Putting an end to human currency
Dec 28, 1999
The release of five Hezbollah activists from prison in Israel may
create the impression that this is a confidence-building step, part of
an ongoing and developing diplomatic process between Israel and Syria.
There is, however, no evidence to support this impression.
Hezbollah continues to hammer away with its virulent anti-Israel
rhetoric, along with the policy line that holds that the war with
Israel will continue until the last Israeli soldier withdraws. The
mortars of the organization and its satellites continue to fire on IDF
and SLA positions. Israel does not appear to expect the Hezbollah to
make an about-face in its relations with it, either, because, after
all, Israel directs its demands of Lebanon in general and of the
Hezbollah in particular via Syria.
It therefore follows that the release of the Lebanese detainees is
based on two assumptions. One is that in exchange for their release,
Israel will receive information on the whereabouts of downed aviator
Ron Arad. The second is that the state would in any case be soon
obliged by the High Court of Justice to release the Lebanese citizens,
unrelated to any real or imagined benefit to be yielded by their
continued detention in Israel.
It is common knowledge that Israel has been conducting negotiations
with the Hezbollah for some time through foreign intermediaries,
especially Germans, in order to obtain information about Ron Arad.
These efforts are unrelated to the peace process with Syria and are
founded mainly on the good relations that German intelligence maintains
The Hezbollah has consistently denied that it has any information about
Arad, and in public it continues to claim that the release of its
citizens would not be part of any deal. As time passed, it became ever
clearer that holding onto the Lebanese detainees did nothing to advance
the negotiations. The Hezbollah did not even demand their release in
exchange for the return of the bodies of the Navy commandos killed in
the aborted raid in Lebanon in September 1997.
Accordingly, it is more reasonable to assume that the release of the
Lebanese prisoners was the result of fear of the High Court of Justice,
which was to hand down its decision on the matter very soon. The urgent
petition to the High Court of Justice on Sunday asking it to delay its
decision on the Lebanese prisoners only bolsters this view. The
precedent set in the case of the release of the Iraqi detainees
recently sent a hint to the state that it would have a hard time
continuing to hold on to these prisoners, who have been held in Israel
anywhere from 10 to 13 years, unless it can provide legal justification
to do so. The detainees were never charged with any crime and have been
held in administrative detention for among the longest terms in
Israel's history. They were not accorded the status of prisoners of
war, nor were they granted the rights due to prisoners. They were
turned into human currency, to be used when necessary.
Israel never hid the fact that the abduction of Lebanese citizens was
carried out in order to use them as bargaining chips in exchange for
information about Ron Arad, or anything else. It is doubtful whether
the release of five of the 21 Lebanese held in Israeli prisons can be
considered a gesture of goodwill. Israel continues to hold on to
additional Lebanese citizens, and it can use them as bargaining chips
if it becomes necessary to do so in order to advance a diplomatic or
Concerning the other abductees, the state would be wise not to wait for
orders from the High Court of Justice to release them, and to do so of
its own volition. Even if Israel is not credited with their release as
a gesture of good faith, it will partially blunt the sharp edge of the
confrontation. In any case, it will put an end to a distortion of
justice that places Israel on the list of countries that disregard
human and prisoners' rights.