Ahmed Jubarah said that he did not consider himself a murderer, he was simply a man who wanted peace and freedom. That’s all. He traveled extensively in his young life, including, at age 20, a voyage to Colombia, where there have been a lot of people over a lot of decades who have sought peace and freedom at gunpoint. He went then to Paterson, New Jersey, and on to Chicago. He later he returned to the West Bank, his native land, and joined Al-Fatah. He put an old refrigerator into a car and placed it in Zion Square in the center of Jerusalem. A timing device exploded. He killed 13 Israelis and wounded 60. He was caught and sentenced to life in prison.
That was 28 years ago.
On Tuesday, as a conciliatory gesture, General Sharon ordered his release. He was carried home on the shoulders of jubilant young men. He was a hero, finally released from his tribulation in behalf of peace and freedom. He had become known as Abu Sukar, or “Father of Sugar,” the reference being to his daughter of that name.
How many more freedom fighters are in Israeli prisons? One hundred were released, along with the Father of Sugar. Five thousand are still in jail. The road map will almost surely call for amnesty for all of them, but the negotiators have perforce to acknowledge a problem of their own making. It is one thing to arrest and put into limbo-jail a suspect, something more than that to do so to someone responsible for terrorist killing. Israel has abjured capital punishment. On one side of the moral ledger, this is a kindly thing to do. On the other side, it is a cause of endless activity by those who argue — and fight for — the convict’s release. The Israelis decades ago announced that they would not trade in captive killers. But, as quietly as they could manage, they proceeded to do so in 1994, returning some 4,000 Palestinians. It was hoped that, once released, they would pursue only pacific means of forwarding their mission, but Israeli intelligence has not revealed any figures. How many of them sought to kill again? It is unlikely that Ahmed Jubarah will place another refrigerator bomb in the center of Jerusalem. But we have heard nothing from his lips urging younger men to stop the killing.
General Sharon and Mahmoud Abbas face many problems on the road to permanent cohabitation of the land inhabited by Israelis and Palestinians. One such is the matter of the terrorists. To the extent a terrorist can help to solve the problem, he can commit suicide, and most of the terrorist acts dating back to September 2000 have featured suicidal enterprises. But not all, and there are those failed endeavors which result in the capture of someone bent on a terrorist mission. As things now go, the assailant becomes a prisoner of the Israelis and a martyr of the Palestinians. The more of them there are, the greater the fervor for their release.
What everyone knows, from history and from elementary psychology, is that the larger the contingent of felons, the greater the probability that they will be set free. When East Germany was liberated, we would learn that for every 166 East Germans, there was one Stasi officer or informant. Eighty-five thousand Stasi were responsible for systematic oppression, including torture and murder. There was a little random prosecution, but for all intents and purposes, the whole lot of them went free, as did most of the Nazis in the preceding generation of German totalitarianism.
Surely if Mr. Abbas and General Sharon agree to concerted efforts to end terrorism, they should agree that anyone convicted of the crime should be executed. It would be especially effective if such executions were conducted by the country to which the terrorist professes allegiance. There have been Israeli terrorists; the massacre in Nahariya comes to mind. But of course the preponderance of them are Palestinian, and a resolution of immense consequence should be considered: Death sentences by the Arafat government for Palestinians caught contriving acts of terrorism, tried, and found guilty.
The peace-seekers need to challenge head-on recidivist acts of terrorism, and the way to do this is with dispatch and finality.