There's a well-known
story from the 1980's that 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.
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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
without sufficient food or medical supplies, etc; in fact, they acquired
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% 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% thought it would intensify terrorism and 18% 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. It is well known that
the waves of terrorist bombings from the mid 1990's on were "helped" by the
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% supported it, 48.5% opposed, and 8.1% held
no opinion. Among Likud voters - Sharon's party - there's only 34.4% support,
while 62.5% oppose it and 3.1% answered no opinion. Clearly, Israelis today
don't believe the "ostrich" approach of ignoring terror till it goes away
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 its "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. His articles can be read at: www.geocities.com/ariel_natan_pasko.
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