Coming home: Israel’s high-profile prisoners

Ali Dirani, Mustafa Dirani’s son, has been welcoming a steady flow of well-wishers since hearing the news that his father is part of a detainee exchange deal between Hizb Allah and Israel.

Ubaid (L) and Dirani were held without trial or charge
Ubaid (L) and Dirani were held without trial or charge

Israeli commandos kidnapped Mustafa Dirani on 21 May 1994 from his home in the village of Kafra Naba in Lebanon’s Beqaa valley. Ali, 19, remembers the night vividly. It was during the al-Adha feast, an Islamic holiday, and the family was fast asleep after a day of celebrating.  

Ali was sharing a room with his brothers Muhammad, then eight, and Hamza, then seven with their uncle. His sisters, Tiba, then four and Sara, then two, were sleeping with their parents.

At 3:00am they were woken abruptly from commotion in the house. Seven Israeli commandos were shining bright lights at Ali and his brothers and demanding to know the whereabouts of Ron Arad, an Israeli air pilot whose plane was shot down over Lebanon in 1986 during the war. In the next room, Ali could hear his sisters cries of terror.

The commandos tied his uncle and struck him with what Ali believes was a tranquillizer injection. As Ali pleaded to see his parents and sisters, the Israelis again demanded in broken Arabic to know the whereabouts of the missing pilot.

The Believers’ Resistance, an armed offshoot of the Amal movement of which Dirani was a key leader, captured Arad after he was shot down.

Seven minutes

As quickly as they arrived, the Israelis disappeared with Mustafa as a hostage. The entire operation took seven minutes, but it was to have an enormous impact on the family over the next 10 years.

“This is a victory not just for Lebanon but for all of the Arab world”

Ali Dirani,
son of detained Hizb Allah leader

Ali rushed to the next room to find his mother’s hands and feet tied and blood running from Tiba’s nose. His father was gone.

On Saturday Lebanon and Hizb Allah announced a German-mediated prisoner swap had been struck. Mustafa, along with 22 other Lebanese detainees, about 400 Palestinians and 12 Arab prisoners would be released in exchange for Israeli Elhanan Tannenbaum and the bodies of three soldiers. 

“This is a victory not just for Lebanon but for all of the Arab world,” said Ali cheerfully. “We have started distributing sweets and preparing the house in the (Beqaa) for his arrival,” he added.

The family first knew Mustafa was included in the swap while watching the evening news. Hizb Allah later personally confirmed to them the news, said Ali.

He said his father would arrive in Lebanon from Germany on Thursday or Friday.


Arad has not been included in the possible swap with Hizb Allah because the group says it does not have him. Germany has been mediating a prisoner exchange deal since Hizb Allah captured three Israeli soldiers from the occupied Shibaa Farms in October 2000.

It is unclear how Elhanan Tannenbaum was captured 

It is unclear how Elhanan
Tannenbaum was captured 

Weeks later, the group said it had also seized Tannenbaum. The resistance group says he is a Mossad agent while Israel insists he is a businessman.

It is widely presumed that the Israeli soldiers are dead.

Dirani and Shaikh Abd al-Karim Ubaid are the highest-profile detainees to be released. They were captured as bargaining chips for the release of Arad.

In the small hours of 28 July 1989, over 30 Israeli commandos stormed Ubaid’s home in the southern Lebanon village of Jibchit. His wife was tied and beaten as their son, Sajid, then seven, watched. 

Torture, illegal detention 

The Geneva-based International Committee for the Red Cross (ICRC) has slammed their capture as a violation of the Fourth Geneva Convention “which forbids taking hostages”.

Dirani and Ubaid were held in Israel under administrative detention without trial or charge. On 4 March 2002 the Israeli Knesset or parliament passed the Imprisonment of Illegal Combatants Law – dubbed the Ubaid-Dirani law – legalising the continued detention of the two resistance leaders. 

Israel passed a law tailored toensure their continued detention

Israel passed a law tailored to
ensure their continued detention

The legislation allows the indefinite detention of anyone suspected of “taking part in hostile activity against Israel, directly or indirectly”. It also permitted the continued detention of Dirani and Ubaid as bargaining chips for the return of missing Israeli soldiers.

Human Rights Watch slammed the law as a blatant disregard of international laws. After being held for 12 and seven years respectively, Israel finally allowed the ICRC to visit Ubaid and Dirani to check on their treatment and conditions of imprisonment. 

During their detention, Dirani and Ubaid were held for a period at Israel’s clandestine Camp 1391, where detainees are reportedly blindfolded and kept in darkened cells. Dubbed Israel’s Guantanamo, its existence was concealed from the Red Cross until only a few months ago.

In March 2000 Dirani’s Israeli lawyer Zvi Rish revealed the detainee had been severely tortured. This included sodomy, sleep deprivation and being beaten naked. He was also forced to ingest water and oil so he would have to excrete while naked in front of his captors.

Source : Al Jazeera

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