Israel Update 

A Ray of Hope for Israel's Captive Soldiers 


Speculation is running high as Israeli citizens get ready for what soon could be another major prisoner exchange between Israel and Hezbollah in Lebanon.

By Sarah Ann Haves

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE, Jerusalem, Israel

On Monday evening, October 15, 2007, Israel and Hezbollah conducted a successful prisoner swap that gave many Israelis hope for the future. Israel released deranged Lebanese prisoner Hassan Naim Aqil, and two bodies of Hezbollah terrorists killed during the Second Lebanon War.  Hezbollah released the body of an Israeli Ethiopian immigrant, Gavriel Daweet, who has been missing since January 2005.  Reportedly, Daweet drowned in Israel, his body washed up on a Lebanese shore, and fishermen transferred the body to Hezbollah.

On Tuesday, October 16, Hezbollah leader, Sheikh Hassan Nasrallah gave a speech that was broadcast on Lebanon's Al-Manar television. He said that there was progress in negotiations to exchange captive IDF Reservists Eldad Regev and Ehud Goldwasser for Lebanese prisoners being held in Israel.  One of those prisoners, terrorist Samir Kuntar, is in an Israeli jail for the 1979 deaths of four citizens, including an Israeli policeman. Releasing Kuntar would be contrary to Israel's policy of not freeing terrorists who have "blood on their hands." But, Prime Minister, Ehud Olmert has signaled that Israel may have to pay a painful price to get Regev and Goldwasser back home. However, that price could result in terrorists attempting to kidnap more Israeli soldiers, demanding more prisoner exchanges.

This recent swap is the first since January 2004, and is reportedly linked to additional stages in the eventual return of Regev and Goldwasser, captured on the Lebanese border July 12, 2006. That cross-border raid led to the Second Lebanon War, and there has been no word about the condition of either man since. An additional POW, Corporal Gilad Shalit, who was captured June 25, 2006 by Palestinian terrorists, is thought to be held by a group associated with Hamas in the Gaza Strip.  Demands to release Shalit do not seem to be a part of the current negotiations with Hezbollah.

Earlier this month, during the International Christian Embassy's Feast of Tabernacles celebration in Jerusalem, I spoke with Shlomo, the father of Ehud Goldwasser.  When I asked him if he thought the Israeli government was doing enough to secure the release of his son and other POW's, he responded,  "I think the government is doing a lot, but certainly it is not their first priority... If it was their first priority, they (the POW's) would be here."
In the past, Shlomo has tried, unsuccessfully, to get an audience with Hezbollah's leader, Nasrallah in order to receive some information about the condition of his son.  "I'm calling for this all the time; to anyone; to speak directly, to negotiate directly."  

The key in solving this problem, Shlomo admitted, was in the hands of Israel's leaders alone. "We, the citizens of Israel, don't have alternatives. We don't have another army, we don't have another government, and we don't have another land.  And, the government is an elected government. We can replace the government. And, if the people of Israel think the government is not doing enough to fulfill their demands, or what they (the citizens) want, they will change it."

It's probable that these thoughts have been on the minds of a majority of Israelis. Olmert's popularity rating in recent polls is only at 18%. In addition, he is under criminal investigation in three cases involving a conflict of interest during his tenure from 2003-2005 as Minister of Industry and Trade.

Furthermore, Olmert's current government coalition is on shaky ground after members of his cabinet recently objected to his willingness to divide Jerusalem in negotiations with Palestinian leader, Mahmoud Abbas.  Olmert and Abbas have been meeting regularly to come up with a mutual declaration leading toward a U.S. sponsored peace conference expected to take place before the end of the year. At that proposed conference, final status issues towards the formation of a Palestinian state would be placed on the agenda to be discussed by international leaders. Olmert is under pressure from the U.S. to give up land, divide Jerusalem, and allow Palestinians to settle in Israel proper... concessions that are unacceptable to many in Israel.

Olmert needs a boost in his national popularity, a distraction from the criminal investigations against him, a strengthening of his current government coalition, and a political advantage in his negotiating position with the Palestinians. This could happen if Regev and Goldwasser are released by Hezbollah soon. Many Israelis blame Olmert for what they perceive was a bad agreement he made at the end of the Second Lebanon War, which led to UN Resolution 1701. Citizens say Olmert should have been more demanding about the release of Israel's POW's before agreeing to the terms of that resolution. 

