October 13, 2011
“If all goes according to plan, Gilad will be returning to Israel in the coming days.”
These were the words spoken by Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu after meeting with his cabinet advisors through the early hours of Wednesday morning, October 12. But it was only a few days earlier, in public forums and press statements, that Hamas leaders began threatening that more Israeli soldiers were going to be kidnapped.
On Monday, October 3, a senior Hamas official warned that Israel’s continued refusal to be flexible in its position regarding the Shalit prisoner deal will only fuel Hamas’s “need” for the abduction of more Israeli soldiers to be used as bargaining chips. Hamas lawmaker Ismail al-Ashqar vowed: “More of Shalit’s kind are coming,” and”efforts to kidnap soldiers will continue until all Palestinian prisoners are freed.”
Four days later, Ahmed Bahar, a Gaza-based Hamas leader and deputy speaker of the Palestinian Legislative Council, also called for Palestinian militants to seize more Israeli soldiers for future exchanges with Palestinians held in Israeli jails. “The popular, political, media and diplomatic efforts inside and outside can never be an alternative to the military efforts to rescue our prisoners from the oppressive occupation’s prisons,” he said. “We should be tireless of making every possible effort to seize Zionist soldiers and exchange them through prisoners swap deals.”
In addition, Bahar called upon the Arab League, its secretary general, and international rights organizations to intervene and help release their imprisoned people as the Israeli government began a new and tougher approach to the kidnapping negotiations by tightening measures imposed on Palestinian prisoners. In protest of their privileges being taken away and a much stricter enforcement of the prison rules by the Israeli prison authorities, around 6,000 Arab and Palestinian prisoners had been holding a hunger strike in all the 25 Israeli jails for ten days.
Bahar then claimed: “It’s unreasonable that United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon visited Shalit’s family but ignored thousands of Palestinian prisoners in Israeli jails.” It should be quite apparent to Americans, as well as to the rest of the world, that Shalit is a pawn in the Palestinian prisoner-trading game.
Corporal Gilad Shalit is a French-Israeli IDF soldier who was seized in June 2006 by Hamas terrorists after Israel had withdrawn from Gaza. These terrorists had tunneled into an IDF post along the border, killed two Israeli soldiers, and captured Shalit. The Hamas leadership determined that Shalit’s life would be worth the freedom of a thousand Palestinian captives in exchange for his release and have been completely unwilling to negotiate for anything less.
The efforts of Shalit’s parents and friends around the world, as well as international organizations and emissaries trying to obtain his release, have been unrelenting. The Shalit capture has become a very high-profile offense, with consequences affecting all Israeli citizens, and it has not been easy for them to come to terms with Hamas’s enormous demands. The stipulations of Hamas’s exchange plans are always far beyond unreasonable, and their outlandish request for Israel to release a thousand prisoners back into society had previously been a major controversy in the government’s decision to agree to the swap.
In the past five years, PM Netanyahu’s reticence in the face of public pressure to make a deal with Hamas for Shalit’s release has accounted for the real danger that such a swap would free militants and put the security of Israel at risk. However, the specifics of this new agreement must be a little different, because PM Netanyahu said that the new deal reached had “the right balance between all these considerations.” However, one must also take into consideration that the Israeli government realizes that the window of opportunity to bring Shalit home may close in the very near future as the Middle East, and especially Egypt, continues to destabilize in the surrounding area.
A Time Magazine report indicated some of the details for the exchange of the Palestinian prisoners. The first 450 are to be identified by Hamas and will include as many as 315 men convicted of killing hundreds of Israelis in terror attacks, and the next 550 will be chosen by Israel.
During these five years of Gilad’s captivity, the leaders of Hamas have stuck to their very tough bargaining position, believing that they had the upper hand and that, eventually, Israeli would succumb to the high price. Their correct assessment of the situation was not hard to come by, as they had recently experienced the Israeli government responding in a similar manner when two soldiers went missing after an attack along the Lebanese border in July 2008.
In that exchange, Prime Minister Ehud Olmert traded five Lebanese prisoners, including the murderer Samir Kuntar, along with the bodies of 199 others, for the bodies of two Israeli soldiers captured in the Hezbollah border attack that sparked the 2006 Lebanon War. In this case, although Israeli officials thought that both soldiers Ehud Goldwasser and Eldad Regev were killed in the attack, getting their bodies back was the only way to be sure that they were dead.
Both of these completely lopsided swap deals serve as a testament to the Jewish people and the values of life that they hold so dear. A passage from the Jerusalem Talmud (Sanhedrin 4:1 [22a]), one of the most sacred texts of ancient Judaism, as well as written in three other places in rabbinic literature, extols the virtues of saving a life. The English translation is “Whoever destroys a soul, it is considered as if he destroyed an entire world. And whoever saves a life, it is considered as if he saved an entire world.” This is a belief that the sanctity of each person’s life is one of the bedrocks of the Jewish faith binding the citizens of Israel. It also represents a true contrast between the values of Israel and the Jewish people and those of the enemies who surround them. In fact, on the day that Gilad Shalit is returned to Israel, the world will witness Israel’s celebration of life as every Israeli citizen participates in a national day of joy.
This biblical concept of the value of life is still in the heart and soul of Jewish people, entrusting the Israelis with the highest standards applied towards the defense of life. But at the same time, it has made the Israeli government and its people extremely vulnerable to this form of extortion. The Palestinian Arab leadership has learned how to play the Israeli government for all its worth, knowing how Israel’s citizens will respond. As a consequence, it is feared that capturing soldiers has become part of Hamas’s arsenal to terrorize the Israeli society.