JERUSALEM (Dec. 26)
Three members of what was once described as a Jewish terrorist underground were released from prison to the cheers of Jewish settlers Wednesday, after serving less than seven years of what originally were life sentences.
Left-wing protesters called it a “black day” for the rule of law in Israel.
Menachem Livni, 40; Uzi Sharbaf, 30; and Shaul Nir, 40, all West Bank settlers, were convicted of the 1983 machine-gun slaying of three Arab students at the Islamic College in Hebron.
Livni was also found guilty of planting car bombs that permanently crippled Nablus Mayor Bassam Shaka in 1980, injured Ramallah Mayor Karim Khalaf and blinded an Israeli police sapper.
Sharbaf and Nir were also convicted of planting time bombs on 16 buses serving densely populated Arab neighborhoods in East Jerusalem and for plotting to blow up Al Aksa mosque, an Islamic shrine on the Temple Mount.
Their release from Ma’asiyahu prison, near Ramla, was symbolic inasmuch as the three men, all Orthodox Jews, have been out of jail for months studying at a religious seminary as part of their court-ordered rehabilitation.
But none expressed remorse for their acts as they were carried on the shoulders of their singing, dancing, flag-waving supporters, who gave them a hero’s welcome.
Left-wing critics observed that Arabs serve much longer terms in Israeli jails for lesser crimes.
Livni, Sharbaf and Nir were the last to be released of the 25 West Bank Jews convicted in the mid-1980s of violent acts against Arabs. They received the longest sentences, and there was a constant clamor from the religious right in Israel for presidential pardons.
President Chaim Herzog first reduced their life terms to 24 years, then to 15 years and in 1989 to 10 years. A parole committee reduced the sentences by another third for good behavior.
Although Herzog defended the commutations on the grounds that the prisoners expressed “unequivocal regret for their actions,” Livni told reporters that if the government had listened at the time to the message being sent it by the Jewish underground, the intifada could have been avoided.