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News reports whitewash the crimes of Palestinian prisoners being released

Nov 29, 2023 | Ahron Shapiro

Pie Chart

On November 24, Israel moved forward with a deal for a temporary ceasefire in the war with Hamas that initially involved exchanging 150 Palestinian female and under-18 terror and security prisoners in exchange for 50 of the approximately 240 Israeli hostages being held captive in Gaza – though this has now been extended with additional releases.

However, some news reports have drawn an apparent moral equivalence between the completely innocent Israeli hostages and the Palestinian prisoners, including by whitewashing or downplaying the severity of the terror-related crimes many of the prisoners were found guilty of.

One such example can be found in a story filed by Ryma Tchier on ABC’s PM on Nov. 27. Tchier said:

As part of the hostage deal, Palestinian detainees are being released from Israeli jails. More than three dozen of them received a hero’s welcome in the West Bank city of Ramallah. They’re teenagers, mainly accused of public disorder and property damage.

In some cases, harming Israeli soldiers by throwing stones or Molotov cocktails. Among them, Majd Freihat, who spent a year and a half behind bars.

Majd Freihat: My happiness is incomplete. I feel joy and sadness at the same time. We didn’t know what was happening outside of the prisons in the West Bank in Gaza. May God help the families there. The martyrs trapped beneath the rubble, the demolished mosques, the young lives lost.

Firstly, Tchier appears to have made a mistake, since according to both the Israeli Justice Ministry and Palestinian news sources, Freihat was arrested on March 21, 2023 (on serious weapons charges and connections with the terror group Palestinian Islamic Jihad) and has therefore only been incarcerated for six months, not 18 months. But more importantly, Tchier downplayed the severity of the crimes committed by most of the prisoners Israel is prepared to give early release to for the deal.

Tchier’s report failed to convey to the listeners the fact that victims of stone-throwing and firebomb attacks have been seriously injured or killed, while misleadingly portraying these attacks as directed towards soldiers alone. In fact, many were convicted of attacks against civilians as well.

In another ABC news report, Nicole Johnston – a former Al Jazeera journalist who once lived in Gaza, expresses a great affinity for Gazans and the Palestinian political narratives, and is now apparently working long hours for the ABC in a freelance capacity for war coverage – misrepresented the crimes of freed prisoner Shurouq Dweiyat.

Johnston claimed on ABC’s “AM” on Nov. 23 that Dweiyat had spent the past eight years in jail for an “attempted stabbing”. In fact, Dweiyat was convicted of attempted murder after she stabbed and injured one person and attempted to stab another before being subdued. Before carrying out the attack, Dweiyat had posted on social media her desire to become a “martyr”.

Contrary to reports like those filed by Tchier and Johnston, a high percentage of the released Palestinian prisoners had been convicted of highly dangerous and violent crimes. As Ha’aretz reported, of the 29 Palestinian prisoners released on Nov. 25, alone, eight (27.6%) had been convicted of attempted murder.

On Nov. 25, Israel’s official account at X (formerly Twitter) posted a pie chart that illustrated that almost two-thirds of the prisoners being released in the deal on that day had committed terror attacks, with an additional 14.4% having attempted a terror attack.

Details of the charges for each individual prisoner can be found on Israel’s Ministry of Justice website (in Hebrew), with an English translation here.

Tchier chose to use the euphemism of “public disorder” to characterise one crime which many had been jailed for. A more accurate term in the West Bank context would undoubtedly be “participation in a violent riot”. She also failed to inform viewers that most of the prisoners held on relatively minor charges hadn’t been sentenced to long terms or been jailed for much time at all.

In an article about Palestinian prisoners, SBS’s Ewa Staszewska noted that the youngest Palestinian prisoner was 14, but failed to mention that Nafoz Hamad, a Palestinian aged 14 at the time of committing his crime – stabbed and critically injured a young Jewish mother who was his neighbour. That felon is now coming back home after serving less than two years of a 12-year sentence, while his victim still lives close by.

In fact, a number of stories about Palestinian prisoners put special emphasis on the fact that minors are involved. In this context, it’s important to note that, as AIJAC’s Allon Lee wrote back in 2014, Palestinian minors are often encouraged by their society to participate in violence or even terror activity against Israelis precisely because it is seen to generate sympathy for the Palestinian cause when they are arrested or jailed. In the nine years that have passed since Lee wrote that post, the Palestinian strategy in this regard has not changed.

Meanwhile, the watchdog NGO Palestinian Media Watch has determined that nine of the prisoners being released in the deal had already served over five years for carrying out serious terror attacks and will now collectively be eligible for payouts totalling 19,500 shekels (almost A$8,000) per month from the Palestinian Authority for the rest of their lives as part of the PA’s policy of rewarding terrorism known as “pay for slay”.

Besides the aforementioned Dweiyat, the terrorists identified by PMW include:

  • Maysoun Musa, who stabbed and seriously wounded a 20-year-old female soldier at the Bethlehem checkpoint in 2015;
  • Aisha Afghani, who was thwarted from carrying out a stabbing attack in Jerusalem’s Old City in 2016;
  • Malaq Suleiman, a then-16-year-old Palestinian Islamic Jihad member who attempted to stab border police at the Damascus Gate in February 2016;
  • Israa Ja’abis, a 31-year-old female resident of East Jerusalem, who carried out a car bomb attack after she was pulled over by police near Ma’ale Adumim in 2015;

and others with similar convictions for murderous terrorist acts.

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