Arab Israeli terrorist released after 40 years; police seek to prevent celebrations

An Arab Israeli terrorist who served 40 years for murdering an Israel Defense soldier was released from prison on Thursday, with large numbers of police deployed in and around his hometown to prevent celebrations upon his arrival.

National Security Minister Itamar Ben Gvir said in a statement that the police were instructed to “act decisively” against anyone revelry or display of support for terrorism when Maher Younis arrives at his home, including enforcing a ban against displaying the Palestinian national flag.

Younis and his cousin Karim Younis, both from the town of ‘Ara in northern Israel, murdered Cpl. Avraham Bromberg in 1980. The pair were given life sentences that were commuted to 40 years by then-president Shimon Peres in 2012.

When Karim Younis was released earlier this month, public celebrations were held in his hometown despite a directive from Ben Gvir to prevent that.

Maher Younis’s family was said to be preparing for thousands of people to greet him, although they told media that they would keep to the guidelines laid down by the police and would not let the event become a public rally celebrating the convict.

Members of the Younis family were reportedly summoned by the police before the release and told they could not set up a welcome tent at their home for guests. They were also warned that any Palestinian flags displayed would be seized. The family committed to not holding public celebrations for the release.

Video circulated on social media showed Younis’ mother greeting her son with a white cloak and a garland of flowers. The pair were surrounded by a throng of people, although many appeared to be members of the media.

Footage showed dozens of chairs set up at the Younis home on Thursday morning.

After he was received by family and friends, Younis urged the “unification of all Palestinian factions because the security prisoners are suffering a lot,” according to the Kan public broadcaster.

“Together we can succeed. We are in a difficult political period and we need to fight intelligently,” he said. “We are a nation of heroes. We do not surrender. The state asked not to celebrate. Regards to all the members of the prisoners’ families. I hope they will be released soon.”

Younis also received a congratulatory phone call from Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas who hailed the former prisoner as a “symbol of the Palestinian people.” According to Palestinian media reports, Younis told Abbas, “I am prepared to serve another 40 years in order to liberate the homeland of Palestine.

The National Security Ministry said in a statement that officials had held a meeting during which “all participants agreed that the waving of terrorist flags, chants that the terrorist is a hero, and parading of murderers are illegal steps and the police were instructed to prevent them .”

Police were ordered “to act decisively and resolutely against the scenes of terrorism and support for terrorism that we saw last week in ‘Ara” when Karim Younis was released earlier this month, the statement said.

Maher Younes is welcomed by friends and relatives following his release after 40 years in an Israeli prison for kidnapping and murdering a soldier, in the northern Israeli town of ‘Ara, on January 19, 2023. (AHMAD GHARABLI / AFP)

On Wednesday night, ahead of his release, Maher Younis issued a statement, saying he was “looking forward to meeting the Palestinian masses.”

He added that he was “excited to see the young generation full of values, awareness, and knowledge” and urged a united effort for the Palestinian future.

Large numbers of police were deployed to the outskirts of ‘Ara in Wadi Ara and close to the Younis home on Tuesday and Wednesday nights in preparation for Younis’s arrival.

Hebrew media quoted Palestinian sources as saying that a relative of Younis was arrested on Wednesday night on suspicion of incitement to terror. Kan reported that the detainee was his cousin Nadim Younis.

In the days after Karim Younis’s release, celebrations were held in his hometown. Three senior Palestinian Authority officials who paid him a visit subsequently had their entry permits to Israel revoked by Defense Minister Yoav Gallant.

Afterwards, Ben Gvir summoned police commissioner Kobi Shabtai for a dressing-down following the celebrations, in a first rebuke of police by the new far-right minister, who demanded and received extensive powers over the force’s policy in recent coalition negotiations.

National Security Minister Itamar Ben Gvir arrives for a weekly cabinet meeting at the Prime Minister’s office in Jerusalem, on January 8, 2023. (RONEN ZVULUN / POOL / AFP)

The cousins ​​are members of Israel’s Arab minority, many of whom identify as Palestinians.

In the attack in 1980, the two offered Bromberg a ride as he was heading home from his army base in the Golan Heights, then overpowered him, shot him in the head, and stole his weapon. They left him on the side of a road, where he was found and brought to a hospital, but he died days later. The killers were arrested two years later and sentenced in 1983.

Ben Gvir has spoken out in support of capital punishment for terror offenses. He has been a critic of police enforcement efforts against Jewish nationalists and what he considers a too-soft approach towards non-Jewish suspects.

Right-wing lawmakers are working on passing a bill to revoke the citizenship of convicted terrorists that cleared an initial reading last week.

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