Dei'ah veDibur - Information & Insight

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29 Adar II 5760 - April 5, 2000 | Mordecai Plaut, director Published Weekly








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Opinion & Comment
What is the Value of Human Life in the Israeli Justice System?

by A. Yitzchaki

What is the price for taking a life in the State of Israel? On the surface, this seems a strange question. There is no price for human life.

Nonetheless, the Israeli judicial system frequently has to study this question and to decide what punishment to impose on one who has taken a life. The Israeli law knows no compromises. The court isn't authorized in most of the cases to impose less than a life-sentence.

However, the definition of the world "life" is quite individual.

It is dependent on many details, beginning with the question of "who is the murderer?" It ends with the question of "who has been murdered?" In between, the question of the extent of the power of the lobby which is active on one side or another, and, no less important, the question of the extent to which the media uses its influence in order to extend or reduce the punishment, as it sees fit.

Recently, the sentence of Yoram Skolnik, who is serving a life term in prison, after having shot a handcuffed terrorist to death, came under review. The terrorist, who was on his way to hurl a grenade at a school bus from one of the settlements was captured after he had stabbed a Jew who was suspicious of him.

Skolnik, the security coordinator of a nearby settlement, heard on his walkie talkie about the capture of the terrorist, arrived on the site and saw himhandcuffed. He then raised his gun and shot him to death. For this he was sentenced to life in prison.

Later, his sentence was reduced to 15 years, and then to 11.

The Parole Board discussed Skolnik's request to be released after having served two-thirds of his prison term, in other words after seven years, and decided to answer it affirmatively.

In reaction, a number of Meretz-niks appealed to the High Court to cancel the Board's decision. "It's a very bad message for the public, about the cheapeness of human life," the petitioners said in their appeal to the High Court.

The release of a person sentenced for murder, after seven years in prison is liable to cause damage to Israeli society, they claimed. The state prosecution joined the petition, and claimed that the decision of the Parole Board is unreasonable in the extreme.

The media, as expected, also criticized the decision, and came out with a huge headline and critical articles against Skolnik's early release. The court of course accepted the petition and annuled the Board's dcision.

We wouldn't have mentioned the Skolnik case, if a cold- blooded criminal had not been released last week from prison after two thirds of her sentence had been deducted.

That criminal, a well known public figure, was accused of the murder of an innocent woman, whose only fault was that she had money. The criminal was sentenced to life in prison, and later on her sentence was reduced to 20 years.

The Parole Board decided to deduct a third of her sentence for her good behavior, and to release her after only 14 years.

The Israeli media refused to raise a commotion about this early release. It did not criticize the fact that a woman who had committed so shocking an act in cold blood, only out of the desire for money, was being released.

The state prosecution did not appeal to the High Court on the claim that the decision was unreasonable. In brief: she did not murder a handcuffed Arab, but only an innocent Jewish tourist.

Is a sentence of 14 years in prison a reasonable punishment for taking the life of another human life, while a seven year sentence is not reasonable? What is the parameter for assessing the value of human life, and when is early release considered rational?

Why didn't anyone say a word when only a short while ago a cruel murderer was released after only six years in prison, on the claim that the continuation of his punishment was liable to endanger his health? A rather ridiculous claim in light of the crime he committed?

In the end, it became clear that the murderer is healthy as an ox, and that his release was the result of his having bribed the doctor.

The daughter of the victim, who was shocked by the release, waged a stubborn battle against it, and succeeded in having the criminal returned to prison. But without this struggle, the murderer would be roaming around freely, without anyone having taken the pains to check how the Parole Board could so disdain the value of human life.

The reason for this, of course is that the above- mentioned murderer and murderess took the lives of innocent Jews in cold blood, and not the lives of handcuffed Arab terrorists.

That then is the standard for assessing the value of life. If the victim is Jewish and the murderer is Jewish, then its not so terrible if he's released earlier (unless the victim was a Prime Minster.)

If the murderer is an Arab terrorist, and the victim a Jew, then according to certain circles, he should be released immediately, as part of the price of peace with our neighbors.

But if the murderer is a Jew and the victim an Arab, even an Arab terrorist, then the price of the spilled blood is very high.

The entire Leftist camp will mobilize in order to condemn the early release. The fact that very near us, scores of murderers of Jews are roaming around freely, some who actually hold top ranking positions in the Palestinian Authority, and others who have emerged through the "revolving doors" of the Palestinian prison, does not weigh heavily on the tortured consciences of those highly ethical people.

The Leftists are more ethical. For them, human life is more important, only if an Arab is involved, how much more so a terrorist.

This is the double ethic of the enlightened humanistic camp. It isn't concern for human life which motivates them, but rather the cynical exploitation of difficult incidents for political purposes.

As long as it can derive political gain, this camp launches a battle under empty slogans of humanistic values. If there is anyone who causes the cheapening of the value of human life, it is those Leftists who prove by their deeds that some people are worth more and some worth less.

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