The American press, the Biden administration and many Jewish groups have been raising frantic alarms about, and making threats against, the new Israeli government. Their outrage is misplaced in many cases.
Indeed, some of the reforms being sought by the new coalition address pressing security issues—even life-or-death threats. One of the problems American critics would be better served complaining about is skyrocketing Palestinian terrorism.’
Those who don’t reside in tiny Israel can’t fully appreciate the frustration and abject fear caused by living under the almost daily threat of terrorist attacks—and murders—within a few miles of one’s home.
Right now, Israel is facing a wave of terrorism that has caused more deaths than the country has seen in over a decade.
This year, 31 Israelis have been murdered by Palestinian terrorists, the highest number of fatalities since 2008. The overwhelming majority were civilians—such as 84-year-old Shulamit Rahel Ovadia, who was bludgeoned to death by a Palestinian terrorist in September.
More than 300 Israeli civilians and soldiers were targeted in shooting attacks in Judea and Samaria (the West Bank) this year, compared with 91 in 2021. In 2022, Palestinians were responsible for 8,483 violent incidents, such as riots or stone-throwing, up 20% from last year.
Tragically, terrorists seem undeterred by the threat of jail time in Israeli prisons. And why should they be?
Palestinians imprisoned by Israel live a comfortable life. For starters, their prison time is compensated by the Palestinian Authority, which pays them and their families generous lifetime salaries as part of the P.A.’s “pay-for-slay” policy.
In addition, many convicted terrorists—even murderers—are released early in negotiated “prisoner swaps,” so a 25-year prison term might only last for five years.
Not surprisingly, some Palestinians who are imprisoned by Israel for terrorist offenses go right back to waging jihad against the Jewish state upon release.
In November, Israelis elected a new government that promised to take a tougher line on Palestinian terrorism by giving terrorists convicted of murder the death sentence.
Currently, Israel does not employ the death sentence under civil law. Earlier this year, in response to the latest wave of terrorist attacks, members of the Knesset proposed the death penalty for terrorists. Explanatory notes to the bill explained its rationale:
“After each terrorist attack, the top officials of the defense establishment promise that the ‘long arm of the State of Israel will settle the score with the murderers.’ However, in practice, all the murderers receive comfortable conditions in prison and salaries from the Palestinian Authority, and in time most of them are freed in various deals. The purpose of this bill is to curtail terrorism and create a weighty deterrent.”
This proposal was ultimately voted down by the Knesset. Nevertheless, its explanatory notes highlight the problem that jailed Palestinian terrorists enjoy almost a country-club lifestyle, according to testimony from former prisoners. For example, after eight months in an Israeli jail for assaulting Israeli soldiers and inciting suicide bombings, 17-year-old Ahed Tamimi, in a TV interview delivered by Palestinian Media Watch (PMW), described her experience:
“I did a lot of things: a legal course, we spent a lot of time on that, and matriculation exam studies; I read books; we would sing; we even had joint breakfasts of the entire wing—we would go outside, every room would bring its things, and we would eat together. We also ate lunch together most of the time. We also had parties… We watched TV, for example we jumped around in the rooms and did silly things; we did a lot of things.”
Another former prisoner, Mohammad Hilal, described his experience to an interviewer from PA TV, also via PMW, after serving 10 years:
“In the morning we’d exercise … Then the guys would get together in the prison yard and we’d chat, talk, eat, drink, joke and play, etc., throughout the day. At noon the guys would go to their rooms for roll-call … time for resting in the rooms … Nap time, reading time, study time … At 1:30 or 12:30 p.m. they’d take us out to the yard again. We’d spend [time] with the guys walking, laughing, playing, joking, etc., until dark.”
Based on these testimonies, one would think Palestinian terrorists were getting a paid vacation. Indeed, they are—as mentioned, they and their families receive handsome salaries from the P.A. Salaries range from around $400 a month to as much as $4,000 per month, the latter of which is three times the average Palestinian wage.
Do Palestinian terrorists released from Israeli prisons come out regretting their actions? Not according to Asrar Samrin, who said in an interview shown on PMW, “I say to the Israelis: There is no Palestinian who did something for the homeland and his nation who will regret it. We don’t regret what we did and we will not regret what we did.”
Samrin was serving a life sentence for murdering an Israeli civilian, but was freed along with 104 other prisoners in 2013 to satisfy the P.A.’s demand for a prisoner release in exchange for renewing peace negotiations. Those negotiations, of course, failed.
Imprisoning Palestinian terrorists actually spurs more terrorism. In fact, according to a government report released to Israel Hayom, some terrorist attacks have been planned from inside prisons, including two this year.
Many terrorists freed from the Israeli prison system have gone on to carry out more attacks. For instance, Mohammed Abu al-Kiyan, a released security prisoner, murdered four Israelis in a terrorist attack in Beersheba. In another case, Diaa Hamarsheh, a released Palestinian prisoner from a village near Jenin, murdered five Israelis in Bnei Brak, close to Tel Aviv.
These murders would obviously have been prevented if their perpetrators were given death sentences following their first offenses.
Many American critics of Israel fearfully focus on actions the new government may take—or may not. But those critics often ignore the fact that the new government was elected to solve very real problems.
Paramount among these problems is the rising rate of murder by people whose avowed mission is not a two-state solution, but rather killing Jewish people and destruction of the Jewish state.
You may approve of the death penalty, or not, but the question is tragically palpable daily in Israel. This is one way the new government proposes to respond to the voting public—reforming the Jewish state in order to make it more secure for every Israeli: Jew, Arab, gay, straight, Orthodox and Reform.
In short, the staunchly democratic Jewish state deserves the support of all American citizens, regardless of our personal politics. It behooves Zionists—especially Jews in the Diaspora—to respect the democratic outcome of Israel’s elections. We should allow the country’s duly elected government to implement measures for which Israelis voted them into office, even as we may disagree with parts of their platform.
James Sinkinson is president of Facts and Logic About the Middle East (FLAME), which publishes educational messages to correct lies and misperceptions about Israel and its relationship to the United States.