The question is neither rhetorical nor theoretical in our part of the world. There have been several rounds of prisoner releases to which Israel has been party. Two years ago, 1,027 terrorists, the majority of them killers, walked free as the price negotiated by Israel for the release of a hostage, Gilad Shalit. The writers of this blog were outraged by the inclusion of the murderer of our US-citizen daughter Malki among them. That woman should never have been in the list. We argued forcefully, via a grassroots campaign, that she ought to have been removed from it, and in 3 days we gathered nearly ten thousand signatures of people as outraged as we who agreed. But we failed and the fears and predictions we expressed in scores of interviews and articles about the freed murderer have come true.
The most recent mass release of imprisoned terrorists took place this past Tuesday night, August 13, 2013. A first cluster of 26 convicted murderers was set loose and dispatched to Gaza and Ramallah around midnight. This was principally about political showmanship, so it was not surprising to see the PA working energetically to frame the eleven terrorists who lived in its jurisdiction as heroes and great men. Hamas by contrast downplayed the whole thing; the 15 headed for Gaza were sent directly to their homes. Since there was no political dividend in this for Hamas, their response was predictable.
This was tranche number one. Three more are coming, depending - Israeli official channels have said - on how well the peace talks go. In all, the go-free list this time amounts to 104 men. With 26 now on the loose, 78 more are waiting in line. One of the 26 is the convicted killer of a US citizen. How the US viewed his undeserved freedom makes for some unsettling observations.
A Daily Beast article by Eli Lake ["Palestinian Prisoner Freed by Israel Has American Blood on His Hands", published Friday] starts with what most observers already know: this past week's terrorist release was done "at the behest of the State Department". No point in beating around the bush.
Eli Lake says the United States has for decades urged foreign governments not to free prisoners who have killed Americans. At least one of last week's 26 fell into that category. Al-Haaj Othman Amar Mustafa, a Palestinian Arab, was convicted of the 1989 murder of Frederick Steven Rosenfeld, a former U.S. Marine and a U.S. citizen. (We have also seen his first name written as Friedrich.)
Mustafa was sentenced by an Israeli military court to life after he and two other assailants murdered Rosenfeld in 1989, 21 years after the former Marine emigrated to Israel. According to an Associated Press account of Mustafa’s trial before a military court, Mustafa and two others met Rosenfeld as he was hiking near the settlement where he lived in Ariel. At first, the three men befriended Rosenfeld and even posed for a photo. “Minutes after the picture was taken, the three stabbed Rosenfeld and left him for dead, according to their confession,” the AP dispatch said. [Daily Beast]Mustafa has been free as a bird since Wednesday morning. Lake quotes a Reuters article from Wednesday saying that when he arrived back home to the West Bank, Mustafa was greeted as a hero. He will get a monthly stipend from the Palestinian Authority of about $1,120 a month (or 4,000 Israeli shekels), like all the others freed this week. In terms of the Palestinian economy, this means no need to work. Note that the PA has said for years it is unable to pay its bills. No matter.
Did State, which surely knew, do anything to take him off the Israeli walk-free list?
Marie Harf, deputy spokesperson for the State Department, told The Daily Beast Thursday, “The State Department conveyed the administration’s concerns regarding the release of this prisoner to the government of Israel, while recognizing the victim was a dual national of Israel and the United States.” Harf said the Israeli side “acknowledged our views, but it was ultimately their decision to determine which prisoners to release. This is a very difficult situation for all involved, and further highlights the importance of making these negotiations successful.” [Daily Beast]Should State be believed? Yes, says Elliott Abrams, a deputy national security adviser in the George W. Bush administration and a scholar at the Council on Foreign Relations, quoted by Lake. But
“It was a very bad screw-up by the State Department not to demand that he remain incarcerated or it is a silent change of policy. I believe the policy has always been that we oppose the release of anyone who has committed terrorism against Americans.” [Daily Beast]We spoke with Michael Palmer a few days ago. Like us, he knows the bitterness and anguish of losing a child to an act of murder at the hands of terrorists. We have written about his son Asher and infant grandson Yonatan who were murdered in a carefully planned and executed rock-hurling attack near their home nearly two years ago. The ring leader was convicted of murder some months ago; other members of the same gang are currently on trial.
Michael Palmer told us he visited the State Department in Washington DC a couple of times in recent months. In May 2013, he met there with the head of the Office of Israel and Palestinian Affairs. That official told him:
"If there is a situation in which individuals with the blood of US citizens on their hands are discussed as part of a prisoner release by Israel, Department of State will be engaged in the negotiations to prevent the release of those individuals."Michael Palmer was there again this past Tuesday. This time he met with the newly-appointed replacement of the official who had been the unit's head just three months earlier. The main subject was the impending release of Al-Haaj Othman Amar Mustafa, the Palestinian Arab murderer of a US citizen, that same day.
|Friedrich Rosenfeld, of blessed memory: |
US citizen whose Palestinian Arab murderer
walked free last week
Michael Palmer adds that he knows with certainty that the State Dept. officials were fully aware one of the prisoners going free that day was the convicted murderer of a US citizen.
So what did State say to him about its policy, this past Tuesday? Concerning the release of terrorist murderers with American blood on their hands, they're opposed.
To put this another way: on Tuesday, the US watched from the sidelines as a prisoner release which it had brought about was being executed, while declaring (once again) that such a thing was the opposite of its policy. In a note to us today, Michael Palmer calls this surreal. We can only agree.
Is it generally recognized that the US State Department is acting with such blatant disregard for its own policy? If not, perhaps it's time people did understand it.
But there's another less-noticed aspect of the murder of Frederick Rosenfeld, former US Marine and holder of dual Israeli/American citizenship about which we want people to know. It happens to demonstrate his astonishing determination and courage.
A 1991 Associated Press report says Rosenfeld's killers were identified on the basis of group photographs taken just before the Arabs stabbed him and left him to bleed to death: the group comprised three smiling Arabs and Rosenfeld. Determined that the three cowards who had just stabbed him would not escape justice, the mortally wounded Rosenfeld managed to remove the film from his camera and place it in his own mouth to conceal it. The attackers who had fled after stabbing him returned to the scene to remove the evidence. Unable to find the film, they left. The police found it when they examined the victim's by-then-dead body. The resulting prints incriminated the perpetrators. The victim's incredible presence of mind led to two of the three knife-wielding terrorist assailants being sentenced to life imprisonment.
Sad to say, and despite Rosenfeld's courage and tenacity as the life-blood was seeping out of his body, one of them walked free this week. The second murderer is among the 78 to go free in one of the next rounds.
Meanwhile back in Washington, Marie Harf, State's new deputy spokesperson, says they're still not sure whether the 26 freed killers, including the murderer of ex-Marine Frederick Rosenfeld, are actually terrorists. Could be they're political prisoners, she admits. Or maybe freedom fighters. [You can see her saying these things in the video that accompanies our post: "14-Aug-13: Are the Palestinian Arab murderers who are being released at this moment, freedom fighters or terrorists? Let's check with the State Department"].
State, says its spokesperson, doesn't actually have a position on that at the moment.
In reality, they surely do. They know that, leaving the politically-correct rhetoric aside, these people are terrorists. Not freedom fighters, not political prisoners. The studied uncertainty of the department's spokesperson does not reflect reality within the department. The reality appears to be this: State has a clear policy, and it acts in contravention of it.