Over the last couple of days, a controversial event transpired in Israel that has pierced the hearts of most Israelis. Twenty-six Palestinian prisoners who had been held in Israeli jails – most of whom had been convicted of murder – were released during the night before the peace talks planned between Israelis and Palestinians, which are brokered by the United States Secretary of State, John Kerry.
“There will never be peace here; it is very difficult to cope.”
According to YNet, a popular Israeli website, this was the general response from the families of the victims.
“This is the sentiment of the families of the victims of the 26 prisoners expected to be released as part of resuming peace talks between Israel and the Palestinians. They responded Monday morning with disapproval to the decision to include the killers of their loved ones on the list of those to be released.”
The rest of the story on YNet gives an overview of the sentiments of many of the family members of the Israeli victims of the Palestinians who are being released, and is well worth reading. 
The following is a list recorded in J Post (The Jerusalem Post online) – with information provided by the Almagor Terror Victims Association – about the twenty-six Palestinian prisoners released from Israeli jails on Tuesday as part of confidence-building measures offered by Jerusalem in an attempt to bolster recently restarted Israeli-Palestinian peace talks.
I believe that it is worthwhile to simply read through the names of the released prisoners and of their victims – as well as the crimes committed.
1. Fayez Mutawi al-Khur, who established a Fatah cell of twenty members and was jailed in November 1985 for the murder of Menahem Dadon and the attempted murder of Salomon Abukasis. The two had been shot in the Gaza City market two years earlier.
2. Salah Ibrahim Ahmed Mugdad, who was arrested in June 1993 for the murder of Israel Tenenbaum, a 72-year-old security guard at the Sirens Hotel in Netanya. The Fatah member struck Tenenbaum on the head with an iron bar and stole a television set from the hotel.
3. Samir Nayef al-Na’neesh, who was arrested in March 1989 for the murder of Binyamin Meisner, a reservist killed the previous month while on patrol in Nablus. Meisner was confronted by members of al-Na’neesh’s cell, causing him to enter an alley where other cell members were waiting with rocks.
4. Yusef Abdel Hamid Irshaid, who was arrested in March 1993 for the murder of Nidal Rabo Ja’ab, Adnan Aj’ad Dib, Mofid Can’an, Tawfik Jaradat and Ibrahim Said. Irshaid suspected them of collaborating with Israel and killed them after a violent interrogation. He was also convicted of numerous attempts to kill others he suspected of collaboration.
5. Mustafa Othman al-Haj, who was arrested in June 1989 for the murder of 48-year-old Steven Frederick Rosenfeld. Rosenfeld had been hiking in the hills near Ariel and was stabbed with his own knife by a group of shepherds, who hid his body.
6. Salameh Abdallah Musleh, who was charged in October 1993 with the murder of Reuven David two years earlier. David, 59, owned a grocery store in the town of Petah Tikva. He was beaten and robbed by Musleh and an accomplice.
7. Atiyeh Salem Musa, who, along with an accomplice, used an ax to murder a Jewish co-worker, 67-year-old Isaac Rotenberg, during Passover 1994. The murder took place while Rotenberg was kneeling to fix the floor at his place of employment in Petah Tikva. He was struck on the back of his neck and died two days later.
8. Salah Mahmoud Mukled, who was arrested in July 1993 for the stabbing death of Yeshayahu Deutsch, his Jewish employer, and the attempted murder of another local resident.
9. and 10. Mohamed Abdel Majid Sawalha, who was arrested for murder and attempted murder in December 1990, and his accomplice, Hosni Faregh Sawalha, who was charged with murder and for being an accessory to murder.
The two, minors at the time, stabbed to death 24-year-old Baruch Yaacov Heisler, a passenger on a bus from Petah Tikva to Tel Aviv. They attempted to attack other passengers as well. Another accomplice was killed by a police officer.
11. Atef Izzat Sha’ath, who was arrested in March 1993 for being an accessory to murder after driving three terrorists to the crime scene and driving them away afterward. The victim, Simcha Levy, made a living in Gush Katif by providing transportation to local workers. The terrorists were dressed as female agricultural workers and rode in Levy’s vehicle, where they stabbed her to death and fled.
12. Yusef Said al-Al, who was charged in February 1994 with throwing explosives and for being an accessory to murder. He and accomplices threw two hand grenades, which did not explode, at a Border Police unit. He also planted a bomb near a Border Patrol facility and assisted in the murder of a Jewish civilian by passing on information about the lack of soldiers in the area where the killing took place.
13. Midhat Fayez Barbakh, who was arrested in January 1994 for murder. He participated in the ambush of his employer, 61-year-old Moshe Beker, who was in charge of an orchard in Rishon Lezion. Along with two others, Barbakh waited for Beker in the morning and upon his arrival stabbed him to death with a knife and a pair of pruning shears.
