WaPo Humanizes Palestinian Terrorist Killer
Israel’s release of Palestinian terrorist killers in hopes of reactivating the Mideast peace process has become a major media preoccupation. So far, under U.S. pressure, Israel has released 78 such prisoners. But it is balking at freeing a remaining 26 because Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas isn’t willing to extend negotiations beyond a late-April deadline. As usual, Abbas is in no mood for any compromise or concession.
But who exactly are these long-term Palestinian prisoners? While waiting for the next moves, the Washington Post gives readers an up-front-and-personal profile of Esmat Mansour, who served 20 years in an Israeli prison. (“From jail to classroom, reflecting on conflict -- Palestinian released as part of peace talks now teaches Hebrew” by Ruth Eglash, April 9, page A8) Mansour is supposed to be emblematic of most of the freed Palestinian prisoners. Except he isn’t. (See why below.)
Mansour, who was convicted as an accomplice to murder, was released last year. As correspondent Eglash views him, he’s quite an appealing fellow. Mansour now is a Hebrew language instructor. He is greeted like a celebrity by teachers and students. “His teenage pupils said they love learning Hebrew with him, even though it’s the language of their perceived oppressors,” Eglash reports. According to Eglash, Mansour doesn’t regret his role in the violence of the past, but said he would never take another life now. In other words, he seems perfectly reformed and no threat to anyone.
“I understand the pain and sadness of the Israeli victims because they have lost loved ones and nothing in the world can repair that,” he remarks. “But I do not understand why their anger is directed at the prisoners. I think they need to look at the real reasons why their loved ones died and not take it personally. It’s a result of the conflict.” So, if anyone is to blame for the shedding of Jewish blood, it’s the Jews.
Mansour was 16 when he helped three older teenagers ambush Haim Mizrachi, an Israeli from the West Bank town of Beit El. Mizrachi was stabbed to death. His killers tried to burn his body to hide the evidence. But Mansour in the meantime has turned the page, or so Eglash would have us believe. Mansour says he tries to teach his students never to use violence. “I don’t feel like a hero because of what I did,” he remarks. “Honestly, anyone can kill a person, that is easy. But I do see myself as a hero because I came out of this experience still strong. I wrote, studied and managed to deal with the harsh conditions in prison. I left and I still have my sanity.”
Quite a moving conversion to pacifism.
But there are two big problems with Eglash’s account.
First is Eglash’s selection of supposedly nonviolent Mansour as the poster child of released Palestinian terrorist prisoners. Unfortunately, it’s the wrong fit. Unlike Mansour, most freed prisoners again engage in terrorist activity. By some accounts, as many as 80 percent do. If you’re going to publish an emblematic profile of one of these prisoners, it ought to be one who reeks from recidivism. Not Mansour who proclaims his rejection of violence.
Second, where is an equally extensive and empathetic profile of the family of an Israeli victim of a terrorist like Mansour? Who exactly was Haim Mizrachi before he was stabbed to death with Mansour’s assistance? What were Mizrachi’s accomplishments in life? What were his hopes, his dashed dreams? And who still grieves for him? The Post and Eglash won’t tell us.
Yet, Mizrachi deserves at least as much attention as Mansour. But in the Post, he doesn’t get it. Not even a single sentence. He apparently doesn’t have the liberal-chic cachet of a terrorist with blood on his hands.
Leo Rennert is a former White House correspondent and Washington bureau chief of McClatchy Newspapers