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Prisoner releases from Hell

By Ariel Natan Pasko
web posted August 4, 2003

There's a well known story from the 1980's that former Member of Knesset, the late Rabbi Meir Kahane used to relish telling. In 1985, the then Likud-led Shamir government carried out a prisoner exchange with the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine, releasing over a thousand Arabs incarcerated for terrorist activities against Israelis, in exchange for 3 Israeli soldiers. All the "Palestinian revolutionaries" had signed agreements before their release, to foreswear any future violent activities. Three days after release, one of these "repentant activists" was brought into an Israeli Hospital's emergency room; he had blown himself up -- what is commonly called a "work accident" these days -- preparing a bomb for his next "revolutionary act" of murdering innocent Israeli shoppers.

MK Rabbi Kahane had received a phone call from one of the doctors involved, and tried to publicize the incident in the Israeli media. He spoke to several journalists. He gave them details of the incident and waited to read about it in the newspapers, and hear it on the radio and television in the next day or two. When nothing appeared, he recontacted the journalists and was told, the story won't appear because the media outlets weren't given permission by the military censor for the release of the information. Rabbi Kahane, flabbergasted, tried several more journalists, waited, and the same story repeated itself. He then contacted the censor's office itself, where he was told that they wouldn't let the story out, because the government didn't want the public to know that the terrorists that were just released were returning to "work". Rather than warn the public to be on heightened alert for possible terror attacks, but have to admit to a failed policy, the Israeli government chose a media blackout.

The Israeli government, MK Rabbi Kahane was told, didn't want to create fear amongst the public. They decided it would be better to keep the public in the dark about the incident and others like it, to shield them from worrying about the probable next wave of terrorist attacks about to strike. Later, after the first Intifadah "broke out" in December 1987, many of the leadership, the planners and agitators were traced back to that prisoner release. Rabbi Kahane used to tell this story in the mid and late 1980's at almost every opportunity, to point out the perfidy of the Israeli government and the danger of prisoner releases. Elements of this story leaked out over the years and it was later publicly confirmed.

Zoom ahead to December 17, 1992; the late Yitzhak Rabin is now Prime Minister, he "exiles" 400 Hamas and Islamic Jihad terrorists to Marj az-Zuhour in Southern Lebanon. The international media portray their daily struggles trying to drum up sympathy for their plight, combating the grueling cold, stranded with not sufficient food or medical supplies, etc; in fact, they get a hold of cell phones, and made contact with Hizbollah operatives. For almost a year they get continuous Jihadist indoctrination, bomb making lessons, and practice in guerrilla warfare techniques -- don't forget the unreported vacations to Beirut -- thanks to Hizbollah. Abdel Aziz Rantisi -- political head of Hamas -- gained international prominence at that time, as the group's spokesman.

In an interview on Israel Television the night of the expulsions, Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin explained his decision to temporarily deport the Hamas and Islamic Jihad activists, saying, "I was motivated, on the one hand, by the reality of the situation. The reality in recent months has been a worsening of murderous terrorist activities by fundamentalist Islamic organizations such as Hamas, such as the Islamic Jihad...At the same time, I considered the political and legal ramifications." Rabin said that in his view, the action is not a deportation, even if it is described as such by legal terminology: "This is the temporary removal, of inciters and abettors to inciters of repugnant acts of murder. Some of them for two years, some temporarily removed for one year." He also said that a great deal of thought was given to what means were necessary to fight terrorism. "...Let's not forget," said Rabin, "what alternatives did we have? Capital punishment, destruction of houses?"

Rabin demurred, "We have not hurt anybody, we have not injured, we have not killed, we have not damaged property. I view this as both the most effective means, and also the means which still physically affects these people in the most minimal sense."

Interestingly, an Israeli Poll carried out right after the deportation, showed that 91 per cent supported the government's decision to deport the Hamas and Islamic Jihad terrorists. Those surveyed were also asked how they think this act will influence terrorism. Fifty-five percent answered that it will reduce terrorism, while only 26 per cent thought it would intensify terrorism and 18 per cent said it would have no influence. It seems the Israeli public, long educated to prisoner releases and "the most minimal" measures against terrorists, as Rabin called them, had come to the "hope" that terrorist atrocities will go away by themselves, if we only weren't "too tough" on them.

The U.N. Security Council, "strongly condemned" Israel for these temporary expulsions and threatened sanctions. Under mounting international criticism and wishing to avoid such sanctions, the Rabin government offered to take back over 100 of these people and to cut the exile of the remainder in half. By September 1993, half of the deportees had returned and the remainder -- with the exception of 18 who decided to remain in Lebanon to avoid arrest -- returned in December 1993. The "400" eventually returned home to Gaza and the West Bank, stronger than ever, as heroes. Hamas and Islamic Jihad terror has grown exponentially since the mid 1990's. The waves of terrorist bombings from the mid 1990's on, is well known, many involved were "helped" by the "400".

