President Reuven Rivlin and Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked have decided to grant special pardons as part of the 70th anniversary celebrations of the State of Israel. The pardons will be granted to people who have not committed serious crimes, in particular to soldiers and civilian national service volunteers who have expressed remorse, have behaved well and have demonstrated a desire to turn over a new leaf.

Addressing a seminar on pardons at the President’s Residence on Monday, Rivlin said pardons and the commuting of sentences on important national days have been a tradition in several countries, including Israel.

The Basic Law gives the president of Israel the authority to pardon convicted felons or to commute their sentence.

Rivlin said special pardons were granted by his predecessors on the 30th, 40th and 50th anniversaries of the state, as well as on the 15th anniversary of the liberation of Jerusalem, but that no special pardons have been granted for the past 20 years.

As president and as a lawyer by profession, Rivlin said, he is intrigued by the development of the legal process in the 70 years of the state.

He had asked himself the question as to whether the 70th anniversary as such in any way influences a decision on clemency or a pardon.

“The Law is blind to time,” he said.

“The jurist does not ask himself if next year is the 70th or the 71st year.

In legal terms, the question is irrelevant.”

Yet for all that, Rivlin observed, a tradition has evolved whereby a round-number anniversary is linked to the very heart of the Law.

“Special anniversaries are important to us as individuals and as a nation,” Rivlin noted. “We celebrate birthdays, bar mitzvas, 10th anniversaries and jubilees, and commemorate memorial days – the Exodus from Egypt and the giving of the Torah as well as other religious festivals and holy days.”

ALLUDING TO the upcoming festival of freedom, Rivlin said that for convicts, freedom is synonymous with release from prison and the cancellation of a debt.

Rivlin quoted former Supreme Court president Aharon Barak, who at the opening of Tzalmon Prison, said: “The character of a society is determined by its attitude towards its prisoners.

It’s important to be aware that even though a convicted criminal has his freedom taken away from him, he must not be deprived of his human image.” (Tzalmon Prison is a minimal security facility and a prisoners’ paradise compared to other penitentiaries in Israel. At Tzalmon the emphasis is on rehabilitation rather than on punishment.) In the spirit of rehabilitation, Rivlin emphasized the importance of maintaining human dignity, and taking a longer and deeper look at the person asking for a pardon or a sentence to be commuted.

He welcomed the opportunity in the 70th anniversary year of the state to stretch out a helping hand to give individuals whose crimes have caused them to leave the collective the chance to return. “They deserve that chance,” he said. “They deserve our mercy and compassion. It is the right way for us to behave as a nation.”

Shaked said that she had appointed a committee to examine applications for special pardons. This does not mean that there has been a change in the rules, she specified. “The rules are the same as they were 30 years ago.” But both she and Rivlin, as well as Rivlin’s legal adviser Odit Corinaldi Sirkis and the Justice Ministry’s director of amnesties and pardons said that while there will not be any circumvention of the Law on Amnesties and Pardons, the law will be exercised to its fullest extent.

She and Rivlin have engaged in long, serious discussions on the subject, said Shaked, and they were in perfect accord.

SHE ADDED that the case of a 40-yearold woman who committed a minor crime had been brought to her attention.

Shaked recommended to Rivlin that the woman receive a pardon, meaning that there would be no record of her having been incarcerated.

Rivlin agreed, and the matter was settled within a few days. “For us, it’s one more person,” said Shaked. “For her, it was a whole new world.”

Shaked made it clear that every request for a pardon will be considered, but that recidivists and those who committed violent crimes are not eligible for special pardons.

People who have been convicted for the first time are eligible, as are prisoners over the age of 70 or who suffer a serious illness. Special consideration will also be given to prisoners who are parents of very young children.

Much as she would like every prisoner to show signs of rehabilitation that would qualify them for release from prison, Shaked stated that despite all efforts to help rehabilitate prisoners, it doesn’t always work. For some, prison is a revolving door, she said, quoting a statistic from the Ofek Detention Center for juvenile delinquents at Sharon Prison that shows 55% return to prison within five years of their release.

“Some have been in prison as many as eight times. Prison is not necessarily a deterrent against future offenses.”

Corinaldi-Sirkis made the point that pardons will not be granted wholesale.

Every case will be carefully examined, and applicants will have to conform to one of the qualifications in a seven- point list of criteria.

Primary consideration will be given to applicants who suffer from severe illness; are serving a very long sentence; are over the age of 70; have young children who as a result of the incarceration are being cared for by someone who is not their parent; who endured violence on the part of the person against whom their offense was committed; who are serving time because they lack the finance to pay fines; and who are in prison for the first time.

Prisoners sentenced for murder, manslaughter, security crimes, sexual offenses or crimes that are within the jurisdiction of the military court are ineligible for special pardons.

An applicant will be considered only if he or she began serving their sentence before Independence Day. Applications must be submitted no later than October 14, 2018.

This date does not apply to soldiers or to anyone doing civilian national service. Shaked is particularly keen that such people should leave the army or national service with a clean slate, so they can approach potential employers without having a criminal record which could be used against them.