The storm stirred by the chief of staff's
to the release of some of the Palestinian captives freed this week is not a small matter. It raises the grave question of why do we hold so many thousands of prisoners?
A large part of them are prisoners with "blood on their hands." Others hold important positions in the terrorist establishment and their release may significantly boost terror groups. Some possess knowledge, connections, and other "advantages" and their release could make the war on terror more difficult. Others are merely vile, as Prime Minister Golda Meir would say.
We shall try to identify the prisoners who in principle have no reason that would prevent their release: The definition "blood on their hands" changed over time. Initially it meant that the prisoner murdered Israel is
with his own hands. Later the definition included direct abettors to murder, and today it includes most of the network that envelops the small circle directly involved in the murderous terror attack – including drivers, lookouts, advisors, planners, and technicians. The clear boundary between murderers to others has been completely blurred.
This development has several implications: First, whenever we wish to release prisoners in a way that is beneficial for us, this is immediately followed by cries over the release of prisoners with blood on their hands, based on the exaggerated criteria (most of them unwritten), which prevent us from releasing them even though in practice they are not murderers based on any reasonable criterion.
Secondly, when the time comes to implement any kind of agreement, our hands will be tied by the criteria we set, and any release will be interpreted as weaknesses and abandonment of principles. Thirdly, the debate over the release of prisoners will become an inter-party debate, and in such debates those who are most extreme score points.
Today, any release of prisoners must undergo a strict legal procedure of pardon, special selection committee, recommendations by the Justice Ministry and attorney general, personal signature by the president, and so forth. On the other hand, the definition "blood on their hands" has not yet faced a legal test, has not yet seen an amendment to civil or military laws, and in fact, one can act as one sees fit on this matter.
There must be a balance between the procedure of preventing the release of a prisoner and the procedure for releasing him. The solution is not the classification of murderers in practice as "prisoners with blood on their hands," while designating all others in the "eligible for release" list.
The answer is to categorize the circles surrounding the murderers using various levels of severity; just like in civil law we have various types of offences such as murder, manslaughter, etc. Each level of severity can be linked to a different price tag in order to boost our ability to engage in negotiations for the release of our captives, for encouraging leadership that is convenient for us, and for reaching interim or permanent agreements.
Our prisons are home to thousands of Palestinian prisoners, with the main benefit in holding them being the fact they serve as bargaining chips. Their ongoing imprisonment involves great damage – enhancing their hostility to Israel, as well as their contribution to the Palestinian public's growing hostility and its willingness to passively support and actively assist terror groups, etc.
It is in our interest to find the right time, and release thousands of unnecessary prisoners in exchange for a certain price. An example of such junction is the inclusion of a prisoner release in the upcoming international conference, thus easing the pressure on us for far-reaching concessions in vital areas such as Jerusalem and Israel's borders.
Prisons are not banks whose vaults go empty: the State can refill them if necessary, in order to facilitate the release of our captives or for other noble aims.
Colonel Shmuel Gordon (Res) heads the technology and national security program at the Holon Institute of Technology