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Do You Really Want to Free Gilad Shalit?

by Rob Eshman

June 25, 2010 | 1:27 pm

Gilad Shalit

Gilad Shalit

Today, on the fourth anniversary of Gilad Shalit’s captivity, there is a welcome chorus of voices across the globe calling for his immediate release. 

They are asking for the wrong thing. 

It would be wonderful if Hamas, the terrorist organization that crossed into Israel and captured Israeli airman Shalit, would obey the marchers in Rome, Jerusalem and New York.  It would be heartwarming if Hamas would take heed of the resolution passed by the United States Congress today calling on them to release Shalit, or the resolution passed by the Los Angeles City Council, naming this day, “Gilad Shalit Day.”  But there is zero chance—zero— Hamas will free Shalit, because, suddenly, Hamas cares as much about him as his family and supporters do.

Since his capture, Hamas has provided only two indications that Gilad is still alive – a recorded message of his voice, released on June 25, 2007, and a video of him, released on October 2, 2009.  In contravention of international law, Hamas has refused to allow the International Red Cross to visit Shalit.  By all accounts, they are holding him in solitary confinement—a situation akin to torture.

That’s not to say Hamas won’t one day release Shalit.  It’s just to point out what many of Shalit’s supporters seem to forget: Hamas won’t give up Shalit for free.

That fact—that equation—is at the heart of the tragedy over this young man, whose family must be going through a kind of moment-by-moment heartbreak few can imagine.

To say Hamas is a terrorist organization is true, but it shouldn’t obscure the fact that it is at base a political organization that uses terror.  And politics is the art of the deal.  There is a price to be paid for Gilad Shalit; the question is whether Israel wants to pay it.

If you are one of the people calling for his release, you might ask yourself the same question.  Not: Should Gilad be free? Of course he should.  But: What is his freedom worth?

For his loved ones, the answer is obvious: Anything.  Shalit’s father Noam has called on Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to pay any price to get his beloved 23-year-old boy back.  A friend of mine who lives in Jerusalem near the Prime Minister says it is simply heartbreaking to see the Shalit family camped out in front of the residence day after day: Not one of us would do anything less were he our child.

But ever since Israel, which officially says it does not negotiate with terrorists, entered into third party negotiations with Hamas over Shalit, Netanyahu has had to take into account other fathers and mothers as well: The parents and children of the victims of the terrorists Hamas wants Israel to release in exchange for Shalit.

At the last round of negotiations, in March 2009, Hamas demanded Israel release 450 “heavy” prisoners—those terrorists with blood on their hands—and 550 more prisoners sentenced for lighter offenses.

Just to give you an idea of how heavy is “heavy,” the list includes Abbas Sayid, who was convicted of planning terror attacks in which 35 Israelis were murdered and hundreds hurt, including the attack on the Park Hotel in Netanya in 2002. 

That’s why Ha’aretz reported today that the chairman of the Almagor Terror Victims Association, Meir Eindor, “lashed out strongly” against the campaign to release captive soldier Gilad Shalit.

“The newspapers know our prime minister is squeezable, so they squeeze,” Eindor told Haaretz. “Believe me, if the prime minister releases terrorists with blood on their hands, he’ll get attacked by those same newspapers.” 

From the Hamas point of view, knowing that Israel is willing to pay a price for Shalit’s release, its leaders would face harsh consequences for not getting the best deal.

So again, the question for all of us who want to see Shalit free is not: Why won’t they free him?  But, What is he worth?

As Tel Aviv University Professor Daniel Bar-Tal pointed out, the answer to this goes to the heart of how Israelis—and by extension, Jews—perceive Israeli society

“Here we see the basic dilemmas between the individual and the collective, and we see victim pitted against victim,” Ben Tal wrote. “Gilad Shalit is a victim who was violently kidnapped, in a way that Israelis do not consider to be a normative means of struggle. Therefore, one side says, he should be returned at any price. But the families of those killed in terrorist attacks and the people who were wounded in those attacks are victims, too, and they say that no price should be paid to the murderers. And it is truly a dilemma, because no side is right, and no side is wrong.”

The answer will ultimately rest with the Israeli government, who must make the deal, and decide what price it is willing to pay.

In the meantime, what those of us who care about Shalit can do, rather than make almost meaningless calls for his release,  is to draw international attention to his fate. The purpose of that is twofold: by demonstrating for Shalit’s humanitarian treatment, we can show Hamas’s true face to the world.  It is cruel, malevolent, and thuggish—hardly the noble, besieged group of freedom fighters it tries to portray itself as.  To remind the world how Hamas treats Shalit is to tell the world about the true nature of the enemies it faces.  I’d love some smart YouTubers to recreate the conditions of Shalit’s captivity, using an actor in his role, and keep it online so people can “see” what Hamas considers international norms.

But perhaps more importantly, demonstrating for Shalit’s humane treatment will pressure Hamas to at least follow international standards in his captivity – to allow visits and communication, first and foremost.  While he languishes, we must speak up to do all we can to ease the conditions of his captivity, and provide some small measure of comfort to him and his waiting family.

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