Putting an end to human currency
Ha'aretz (editorial)
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 with Iran.
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 military arrangement.
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.
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