2008 Israel–Hezbollah prisoner exchange
The 2008 Israel–Hezbollah prisoner exchange took place on 16 July 2008 when Hezbollah transferred the coffins of two Israeli soldiers in exchange for 5 Lebanese militants held by Israel as well as the bodies of 199 militants captured in Lebanon or Israel.
Hezbollah released the remains of two captured Israeli soldiers Ehud Goldwasser and Eldad Regev, in exchange for Palestine Liberation Front militant Samir Kuntar, who was convicted of murder in Israel and Mahir Kourani, Mohammad Surour, Hussain Sulaiman and Khadr Zaidan, four Hizbullah militants captured by Israel in the 2006 Lebanon war. Israel also returned the remains of about 200 Lebanese and Palestinian militants killed whose bodies had been brought to Israel and buried there. Eight of these were Hizbullah fighters killed in the recent war.
It has long been the general policy of Israel not to return to family for burial the remains of killed militants that had engaged in “hostile terrorist activity”.
Only one month earlier, on 1 June 2008, Israel released the Lebanese prisoner Nissim Nasser, in exchange for which Hezbollah handed over a box containing the remains of Israeli soldiers killed during the 2006 war.
In October 2007 Israel and Hizbullah agreed to exchange a civilian Hezbollah member captured in 2006 and the remains of two Hezbollah fighters killed in this war and brought to Israel for the remains of Gabriel Dwait, an Israeli resident who drowned and was washed ashore in Lebanon. The released prisoner was described as 50-year-old Hassan Naim Aqil, a former Hezbollah guerrilla who did not fight in the Second Lebanon War.
||The neutrality of this section is disputed. (October 2013)|
There was a mixed reaction worldwide, many American news outlets criticising the release of Kuntar and condemning the way he was praised by the Lebanese.
The swap was described as "lopsided" in news headlines in the U.S. Newsweek reported: "Americans often find it difficult to understand how Israelis can trade hundreds of Palestinian prisoners for one or two Israelis, alive or dead. Kuntar's case points up how frustrating and difficult those calculations can be."
Criticism of the celebrations held in Lebanon as repulsive and uncivilized were ubiquitous in the U.S. and other Western media. Newsday reported: "The reception Kuntar received has alarmed Israelis and Americans who don't understand why Lebanon declared a national holiday to honor a man convicted of killing four people in a 1979 attack, including a 4-year-old girl." In a Boston Globe article entitled "A strange kind of hero":
But beyond all tactical and political considerations, there is something morally repulsive in the hero's welcome given the most famous - or notorious - of the Lebanese prisoners released by Israel. Samir Kuntar had been sentenced to 542 years in prison for killing four people during a raid in 1979. Kuntar executed a father, Danny Haran, in front of his 4-year-old daughter. Then he killed the little girl by smashing her head against a rock with a rifle butt.
This is the creature Nasrallah hailed as a resistance hero, the figure Hamas Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh called a "huge hero who sacrificed 30 years of his life for the Palestinian issue," the celebrity that Lebanon's president and prime minister saluted as a liberated freedom fighter.All wars are inhumane. But not all warriors lose their humanity.
A writer for Democracy Arsenal, hosted by the National Security Network, wrote, after describing the murders Kuntar perpetrated and the celebrations in Lebanon for him: "Not to take sides here, but when people wonder about the recalcitrance of Israeli leaders to enter peace agreements with their neighbors this revolting episode serves as a worthwhile reminder."
Canada's Calgary Herald reported: "No words can express the revulsion the civilized world feels for the hero's welcome given Samir Kuntar by Hezbollah upon his exchange for two Israeli soldiers killed in Israel's 2006 war with Lebanon." It concludes:
Even sadder was Lebanon's declaration of a national holiday to celebrate Kuntar's return, along with his speech thanking God for his release. Not only is the blood of Smadar's family as red -- it has stained Lebanon's international image in the aftermath of such a shameful celebration.
