Hizbullah prisoner swap points the way for Palestinian resistance

On 16 July Hizbullah agreed a prisoner swap which saw Israel forced to release five Lebanese political prisoners and the remains of 199 Lebanese and Palestinian fighters in return for the remains of the two Israeli soldiers captured by Hizbullah in 2006. Bob Shepherd reports.

The prisoner swap sealed a political victory for Hizbullah and confirmed the defeat Israel suffered in 2006. Israel was forced to release Samir Kuntar, a Lebanese fighter accused of killing three Israelis in 1979. Meanwhile Hamas and the Palestinian resistance are demanding the release of up to 450 Palestinian prisoners in exchange for Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit, captured in Gaza in 2006.

Hizbullah General Secretary Nasrallah stated: ‘The main element that made us reach [our goal] is steadfastness and victory in the face of the 2006 aggression, and the enemy’s failure to reach any of its goals...If we had been defeated in July 2006, Samir and the martyrs would not have been returned today...the period of defeat is over and the time of victory has arrived’. Hamas spokesperson Sami Abu Zuhri acknowledged  that this was a major victory for the resistance and for Hizbullah.

In June Egypt brokered a truce between Israel and Hamas covering the Gaza Strip, starting on 19 June. Hamas conceded their previous position that any truce must cover both the West Bank and Gaza in order to lift the crippling economic siege of Gaza. Israel attempted to make the release of Gilad Shalit an integral part of the truce but Hamas refused, making it clear that this would depend on the reciprocal release of a significant number of Palestinian prisoners.

According to the terms of the agreement, Israel would open border crossings within three days, allowing a limited flow of goods to enter into Gaza, and then after ten days lift virtually all restrictions on the flow of goods through the crossing points. In practice, Israel has reneged on its obligations to the extent that on 23 July, John Ging, director of UNRWA operations in Gaza declared: ‘The situation in the Gaza Strip continues to deteriorate and the number of poor people continues to increase one month after a truce has been reached...Israel still doesn’t allow all kinds of basic goods and food supplies into Gaza.’     

Complaining that a small number of rockets had been fired from Gaza in the first two weeks of the truce, Israel has only opened the border crossings intermittently. Hamas have stopped these attacks, accusing Fatah of attempting to undermine the truce. Hamas have agreed with Islamic Jihad to ‘disarm and arrest anyone for breaking the truce, for anyone who fires a shot now is simply trying to sabotage the resistance’. At the end of the first week of the truce Islamic Jihad issued a report which detailed Israel’s violations. These included Israeli warships opening fire on Palestinian fishing boats, and Israeli army patrols randomly opening fire on farmers, wounding two in two separate incidents. On 10 July Israeli forces shot and killed an unarmed man near the border following a 4 July decree that Palestinians were not allowed within 300 metres of the Gaza-Israel border.

The intermittent opening of the crossings has allowed a mere 30% increase in diesel and fuel oil supplies, not enough for the needs of the population. The Health Ministry in Gaza appealed on 9 July to humanitarian organisations to help over 500 patients who need life-saving treatment available only outside Gaza. Over 200 patients have died since Israel imposed the Gaza blockade in June 2006 because the Zionists would not allow them out for treatment.

Israel continues in its attempts to tie the truce and the opening of border crossings to the release of Shalit. Abu Ubayda, a spokesperson for Hamas’s military wing, is quite clear: ‘Whatever pressures they might exert in order to move the Shalit case forward, they will not succeed because... Shalit’s case hinges on releasing Palestinian prisoners.’

In the West Bank, Israel has stepped up its attacks on the resistance with around 400 arrests during the first month of the truce. Over 100 of these have been in Nablus and include the Vice-Mayor and Hamas Palestinian Legislative Council (PLC) member Mona Mansour. Israeli forces also ransacked the offices of charities and civil institutions in Nablus, closing down 37 of them, as well as the Nablus shopping mall, claiming it was a front for Hamas. 45 PLC members are now being held in Israeli prisons. They include PLC Speaker, Dr Aziz Dwaik, held for two years without charge. Dwaik has been seriously ill and has now been operated on in prison, contrary to international convention which stipulates treatment in normal hospital.

Brown addresses the Knesset

On 21 July Gordon Brown became the first British Prime Minister to address the Israeli Knesset. Calling the occasion ‘a singular honour indeed’, he delivered a fawning defence of Zionism and Israel, linking opposition to Israel with anti-Semitism and terrorism. ‘Britain is your true friend’, he declared.

‘A friend in difficult times as well as in good times; a friend who will stand beside you whenever your peace, your stability and your existence are under threat; a friend who shares an unbreakable partnership based on shared values of liberty, democracy and justice. And to those who mistakenly and outrageously call for the end of Israel let the message be: Britain will always stand firmly by Israel’s side...I am proud to say that for the whole of my life, I have counted myself a friend of Israel.’

Adding ‘I want to make clear that the British government...will stand full-square against any boycotts of Israel or Israeli academics and their institutions’, he turned his attention to Iran, implying against the evidence provided in reports from the International Atomic Energy Commission and US intelligence, that Iran is developing nuclear weapons.

‘I promise that just as we have led the work on three mandatory sanctions resolutions of the UN, the UK will continue to lead – with the US and our EU partners – in our determination to prevent an Iranian nuclear weapons programme...Iran has a clear choice to make: suspend its nuclear programme and accept our offer of negotiations or face growing isolation and the collective response not of one nation but of many nations.’

 FRFI 204 August / September 2008


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