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Israel Seeks to Legalize War Crimes
Hostage Law Strips Civilians of Rights Guaranteed by Laws of War

New York, June 22, 2000

Human Rights Watch condemned today Israel's introduction of legislation permitting the holding of hostages, a war crime. The draft "Imprisonment of Combatants not Entitled to Prisoner of War Status Law" passed its first reading in Israel's Knesset yesterday by a vote of 22 to 6.

Human Rights Watch criticized the legislation in letters on Wednesday to Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak, Justice Minister Yossi Beilin, Attorney General Elyakim Rubinstein, Knesset Speaker Avraham Burg, and Knesset committee chairs Amnon Rubinstein and Dan Meridor. While sharing concern over the fate of Israelis missing in Lebanon, the organization said that there is no acceptable justification for committing war crimes.

In a case in April involving Lebanese detained as hostages, Israel's Supreme Court ruled that administrative detention cannot be used to hold individuals as "bargaining chips." Lower courts have since ordered the release of all but two of the hostages, Sheikh `Abd al-Karim `Obeid and Mustafa al-Dirani. A ruling on their case has been postponed until July 12, apparently to allow the introduction of yesterday's legislation.

"Israel's highest courts have acknowledged that the Lebanese hostages are held illegally." said Hanny Megally, the executive director of Human Rights Watch's Middle East and North Africa division. "The Knesset should not attempt to sidestep the courts."

Israel kidnaped Lebanese nationals `Obeid and al-Dirani from Lebanon in 1989 and 1994, respectively. Israeli officials admit that the two are being held for future use in negotiations to gain the release of Israeli nationals gone missing in Lebanon. As such, their detention is both a grave breach of the Fourth Geneva Convention and a violation of Israel's legal obligations under the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. They should be immediately released.

Human Rights Watch also criticized the sweeping language of the legislation, which provides almost unlimited powers to the military to detain civilians arbitrarily and indefinitely. This raises serious concerns that the legislation could be used to detain persons based on their political beliefs, and not for any actual acts they have committed.

"Israel's highest courts have acknowledged that the Lebanese hostages are held illegally. The Knesset should not attempt to sidestep the courts."
Hanny Megally, Executive Director
Middle East and North Africa Division, Human Rights Watch
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