, apart from Israel’s citizens.”
She added that if a deal is reached, Israel intends on waiting for 48 hours after the names have been published before carrying it out, in order to allow for appeals.
The bereaved parents, for their part, told the court: “What will be harmed in national security if we know whether those who murdered our children are on the list or not? Does the public have no right to know? Our lives are built in cycles, from release to release.”
“Does a parent have no right to know if his son’s murderer is likely to be released?”
Yossi Tzur, Ron Kerman and Yossi Mendelevitch, fathers whose children were killed in a 2003 suicide bombing on a Haifa bus, told the court that their lives had been completely altered by the attack.
They said they now live between Israeli “goodwill gestures” involving the release of militants.
The bereaved parents, who filed the petition in conjunction with the Almagor Terror Victims Association, said that under the current censorship they would only receive the list of Palestinian prisoners sought by Hamas for Shalit as the militants were already on buses leaving jail as part of the deal.
According to the parents, Hamas holds lists of prisoners’ names that it received from the Israeli government.
“How is it possible that in a democratic country, a citizen isn’t permitted to receive the same information the enemy gets?” they asked. “The state will make a decision in the middle of the night, a 48-hour window will open, and then the court will discuss it while the terrorists will already be on the bus.”
Beinisch asked the State Prosecutor’s Office whether publishing the list would in fact harm national security.
A representative of the office, Anar Helman, said in response that, “The German mediator threatened to resign if the list of names would be published.”
He further explained that should the German mediator resign, it would harm the security of the state and would increase the price of the deal.
‘An ongoing terror attack’
The state prosecutor wrote in response to the parents’ petition on Sunday that unlike a prisoner release representing a diplomatic agreement or goodwill gesture, the current negotiations for Shalit are tantamount to “an ongoing terror attack” in which Israel is “bargaining” to reach a deal that would exact the lowest possible price.
If an agreement is reached, the state prosecutor stated, it will only be after the government has considered all of the implications of such an exchange, both moral and practical.
He added that as talks progress and both parties reach an agreement on which inmates to release, a list of names will be publicized.
The response also noted that the military censor is entitled to prohibit the publication of any piece of information it believes “will significantly damage the possibility of returning Shalit alive and healthy,” or alternatively, if it believes publication will compromise national security.
Moreover, it said, it is virtually impossible to hold public negotiations with a “bitter enemy,” a terrorist organization holding a soldier captive and seeking the highest possible price in return for his release.
The state prosecutor wrote that ambiguity is essential to Israel’s very existence, and that without it, “it is impossible to hold effective negotiations and reach the goal of returning the abducted soldier to Israel.”
National Union chair Yaakov Katz petitioned the High Court Sunday, demanding the disclosure of the recommendations and findings of the Shamgar Commission, charged with examining Israel’s policy on prisoner exchanges.
Katz lamented that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Defense Minister Ehud Barak had refused to release the commission’s conclusions, which they maintain have implications for the developing agreement for Shalit.