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Copyright 2001 Ha'aretz

August 24, 2001

HEADLINE: Obeid, Dirani to be Allowed Red Cross Visits

BYLINE: Moshe Reinfeld

Three years after they petitioned the High Court - and only after their lawyer petitioned the court against the court - Lebanese administrative detainees Sheikh Abdel Karim Obeid and Mustafa Dirani will be visited by the Red Cross, the High Court ruled yesterday.

The original petition for them to be allowed Red Cross visits was made three years ago. Recently, their attorney, Zvi Rish, petitioned the High Court against the five justices because they were delaying their verdict on the petition for so long.

The ruling yesterday infuriated the families of the three kidnapped soldiers being held incommunicado by the Hezbollah, and attorney Eliad Shraga, who represents the family of Ron Arad, the long-missing Israel Air Force navigator.

Rish argued to the court that Red Cross visits are customary according to the Fourth Geneva Convention for the protection of civilians during war. Indeed, he argued, Israeli law requires such visits, according to the laws governing administrative detention.

The Defense Ministry attorney, Shai Nitzan, and Shraga, argued it was not compulsory to allow Red Cross visits and even if it were compulsory, the visits can be denied if they could harm the security of the state.

Three years ago, when the petition was first introduced to allow the visits for Dirani, who has been held for the last seven years, and Obeid, held for the last 12, Attorney General Elyakim Rubinstein believed the Red Cross visits should be allowed. But after last year's kidnapping from the Har Dov area of three soldiers - Benny Avraham, Omar Suwad and Adi Avitan - and the kidnapping of reserve colonel Avraham Tannenbaum, Rubinstein notified the court he had changed his mind. He said it was unreasonable to allow Red Cross visits to Obeid and Dirani as long as no information is forthcoming about the condition of the four Israelis being held by the Hezbollah.

Rubinstein argued that the two prisoners held by Israel are not being held incommunicado. They have been photographed in court, and they get to see their lawyer on a regular basis, while the four Israelis have not been seen by anyone except their captors.

Supreme Court President Justice Aharon Barak, who wrote the opinion backed by the four other justices on the panel, wrote that the only question to be decided was whether the decision to deny the two men Red Cross visits was reasonable. That decision, he said, required balancing two apparently conflicting issues - the humanitarian one with the security one.

Barak ruled that in this case the humanitarian consideration outweighed the security one, due to the long amount of time the prisoners had been held. Barak's opinion weighed in on whether Dirani and Obeid, "as members of a terrorist organization that is far from humanism and for whom harming innocent civilians is their daily bread and butter," were deserving of humanitarian considerations.

"The state of Israel is a democratic state, which respects human rights, and takes into account humanitarian considerations. We take those rights into account because we value the dignity of man, even if he is our enemy."

The justice wrote that he and his colleagues were aware that their decision "seemingly gives the advantage to the terrorist organizations.

"But that is an ephemeral advantage ... Our moral approach, the humanism in our position, the rule of law that guides us - all these are important elements in our security and our strength. At the end of the day, this is our advantage," he wrote.

He said that it wasn't easy to reach the decision, but he and his fellow justices were convinced their ruling did not harm the efforts to release Ron Arad or the other four hostages in Hezbollah hands.

The families of the kidnapped soldiers, of course, did not see it that way. Haim Avraham, father of Benny, said that "the court is trying to impose norms of behavior of an enlightened world in a jungle. THey should have demanded that the UN, the Red Cross and the rest of the international agencies let the Red Cross visit our sons and not make do with an announcement that they sit on Olympus and look down from above. I expect the court to be conscious of the suffering of the families and I would expect the Red Cross to find out about our sons."

Shraga, representing the Arad family, said that "we're in a state of war and in war there are different rules. We can't behave as if we're in Switzerland. We can't be humanitarian and enlightened when the other side isn't. This is insane." He said he was considering a new appeal against the court ruling.

Rish, the lawyer for the two Islamic fundamentalist leaders, who were kidnapped by Israel, told Israel Radio after the verdict that the Hezbollah has continually stated since kidnapping the three soldiers and Tannenbaum that they won't allow visits by outsiders because Israel has refused to let Dirani and Obeid be visited by the Red Cross.

In Beirut, Hezbollah spokesman Sheik Hassan Izzeddine said the court decision "should have happened a long time ago, and this decision, although late, is excellent." Izzeddine, however, said the decision has "nothing to do with Israeli soldiers" held by Hezbollah, which has refused the Red Cross permission to visit them. The Red Cross has repeatedly asked Hezbollah and the Lebanese government for permission to see the Israelis, but without results.

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