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Ha'aretz, June 11, 1999

Not only in Iran

By Orit Shohat, Ha'aretz


These days, when we talk about the rule of law, as if everyone, apart from those who voted Shas, was irreproachable, it is worth drawing attention to the injustices committed under the very aeges of that law. Shocking things are going on, and not only in Iran.

Here, too, we have people who have been kidnapped from their homes and sent to jail for no reason, or for something unconnected to them or anything they did. One unsettling example is that of 21 Lebanese citizens who are being held in Israel only because one day they may be used as a bargaining chip in exchange for missing Israeli navigator Ron Arad.

It would be hard to find a graver case of injustice rubber-stamped by the Supreme Court. All the hostages, with the exception of two, were taken at random during the course of IDF operations in Lebanon. Five of them were kidnapped because they were at Sheikh Obeid's house when Israel troops arrived. One of them had merely come to seek the sheikh's blessing on his wedding day. Two were 15 years old when they were spirited away.

No one knew the names of the hostages before they were brought to Israel. None of them were on any kind of wanted list. Most of the hostages have been sitting in jail for 13 years. Some were tried for belonging to a resistance organization in South Lebanon, but after serving their sentences, they have remained in prison as bargaining chips.

They are locked up in a special wing at Ayalon prison, as if there were reason to be afraid of them. The only reason to be afraid is that someone will find out about this shameful business, best hidden from the eyes of the world. If Hezbollah ever kidnapped Israelis to get them back, our protests would rock heaven and earth.

From time to time, attorney Zvi Rish approaches Judge Uri Goren, to discuss prison conditions: how many minutes can they spend on the phone with their families in Lebanon, are they permitted to watch television in their own language, etc. There is no point in talking about visits, of course.

The enforced separation from their families is justified on security grounds - although no one is saying the prisoners pose a security risk. The state is trying to claim that they are POWs, although they were not taken prisoner while engaging in military activity. The High Court judges are uncomfortable with this definition, but not enough to find in their favor. District court judges have already ordered their release twice, but the state appealed and succeeded in blocking the order.

The bench has already been extended to nine justices, but no end is yet in sight. At first, there were only Aharon Barak, Yaakov Kedmi and Dalia Dorner. Dorner said she was not convinced that releasing the hostages would ruin the chances of bringing home Israeli POWs. Barak and Kedmi ruled otherwise.

While Barak agreed that holding a person as a bargaining chip was a serious violation of human rights, he felt that this "painful violation" was unavoidable in the current reality. And so the years go by, as 21 hostages grow old in their prison cells. Ron Arad has not been found. One of the hostages was institutionalized in a psychiatric hospital, but even these circumstances did not warrant his release.

This week, as Israel appealed to the Pope with regard to the Jews arrested in Iran, and Natan Sharansky cried about how their human rights were being trampled upon, the district court convened once again to discuss how many minutes the Lebanese hostages may talk on the phone.

They have not even eaten meat in years because they insist on meat slaughtered by Muslims, in keeping with the Shi'ite custom. How can it be that nine Supreme Court justices, whose reputation and honor we protect every day from the attacks of Rabbi Ovadia Yosef, sit on the bench and cannot see what is obvious even to the smallest child? How can it be that 21 people are being held as pawns in a game that may never be played, and the courts cannot reach a decision to set them free? Maybe the reason is that after 13 years, some excuse must be found to justify this fiasco.



(c) copyright 1999 Ha'aretz. All Rights Reserved


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