Not so long ago, Lebanon’s name was virtually synonymous with hostages. Media reports incessantly talked about a handful of westerners held in the war-torn country. The acres of newsprint devoted to their plight provided minute details about their lives, their relatives and people who had known them. Once the last of the westerners was released through the efforts of the UN special envoy Gandominico Pico in 1991, the remaining hostages - held by Israel, the west’s favourite surrogate in the region - fell off the media radar screen.
At least 200 people, men and women, are held without trial, some of them for as long as 10 years, in the Khiam concentration camp in South Lebanon. Since these hostages are Muslim - Lebanese and Palestinians - their plight has received scant attention in the international media.
The best known of these are two religious leaders, Shaikh Abdul Karim Obaid and Mustapha al-Dirani. The former was kidnapped by the Israelis from his home in Lebanon in July 1989 while the later was abducted in May 1994. A neighbour of Shaikh Obaid was shot and killed by the Israelis when the old man peered out of his house, woken up by the noise next door. The Shaikh was gagged, dragged out of his house and bundled into an Israeli military helicopter as his terrified wife and young children looked on.
A recent report by the US-based human rights group, Human Rights Watch/Middle East, highlighted their plight. The 41-page report released on October 14 urged Israel to free 21 Lebanese held in Israeli prisons ‘for years and without charge or trial.’ The report said the 21 were among an estimated 120 ‘security prisoners and detainees from Arab countries and Iran in Israeli prisons.’
The report also drew attention to the continued detention and mistreatment of Shaikh Obaid and Dirani. Entitled Without Status or Protection: Lebanese Detainees in Israel, it says that the two leaders were held in utter secrecy and isolation, denied family visits and have been allowed to receive or send just one three-line letter each.
‘These are Israel’s forgotten prisoners,’ Human Rights Watch executive director Hanny Megally said. Israel has repeatedly linked the possible release of these hostages to a prisoners’ exchange involving four Israeli soldiers who went missing in Lebanon in the eighties. The Israelis were wounded in skirmishes and are presumed dead.
The report criticised Israel for ‘arguing that they are being held as hostages in connection with Israel’s efforts to secure the release of its missing servicemen or their remains.’ It also urged the US and European Union to condemn Israel’s treatment of prisoners.
‘Human Rights Watch condemns Israel’s failure to provide any status under international law to the detainees. The Lebanese in Israeli custody are held in conditions that violate minimum standards,’ the report said. A number of hostages have died of torture.
Israel hides behind the excuse that the Khiam concentration camp is run by the South Lebanese Army (SLA) and is, therefore, not its responsibility. The Israeli surrogate militia is paid directly by Israel. A number of international observers who have infrequently been allowed access to the Khiam camp confirm that the Israelis are in total control despite maintaining the SLA facade.
While detainees are still tortured, it was much more widespread in the eighties. Many hostages were cooped-up in three-foot cubicles. They could neither stand, sit or lie down. They were held in these painful condition for extended periods.
Denied food and water, they were forced to stand in the scorching heat for days. In winter, detainees were stripped naked, doused with cold water and made to stand all night in the open.
Tens of hostages have died under torture. The Israelis are notorious at inventing ever-sadistic methods. One detainee had his stomach ripped open with a knife. Another was suspended from a pole with a metal wire tied to his genital. His veins ripped and he died a few days later.
This explains why for many years, the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) and other international observers were denied access to the concentration camp. Even today, families are allowed very limited access. Some hostages are deprived of even this.
That is not all. The Israelis have continued their hostage-taking operations. On October 13 for instance, Zeinab Nasser Tawbeh, 30, was abducted by Israeli troops from her house in Arnoun, a village adjacent to the Israeli-occupied border zone of South Lebanon, to an unknown destination, Lebanese police sources reported.
Tawbeh’s ‘crime’ was that she had appealed, a day earlier, to the ICRC to help seek the freedom of her husband and 14-year-old son who were abducted five and 10 days ago respectively by the Israeli army.
Israel also resorts to expulsion of Lebanese families from its self-declared ‘security zone’, allegedly for helping the Islamic resistance. On October 9, a Lebanese man, his two wives and seven children were expelled by Israeli occupation troops from the border enclave.
Muslimedia: December 16-31, 1997