August 15, 2008 Special Dispatch No. 2023

After Israel's Release of Kuntar, Demand for Release of Lebanese Prisoners in Syria

August 15, 2008
Syria, Lebanon | Special Dispatch No. 2023

The Hizbullah-Israel prisoner swap was applauded in much of the Arab press as a victory for Hizbullah, with Al-Jazeera even throwing a birthday party for Samir Kuntar.[1]

Nonetheless, not everyone in the Arab press was uniformly favorable to Hizbullah. The liberal columnist 'Adnan Hussein, in a July 24, 2008 article in the Kuwaiti Awan daily, compared Hizbullah's celebrations to a fascist rally, and sardonically proposed that the group now turn its attention to liberating the Lebanese prisoners held in Syria.

The background to this article was a July 21, 2008 protest demanding the release of the Lebanese prisoners in Syrian jails, held outside a meeting in Beirut between Lebanese President Michel Suleiman and Syrian Foreign Minister Walid Al-Mu'allem. According to a list released by the National Organization for Human Rights in Syria, there are approximately 200 such prisoners.[2]When asked by the press about the protest, Al-Mu'allem answered: "It's a shame I didn’t bring with me some of the families of Syrians who have disappeared in Lebanon to protest as well… Those who have waited patiently more than 30 years [i.e. since the Lebanese civil war] can wait another few weeks." He said further that the issue of prisoners in Syrian prisons would be treated by an impartial judicial commission, which had already begun its work.[3]

Others criticized the Hizbullah-Israel prisoner exchange itself. In a July 25, 2008 article in the Kuwaiti Al-Jarida daily, liberal columnist Hamed Nayyef Al-'Anzi wrote that Samir Kuntar and Dalal Al-Mughrabi were terrorists and that there was no reason to rejoice at their return.

The following are excerpts from the two articles:

"There Are Hundreds of Lebanese Who Are Either Imprisoned or Are Martyrs Buried in Secret Graveyards… [in] Syria"

On July 24, 2008, columnist 'Adnan Hussein wrote in the Kuwaiti daily Awan: "The intoxication has passed and the time for reflection has arrived. Intoxication is what some of us felt at the new 'Divine Victory' achieved by Hizbullah over Israel. It was a great 'victory' in the opinion of the party and its followers, as is evident from the pompously enthusiastic celebration, with its gaudy colors, on the occasion of the return of the prisoners and the remains of the martyrs, in a deal that was not without cost.

"The prisoners were clothed in militia uniforms in a gesture of kindness and graciousness towards them and their families. The coffins were arranged in orderly rows, the brightest of colors were chosen, and the fighters responsible for the welcoming ceremony and transporting the coffins were trained to move exactly in step in order to add awe to the spectacle. And the organizers did not forget to complete the spectacle with herds of human masses so that the spectacle would have the traditional Nazi-fascist-Ba'thist character.

"This hullaballoo passed quickly and gave way to the shocking thought, expressed spontaneously and simply and without any fake coloring or verbal embellishment, by some Lebanese citizens who are Lebanese to the core: aged mothers and fathers, wives who have waited long, sons and daughters who grew up without ever having had the pleasure of seeing their fathers - fathers who had long ago been made to disappear into the Syrian prisons and graveyards, for a quarter century or more.

"This spontaneous gathering organized by the families of the Lebanese prisoners and those who have disappeared into Syria, on the day of the Syrian Foreign Minister's visit to Beirut, was what gave the lie to the myth of this new 'Divine Victory'.

"At a distance from Beirut that is perhaps much shorter than the distance from the Lebanese capital to where the prisoners and martyrs who returned in Hizbullah's deal were imprisoned or buried, there are hundreds of Lebanese who are either imprisoned or are martyrs buried in secret graveyards on the territory of the 'sister country' Syria.

"Their sole 'crime' was that they opposed, while in their own country, Syria's occupation of Lebanon and demanded it be put to an end. Naturally, and as Hizbullah and its followers know, every occupation is loathsome; it is patriotic to work to end the occupation, and every opponent of occupation is patriotic.

"The Lebanese who remain imprisoned, or whose remains are in graveyards in Syria, are patriots, and are worthy of having Hizbullah fight for the sake of their return to their homeland and their families.

