The Longest-ever Serving Palestinian Prisoner Was Released After 40 Years. Not Everyone Believes He’s Changed

Karim Younis, who murdered the soldier Avi Bromberg in 1980, was a symbol among the prisoners. He wrote articles favoring dialogue but was turned down for parole despite repeated requests. With his release Thursday, he now faces calls for his citizenship to be taken away and an investigation into his accepting money from the PA

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Karim Younis
Karim YounisCredit: Masha Zur-Gluzman

The gates of Hadarim Prison have opened up for the first time in 40 years for Karim Younis, Israel’s longest-serving security prison.

It’s not every day that a security prisoner convicted of murder is released after serving his full sentence, without ever receiving parole or being traded in a prisoner swap.

Younis was arrested in 1983 together with two relatives, Maher and Sami Younis, for the kidnapping and murder of the soldier Avi Bromberg three years earlier. Younis was originally sentenced to death but the penalty was later commuted to life imprisonment. Shimon Peres, as president, reduced his term to 40 years, which ended this week.

Younis’ hometown village of Ara prepared celebrations for the 65-year-old ex-prisoner and a new house awaited him.

Younis and his mother. "I abhor any violent action, I am no longer the same man I was 30 years ago," he wrote to the parole board in 2012.

“Sure, we’re planning a big celebration,” said his brother Tamim shortly before his release. “He’s very excited about his imminent release despite his 40 years in prison. He’s been waiting for the moment he’s out and can live like a regular person – marry, start a family and find work. He did what he did, paid the price and now wants to live an ordinary life.”

Earlier this week, Younis distributed a letter ahead of his release where he expressed sorrow that he alone was being let out and that he was leaving behind him his fellow inmates, some of whom have been in prison with him for more than 30 years.

Younis noted that he was being released at a sensitive time, in which “waves are crashing up against all sides of the Palestinian ship,” which he described as in the midst of a regional storm and far from any safe harbor. He appealed to the young generation, which he said wasn’t like his own: “They’re stronger and braver, and they are the ones that must carry the torch.”

During his many years in prison, Younis achieved an exalted status among the prisoners that was shared by his jailers. During visits to the facility, senior Israel Prison Service officials would sit and talk with him, knowing that his words reflected not just the feelings of his fellow prisoners but the thinking of the Fatah leadership in Ramallah.

Younis had long insisted that his worldview has changed and that he no longer advocates violence. “I’m a man of peace, who supports peace, dialogue and negotiations,” he wrote to the parole board in 2012. “I abhor violent action, especially against innocent civilians. I am not the same man I was 30 years ago.”

But an IPS official says he is skeptical. “What he’s said in the recent past can be interpreted as continuing to believe that the only way to end the dispute is through violent struggle. I never got the impression that he had really changed,” the official said.

Younis (left) with his relatives Sami (middle) and Naser. "He never initiates anything and mostly follows others. Anyone can influence him," said a prisoner who stayed in his cell.Credit: Photo reproduction by Itzhik Ben-Malki

In 1990, Younis wrote an essay that circulated among the prisoners entitled “Ideological Struggle and Settling a Dispute,” in which he asserted that dialogue between Palestinians and Israel was the way to bring an end to the conflict. Later that decade, he wrote another essay in which he called on the Palestinian leadership “to consider changing its thinking on Israel and to recognize its existence while pursuing a settlement.” He added that “the existence of the two sides is a fait accompli.”

Younis served time at different prisons over the years, including a decade in Nafha, Nitzan, where he served a spokesman for the prisoners; and Hadarim, where he had been until this week. His relations with prison administrators were always good. He had successfully completed studies for a bachelors degree from the Open University in political science and international relations before the government banned security prisoners from doing so.

Younis became a symbol for the other prisoners because he had spent so many years behind bars, but not necessarily because of his leadership abilities.

“He’s a very sensitive man – sits in his corner, not an especially dominant personality,” said an ex-prisoner who knew him. “He never undertook any initiative – a strike or other protest – he mostly followed others. He’s a man that others can influence.”

According to Palestinian sources, Younis in recent years had no longer wanted to assume any leadership role. “He doesn’t have the strength to continue fighting, in part due to his health, which isn’t like it once was. He’s a symbol, that’s for sure, but not a central figure who others follow,” said the former prisoner.