Fast forward to late July 2003; The Israeli cabinet decided in a 14-9 vote, prior to Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon's trip to Washington, to release over 500 Palestinian prisoners, including over 400 Hamas, Islamic Jihad, and Fatah terrorists. These include relatively senior officials in Hamas' civilian leadership in the West Bank, as well as activists who served as liaisons with Hamas' leadership overseas, people involved in arranging the transfer of funds to Hamas institutions in the territories or people who arranged military training for Hamas members. All this is being done as a "confidence building measure" to convince the Palestinians and Americans that Israel wants to move forward on the Road Map. But, Palestinian Prime Minister Mahmoud Abbas has consistently said that is not enough; meeting recently in Egypt with Arab League Secretary Amr Moussa, Abbas stated that Israel "must release 6,000 prisoners in order to push the Road Map forward."

Yet, American President George W. Bush, after meeting with Palestinian PM Abbas at the White House said, "We ought to look at the prisoner issue on a case-by-case basis...Surely nobody wants to let a cold-blooded killer out of prison, that would derail the process...I would never ask anybody in any society to let a prisoner out who would then commit terrorist actions." Later after meeting with Bush in Washington, Sharon said he and Bush had agreed there would be no release of Palestinian prisoners "with blood on their hands," those who are likely to return to terrorism or prisoners who, when released in the past, resumed terror activities. But how can we be guaranteed that that isn't exactly what will happen, since it keeps happening?

Seeing the weakening Israeli resolve to be "tough on terror", Hizbollah leader Sheik Hassan Nasrallah announced recently that he is willing to give Israel one last chance for a prisoner exchange. Nasrallah called upon Germany to send an emissary for a final attempt at reaching a mutually agreeable deal for a prisoner exchange with Israel. Nasrallah threatened, that if a deal were not reached with Israel, he would resume Hizbollah's efforts to abduct additional Israelis. Hizbollah, who taught Hamas and Islamic Jihad terror techniques and set the example of how to drive the mighty Israeli army out of a field of operations, is now learning from Palestinian PM Abbas. That's Abbas, who in violation of the Road Map, has publicly refused to disarm and dismantle Hamas, Islamic Jihad and the other terror groups, while demanding the release of thousands of more terrorists.

Since the Israeli government has kept raising the number of prisoners it announced it would release in the last few weeks, will it finally succumb to Abbas's demand? Is Sharon about to preside over the largest terrorist release in world history?

Israeli government policy -- regarding terrorist prisoner releases -- might not have changed much in the last 18 years, but there are some signs of improvement among the Israeli people. A telephone poll -- which included Israeli Arabs -- carried out for Israel Radio on July 9, 2003, asked: Do you support or oppose the release of Hamas and Islamic Jihad prisoners who are labeled as being "without blood on their hands", within the framework of the negotiations with the Palestinians? Only 43.4 per cent supported it, 48.5 per cent opposed, and 8.1 per cent held no opinion. Among Likud voters -- Sharon's party -- there's even less support 34.4 per cent, while 62.5 per cent oppose it and 3.1 per cent answered no opinion. Clearly, Israelis today, don't believe the "ostrich" approach of ignoring terror till it goes away will work.

Israel Defense Forces Chief of Staff Lt.-Gen. Moshe Yaalon told reporters at the Tel HaShomer Army Base recently that the IDF is preparing for a renewal of terrorism, "as the Palestinian Authority is currently not dismantling the terror infrastructures... There could be an interim period of quiet, maybe even a long one, but I'm starting to count the days until the next outbreak of violence." Yaalon explained that the terrorists are taking advantage of the hudna -- temporary ceasefire -- to manufacture combat materials.

How much will this latest prisoner release bolster their forces and abilities?

When will the Israeli government learn the tragic lesson of releasing vicious murderers? I include -- as murderers -- not only those who pull the trigger, but also those who plan, finance, organize, send out, and do publicity for the "shooters" and bombers. Maybe if the Israeli government would have let the public in on it's "deep dark secret" -- prisoner releases bring more terror -- back in 1985, by now overwhelming public opposition to these releases, would have caused the Israeli government to stop carrying them out long ago? We can only speculate as to how many of the over 800 people killed since September 2000 in the Oslo War, by Palestinian violence, would be with us today, if no prisoner releases or exile returnings had taken place. If you still "believe" in the peace process, you haven't yet learned the lesson.

But, more importantly, we each need to ask ourselves, the Israeli government in general and PM Ariel Sharon in particular, how many lives are we willing to sacrifice for this latest "confidence building measure"?

My personal answer is not one Jewish life!

Ariel Natan Pasko is an independent analyst & consultant. He has a Master's Degree in International Relations & Policy Analysis. His articles appear regularly on numerous news/views and think-tank websites, in newspapers, and can be read at: www.geocities.com/ariel_natan_pasko. (c) 2003/5763 Pasko

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