14. Ali Ibrahim al-Rai, who was arrested in April 1994 for the murder of Moris Eisenstatt. Al-Rai killed the 79-year-old by striking him in the head with an ax as Eisenstatt sat on a public bench in Kfar Saba.
15. Mohamed Jaber Nashbat, who was arrested in September 1990 for being an accessory to murder. Nashbat threw rocks at 46-year-old soldier Amnon Pomeranz and poured gasoline on his vehicle, after which it was set alight with Pomeranz inside. The murder took place at the Al Burej refugee camp in the Gaza Strip.
16. Samir Hussein Murtaj, who was convicted in October 1993 for the abduction, interrogation through torture, and murder of four local residents: Samir Alsilawi, Khaled Malka, Nasser Aqila and Ali al Zaabot. The victims were suspected of having collaborated with Israel.
17. Faraj Saleh al-Rimahi, who was arrested in July 1992 for the ax murder of 84-year-old Avraham Kinstler in the Sharon region. While in prison, he also engaged in efforts to obtain a weapon for abducting a soldier.
18. and 19. Ala Eddin Ahmed Abu Sitteh and Ayman Taleb Abu Sitteh, who were charged with murder in January 1994 after they stabbed to death David Dadi, 43, and Hayim Weizman, 33. The two were killed while sleeping at Dadi’s apartment in Ramle. The Sittehs, who had been working in a nearby apartment, severed the victims’ ears after killing them.
20. Esmat Omar Mansour, who was arrested in October 1993 for being an accessory to murder. A minor at the time, Mansour helped subdue the victim, 30-year-old Hayim Mizrahi, who was on his way to buy eggs from an Arab-owned farm near his home. Mizrahi’s body was stuffed into the trunk of his vehicle, which the terrorists used to flee.
21. Khaled Mohamed Asakreh, who was charged in May 1991 with murder in the stabbing death of French tourist Annie Ley. Ley was dining at the restaurant where Asakreh was employed.
22. and 23. Nihad Yusef Jundiyeh and Mohamed Mahmoud Hamdiyeh, who were arrested in July 1989 for the murder of Jewish contractor Zalman Shlein. The two minors stabbed Shlein to death with a knife after traveling with him to a construction site where he was building a house. They also beat him with an iron pole.
24. Jamil Abdel Wahab Natsheh, who was charged with being an accessory to murder in December 1992 for acting as the escape driver for terrorists who shot at IDF soldiers at the Cave of the Patriarchs. One soldier was killed and another was wounded.
25. Taher Mohamed Zaboud, who was arrested in February 1993 for murder, hijacking a vehicle and attempting to steal a weapon. Zaboud’s accomplice fired shots at the driver, Avraham Cohen, but fled when they realized he was not carrying a weapon.
26. Burhan Subaih, who was arrested in February 2001 for the murder of Jamil Muhammad Naim Sabih and Aisha Abdullah Haradin.
Israel is often characterized by world opinion – and by some evangelical Christians – as a nation that acts unjustly and lacks compassion. In fact, nothing could be further from the truth, and the release of the prisoners is clear evidence of the extent to which Israeli leaders are willing to go to achieve peace.
I am not going to try and paint Israel or the Jewish people as perfect or without moral blemish. We are all sinners – both individuals and nations. However, since there has been so much criticism of Israel in recent days, I think it is important to show that Israel and its leaders have gone far beyond what even most citizens of Israel would believe to be just and fair.
What other nation in recent days has released its convicted prisoners or offered them early “parole,” as the Israeli government is describing the nature of their actions?
These controversial decisions on the part of the Israeli leadership will be debated for years and perhaps centuries. I do not believe that the Israeli leadership views the release of the prisoners as forgiveness, nor necessarily an act of compassion, even though in some cases this might be the case – especially for the more elderly prisoners.
I assume the release of the prisoners was enacted for the sake of political expediency in hopes that the release will lead towards peace. We might not know the answer to this for a number of years, and even if some type of peace comes about as a result of this effort – many will still feel that the price for peace was too high.
I am writing these reflections to demonstrate to Evangelical Christians who have been so very critical of Israel lately that Israeli leaders are willing to do what might be viewed as reprehensible and politically inexpedient, simply in order move the peace process forward.
Really, this is all about the character of Israeli leadership and of the people of Israel. Look at the great lengths to which they have gone to show good faith in the peace process. There will be continued controversy over the next few days regarding Israel’s moving forward with housing settlements in Gilo and regarding the recent air strike, destroying the Hamas rocket launcher that was aiming missiles into Israel from Gaza. The antagonists of Israel will focus on these things and miss the fact that the leadership of Israel has risked the soul of the nation for the sake of peace.
I believe that evangelical Christians, especially those that have been so opposed to Israel in recent days and have accused Israel of being unjust, need to pause and reconsider their position in light of the renewed tears shed by the families of those who were murdered – and the cheers and celebrations by the communities of those who were released.