Younis' parents in the northern Israeli village of Ara, 2011. Due to the "seriousness of the offenses, continued association with a terrorist organization, and reliance on a confidential opinion", the Shin Bet opposed the release requests.Credit: Itzik Ben-Malki

The indictment against Younis and his gang makes for difficult reading. In November 1980, Maher and Karim Younis set out with a pistol to stage a kidnapping. They forced Corp. Bromberg into their car and near the Pardes Hannah Junction Maher shot him in the head. The two then threw Bromberg’s body out of the car, took his weapon and gave it to Sami Younis, who was the brains behind the operation.

When Sami was freed during the Gilad Shalit prisoner exchange in 2011, Karim wasn’t included. The next year, Karim requested early release. To make his case, he enlisted the support of Israeli academics, among them Prof. Yehouda Shenhav of Tel Aviv University, who in a letter to the parole board praised Younis’ essays and pointed to the importance of his “calling for the recognition of Israel and the neglect of the armed struggle.”

The Shin Bet security service, however, opposed early release. A document signed by “Ran” of the Shin Bet’s northern region Counterterrorism Unit cited “the gravity of his offenses, the fact that he continues to belong to terror organizations and the evidence of classified expert opinion.” An exact copy of the opinion was given by “Tamar” to the parole board two years later.

Avi BrombergCredit: From the website Yizkor

“He really tried to please the system so they would support his early release. Time after time he sought to show that he had abandoned terror and that his previous actions had been a mistake,” said former IPS Deputy Commissioner Betty Lahat, who among other things served as head of the service’s intelligence unit and knew Younis well.

She said that Israeli citizenship was a major concern for Younis: “I spoke about this a lot and said that if he was released he would live only in Israel – that’s where he sees his future.”

However, now that he is being released, Younis faces a struggle over that citizenship. Politicians have been calling for amending the law to allow it to be taken away. Earlier this week, Interior Minister Arye Dery asked the attorney general to begin work on rescinding not only Younis’ citizenship but that of Maher, who is expected to be released later this month.

Hadarim prison, where Yunis stayed for 40 years. A former Israeli prison service officer predicts that Younis will return to the headlines shortly.Credit: Tomer Appelbaum

Another campaign against Younis touches on the issue of the money that he allegedly received from the Palestinian Authority during his years in prison.

Last September, Defense Minister Benny Gantz determined that the PA transferred hundreds of thousands of shekels as payment for acts of terror. According to Gantz, the recipients included Maher and Karim Younis, who together got 670,724 shekels ($191,000).

In response, Lt. Col. (res.) Maurice Hirsch, former head of the military prosecution in the West Bank and today head of the legal department at the NGO Look at the Palestinian Media, asked the attorney general to open a criminal investigation against Younis for violations of the Terrorism Law. Hirsch noted that the law prohibits getting money as payment for acts of terror and imposes penalties of seven to 10 years imprisonment.

“There is a fundamental issue at stake here in the fight against receiving terrorist funds from the Palestinian Authority,” he said. “There should be a combined action by both the police and the tax authorities since there is tax evasion in the millions [of shekels] by Israeli terrorists.”

According to Hirsch, who carefully monitors PA support for security prisoners, Younis is due $25,000 as a release grant, along with being awarded a leadership position.

“No one is asking me whether it’s right to release him after 40 years,” said Hirsch,“that’s what the court ruled in fixing the sentence. But how can you say that there’s truly been a statement of remorse if at the same time you receive hundreds of thousands of shekels as a reward for killing a soldier? Is anything that he says really credible?”

Tamim, Karim’s brother, who visited him in prison every week by virtue of his being a lawyer, said he wasn’t worried that the government would act against his brother.

“We all know [National Security Minister] Ben-Gvir and his extreme positions and that he will try to bully my brother, but my brother served out his sentence. We don’t expect forgiveness, but we hope that we won’t sin again and that he’ll live a normal life. Just as he said while he was inside jail, on the outside his stands won’t change – he believes in dialogue with Israel.”

A former IPS official said he had no doubt that Younis would be back in the headlines very quickly: “In prison he became a symbol of Fatah and the Palestinian Authority, so I’m sure we’ll be hearing from him again as someone who is trying to find a place as an Israeli Arab political leader.”

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