Israel Must Choose: Rename “Life Sentence” or Institute the Death Penalty

by Dr. David Mandler

Time and again, Israel has released convicted murderers as a good will gesture or in exchange of captured Israeli citizens. Today, the names of the first 26 prisoners to be released have been published.  All 26 have been serving prison terms for murder.


The latest release of murderers at the outset of renewed talks between Israelis and Palestinians underlines one thing: murderers of Israeli citizens can rest assured that there is no such thing as a life sentence in prison in Israel.

To those who believe that the deliberate taking of human life merits severe punishment, this realization is rather disheartening. Palestinians in Israeli jails are generally seen as heroes (even more so if they are serving time for killing Israelis). It is for this reason that Mahmoud Abbas wanted to see the day on which Palestinians (in this case, murderers) are released from jail as a result of his intervention to counter the major “victory” Hamas scored when it successfully pressured Israel into releasing a staggering number of convicted criminals (one thousand and twenty seven, to be precise) two years ago. And if you think that no released prisoners planned to kill Israelis again, just read this article:

Now it is the Palestinian Authority’s time to celebrate. Human beings who deliberately killed (and in some cases, brutally tortured) other human beings (and not only for political reasons) are to walk the streets of Gaza and the West Bank again. In exchange, Israel will get a chance to talk to Mahmoud Abbas…

Why does this make me angry? Would I be outraged if the situation were reversed and Israeli murderers of Palestinians convicted to serve a life sentence in Palestinian jails were to be released? Before I answer that question, I hasten to add that no such symmetry exists. Palestinians in Israeli jails are entitled to an enormous number of benefits with most opting to complete their higher education courses for college diplomas before consenting to leave Israeli jails although terrorists will no longer be entitled to receive a free university education.

To answer my own question, yes I believe that I would find releasing murderers as a political gesture problematic no matter the situation or the nationalities involved. Why? Here are but four reasons.

1. Family members of those who have been killed should never be subjected to seeing the killers of their loved-ones leave jail to resume their lives, especially not when those killers profess a desire to kill again.
2. Those who murder human beings forfeit the right to live in general society unless they undergo a complete change of personality, repents sincerely and credibly pledge to change their ways. But even in this case, the relatives of the murder victim should have the ultimate word.
3. Releasing murderers in a political game such as talking about talking about how to talk about peace only serves to encourage future murderers, for upon their eventual return, they will be celebrated as heroes and their family members will receive financial support in recognition of their “glorious” deeds. (
4. People who have murdered another human being have traditionally been executed as a punishment. As views on capital punishment have shifted, the alternative punishment of life in prison has gained an increased level of acceptance. After all, exonerating a person who has been wrongfully convicted of murder is of much less value if the wrongfully convicted person has been executed in the interim. Also, many people are loath to become the instrument of another human being’s death (which is the case when the state executes a human being). Consequently, when a state cannot guarantee that a sentence of life in prison actually means just that, the state loses its credibility and no effective punishment for murderers remains.

In light of the above, my first and most humane proposition to Israelis is that they pressure their legislators to introduce a law that would outlaw the possibility of such mass releases of murderers ever again. Yet, it’s not easy to believe that any subsequent government would not circumvent any such new laws.

It makes me very sad to conclude that in a country where, in effect, no such thing as a life sentence for murder exists, capital punishment is the only way to ensure just punishment.

How unfortunate that Israel is now such a country.