"It can be supposed that, given the close relations between the party and Syria, it will not encounter difficulties of the sort that it faced with Israel in attaining its goal, and it will not be in need of intermediaries, witnesses, and secret negotiations…"[4]

"That, Gentleman, Is the 'Heroic' Story of Samir Kuntar"

Another liberal Kuwaiti columnist, Hamad Nayyef Al-'Anzi, addressed the Hizbullah-Israel exchange itself, revisited the actions of Samir Kuntar, and asked why bringing home a terrorist should be considered a 'divine victory':

"… It is truly saddening, and awakens pity, that an ancient nation like our own can reach such a state of gullibility and infatuation with victory, that we can consider a prisoner exchange between two parties a victory of one party over the other, just because one party is Arab Muslim and wears the clothing of struggle and resistance. This despite the fact that if we consider them in terms of gains and losses – and not in the lingo of glory, honor, and steadfastness that we never tire of repeating on all occasions and without occasion – [we see that] they have not achieved much in terms of real gains in the real world.

"By Allah, tell me, what is all this tempestuous and irrational joy, and all this talk of 'victory' at the return of the Lebanese prisoners, Samir Kuntar and his companions, such that there is no epithet denoting heroism that has not been showered on them?

"I can say with certainty, gentlemen, that 90% of those rejoicing and praising the return of the prisoners do not know who Samir Kuntar is and do not know the details of his inimitable, 'heroic' fedayeen operation. They don't know anything about him, and don't want to. The only thing that matters to them is that Sayyid Hassan Nasrallah has something to do with it, and he is always a 'victor'. His name is associated with glory, honor, and steadfastness. As long as he got them released, then they must be 'heroes' and 'victors', and their return a great 'victory', denied only by foreign agents, traitors, and kowtowers.

"So here is a short account of the stories of some of these returning 'heroes':

"Samir Kuntar, a Druze Lebanese citizen born in 1961, was, until he was captured, a member of the Palestine Liberation Front. He was a member in a cell that conducted a violent operation in the city of Nahariya on April 21, 1979. That night, Kuntar's cell snuck onto the Nahariya beach in a dinghy, and in the middle of the night attacked the home of the Haran family.

"They took hostage Danny Haran, the Israeli nuclear scientist, and his little 4-year-old daughter. In the meantime, the mother, her 2-year-old child, and a neighbor hid out in the bedroom. One of the hostage-takers took the father and the girl towards the beach, but they were surprised by police and army forces that had arrived. Samir Kuntar opened fire on Danny Haran from close range in front of his young daughter, then killed the young girl, Einat (though he denies this) by crushing her skull with his rifle butt. The other, 2-year-old girl, died of suffocation due to her frightened mother's attempts to keep her quiet so that the hostage-takers wouldn't find them.

"That, gentlemen, is the 'heroic' story of Samir Kuntar.

"As for the 'martyr' Dalal Al-Mughrabi, whose body was returned [to Lebanon], she was born in 1958. She commanded an operation that has come to be known as 'the Coastal Road Massacre' that took place in 1978.

"In this violent operation, 37 Israeli civilians of various ages were killed, young and old, when the bus they were on was hijacked. Dalal Al-Mughrabi and her group opened fire on 37 riders on that ill-fated bus, one after the other."

"Under No Circumstances Can Someone Who Targeted Innocent Civilians Be Considered a 'Hero'"

"No rational person can categorize these two operations as heroic acts. They are more like terrorist acts, or are themselves terrorist acts, whatever the justifications and the reasons. Terrorist acts have no nationality, and anyone of sound heart and mind condemns them and despises those who perpetrate them, whether they be Arab, Israeli, or of any other nationality.

"Under no circumstances can someone who targeted innocent civilians be considered a 'hero', nor can his 'triumphant' return be considered a national victory – except in the imaginations of some desperate souls whose hearts are hard as rock, and for whom human life is not worth a mosquito's wing.

"How plentiful they are in our Arab nation, these people who search for any wretched victory – even if it's just a prisoner exchange. And what prisoners, at that!"[5]

[1]; and article by Sultan Al-Qassemi, MEMRI Special Dispatch No. 2013, "Al-Jazeera and the Released Terrorist's Birthday Party," August 4, 2008, Al-Jazeera and the Released Terrorist's Birthday Party.

[2], July 27, 2008.

[3] Al-Mustaqbal (Lebanon), July 22, 2008.

[4] Awan (Kuwait), July 24, 2008.

[5] Al-Jarida (Kuwait), July 25, 2008.

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