In Lebanon, Hezbollah, a proxy of both the Syrian and Iranian governments, has been gaining political and popular support. Negotiations are currently underway to elect a new president of the Lebanese government, and Hezbollah would like to influence the elections by getting a pro-Syrian leader into office.  Obtaining the release of key political prisoners currently in Israeli jails would boost the terrorist group's standing in Lebanon.

In the meantime, until the release of all Israel's POW's takes place, groups like the European Coalition for Israel (ECI), an organization that was formed by Christian leaders three years ago, will continue to lobby on Israel's behalf. The ECI works to ensure that Israel has support in Europe to counter anti-Israel measures brought before the European Union.  They have pressed the Red Cross to get reliable information on the condition of Regev and Goldwasser. 

At a European Parliament meeting in Strasbourg on July 10, 2007, MEP Josef Pinior, in his introductory remarks, had this to say about Israel's POW's: "A humanitarian organization has to be allowed to meet with the soldiers in order to assess their fate and the needs they may have, for instance, for medical care. It is also against international law to keep the family members ignorant of the fate of their sons." Pinior claimed that by failing to release the soldiers, and withholding vital information on their condition, Hezbollah was violating UN Resolution 1701.
 
During the ICEJ briefing, I spoke with Rony Adam, Israeli Director of the Department for Political Affairs at the United Nations.  As a representative of Israel's Foreign Ministry, he confirmed there are international laws being violated.

"The Fourth Geneva Convention talks about prisoners of war, and the fact that you have to give them a lawyer; you have to give them information about their situation; you have to let them meet the Red Cross; it's all there," said Adam. When I asked if Israel's government had made this issue a top priority, he responded, "We're doing everything we can; everything from 0 to 100; we don't leave one stone unturned."

However, Israel's Foreign Ministry is limited to diplomatic efforts, and does not get involved in direct negotiations.  When dignitaries come to Israel, the Foreign Ministry asks them to meet the families of the POW's, and also assists the families in flying them abroad to meet with parliamentarians.  "It helps the families, and it helps to keep this issue on the agenda," Adam said.

Yet, frustrated by the lack of communication with the POW's, Adam admitted that one of the reasons the families didn't know the condition of their sons could be blamed on the Red Cross. "The Red Cross is doing nothing. It does not bring any fact, any proof, and any information. It doesn't bring anything. The Red Cross doesn't deliver the goods. We are pushing the Red Cross but what can we do?"

A petition on behalf of the soldiers, demanding that the Red Cross visit them, was circulated in the European Parliament during the July 2007 meeting.  Following that, on Tuesday, August 14, the ECI, and another Christian organization, Ebenezer Emergency Fund, met with regional directors at the International Committee of the Red Cross in Geneva, Switzerland to demand the organization get permission to visit Israel's three abducted soldiers.  At that meeting, the petition of more than 30,000 names, among them many prominent members of the European Parliament, was handed over to the Red Cross.  The ECI and Ebenezer stressed that they would continue to fight for the release of the kidnapped soldiers, while monitoring how the Red Cross exercises its authority to safeguard the rules of international human rights conventions. The Red Cross responded by explaining that their added value in the situation was the fact that they did have high level contacts with the kidnappers.
  
Applying pressure on international authorities and governments, and keeping the POW issue central in the minds of Israelis and the international community may have contributed to the current advancement in negotiations for Regev and Goldwasser's eventual release. What is still unclear is what will lead to the possible release of Corporal Shalit.
 
Meanwhile, there is now a ray of hope in Israel for the first time in more than a year. Perhaps, this will lead to a miracle delivered to Israelis as a Hanukkah gift -- the release of Israel's POW's from captivity, returned to their families and back in their national homeland for the holidays.

"Hope deferred makes the heart sick, but when dreams come true, there is life and joy."  Proverbs 13:12

Ms. Haves is a news analyst, reporting from Israel on political, diplomatic, military and spiritual issues affecting the nation.

(c) 2007 Messianic Vision all rights reserved. This article is not reproducible except with permisson from Messianic Vision. 

 

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