David Pryce-Jones wrote:
The Nazi S.S. killed Jewish children with a brutality similar to Kuntar's, but they did not then appear on public platforms to boast to the world of what they had done; on the contrary they kept their crimes as secret as they could, thereby acknowledging the survival somewhere in them of a guilty conscience. But here are important and supposedly responsible men who find it in themselves to embrace, encourage, and hold up as a model a man as vile as any, as though there was no such thing as conscience, and never has been. By every human standard, this is degradation, this is depravity.
In a Baltimore Sun editorial: "Trading the remains of two dead soldiers for a notorious terrorist and four Hezbollah militants hardly seems a fair exchange. And it wasn't. The Israeli reservists, Sergeant Goldwasser and Staff Sgt. Eldad Regev, were kidnapped in an unprovoked raid and wounded. ... In contrast, Mr. Kuntar's crime was a planned operation that terrorized a young Israeli family, leaving three of its members dead."
In "A moment of moral clarity", Gil Troy of McGill University writes in the Montreal Gazette: "Stated angrily, 'How do you welcome a child murderer as a hero?' is the question Israelis are asking - and the rest of the civilized world should be asking, too.
By contrast, the massive celebrations in Lebanon for Kuntar and four other terrorists revealed not only the thuggery of Hezbollah but the descent of Lebanon itself. Rolling out the red carpet for a murderer, dispatching the country's top leaders to greet someone who crushed a 4-year-old's skull, declaring a national day of celebration, revealed just how thoroughly the Lebanese leadership had succumbed to the brutal sensibilities of Hassan Nasrallah and his Hezbollah terrorists.
He concludes: "A nation that risks so much even just to bring two corpses home, a country that celebrates life not death, is not only a worthy ally - but a dangerous adversary when provoked." The Israeli consul general to the American Southwest wrote in the Houston Chronicle:
The way in which Hezbollah is celebrating the return of a man whom it calls a hero because Kuntar smashed the skull of a little girl is irrelevant. To Israel, whatever is said by people whose heroes are skull smashers, who hunt women and children in order to kill them, has no bearing. What is important are Israel's values. In Israel's eyes, a hero is someone who fights terror to defend civilians at the risk of his or her own life. Israel's heroes go to battle equipped with, in addition to their weapons, the reassuring knowledge that they are protecting human beings who share their beliefs and who are also prepared to pay a price in order to realize them.
Yarden writes that "For Hezbollah, Kuntar is a hero of the highest order. To Israelis and the rest of the civilized world, he is one of the most despicable terrorists," and includes that a Lebanese colleague has contacted him saying the celebrations were shameful for the Lebanese majority.
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- Ariel Schalit (16 July 2008). "Israeli critics question lopsided prisoner swap". Associated Press via Newsweek. Archived from the original on 24 July 2008. Retrieved 25 July 2008.
- STEVEN GUTKIN and ARON HELLER (16 July 2008). "Israeli critics question lopsided prisoner swap". Associated Press via NPR. Retrieved 25 July 2008.
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- Michael Cohen (16 July 2008). "A "Celebration" for Kantar". Democracy Arsenal. Retrieved 25 July 2008.
- "Bitter exchange". Calgary Herald. 20 July 2008. Retrieved 25 July 2008.
- David Pryce-Jones (18 July 2008). "Samir Kuntar: Vile By Any Human Standard". National Review Online. Archived from the original on 4 August 2008. Retrieved 25 July 2008.
- Ann LoLordo (19 July 2008). "A painful price". Baltimore Sun. Retrieved 25 July 2008.
- Gil Troy (18 July 2008). "A moment of moral clarity". The Gazette. Archived from the original on 20 July 2008. Retrieved 25 July 2008.
- Asher Yarden (19 July 2008). "A fitting welcome home for Israel's heroes". Houston Chronicle. Retrieved 25 July 2008.