The Ground Is Burning

When Bella Freund, a chareidi woman in Yerushalayim, shielded a Palestinian terrorist from an angry mob some 21 years ago, she was acting out of a commitment to her values. For nearly half an hour she absorbed the blows meant for the terrorist who moments before had stabbed two children, “because there is no ‘mob justice’ for the people of the Law, the people of the Torah.”

Monday’s release of the man she protected — together with 25 others — undermines the message that the courts and legal system should be allowed to determine the fate of terrorists. The law can be dispensed with when it is deemed politically convenient.

“What happened to our values?” asks Mrs. Freund. “Is there any meaning to what we do?”

It is this sinking feeling that the government has lost its way, that core values are no longer relevant to its thinking, that is most painful for those who this week witnessed the release of the terrorists who murdered their loved ones and destroyed their families.

Tali Ben Yishai, the mother of Ruth Fogel, who was murdered two years ago in Itamar with her husband and three children, H”yd, also questioned the government’s values. “Show me another country where they let murderers go because they served 20 or 25 years of their sentence. Would we do this in Israel for a non-terrorist serving a life sentence for murder?”

The danger of such releases, Mrs. Ben Yishai argues, is that it sends a message — to ourselves and to the world — that Jews don’t have a moral right to live in the Land of Israel. Those who kill Jews in Israel for “nationalist” reasons deserve special consideration because their victims really had no business being there.

That is the message that Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu and his government have sent to the Arab world and to the West, and it has repercussions.

In justifying the decision to go ahead with Monday’s release of 26 terrorists — including five who returned home to a hero’s welcome in Yerushalayim — Netanyahu argued that “leadership is judged by the ability to implement decisions, difficult as they may be.”

He’s wrong.

Leadership is judged by the ability to implement good decisions. It is judged by the ability to stand up to foreign pressure to make concessions on core values. It is judged by the ability to place the interests of your own people — whether it is yesterday’s terror victims and their families or the innocent men, women and children who now stand a better chance of, R”l, becoming tomorrow’s terror victims — ahead of PA chairman Mahmoud Abbas’ need to look good in the eyes of his public.

Above all, it is judged by common sense, which was sorely lacking in this week’s decision. It would be one thing if Abbas had the  desire to make peace and all the tough issues had been resolved. But at the welcome-home ceremony in Ramallah for the murderers of Jewish civilians late Monday night, Abbas said nary a word about peace with Israel. There wasn’t a word of regret for Jewish blood that had been spilled, only praise for “our prisoners, the heroes who have seen the light of freedom.”

Not only will the prisoner release not advance the cause of peace, it will do the exact opposite. It will weaken deterrence and thereby encourage terror, which obviously isn’t healthy for a peace process.

Moreover, the painful evidence gleaned from previous releases shows that 40 to 50 percent of these killers go back to their old ways. According to Hamodia’s military correspondent A. Pe’er, they kill more people after they’re released than before they were caught and imprisoned.

“The ground is burning,” Mrs. Ben Yishai said in explaining why she came out to protest. “We can’t remain quiet as those who murdered women and babies are released as victors.”

The ground is indeed burning in so many areas. But no one is paying attention.