The deal behind the “Shalit deal”: prisoners, power, racism

Toufic Haddad writes: Passing judgment on the Shalit deal cannot take place from a detached precipice of moral or political purity but, rather, must derive from an appreciation for the basic balance of forces at play between the contending parties and their historical precedents in relations between one another. There are no absolute criteria for judging such matters, with interests and needs within each negotiating party variegated, subject to shifts over time, and difficult to quantify to begin with.

For this reason, it is helpful to begin analyzing the Shalit deal by understanding that before Shalit’s capture, Israel refused to recognize Hamas as a legitimate political entity; this non-recognition continued despite the Hamas victory in democratic elections in 2006. Israel subsequently refused all formal interaction with Hamas, encouraging other countries to do the same. Soon after Shalit’s capture, Israel’s Prime Minister’s Bureau reiterated this stance, asserting, “There will be no negotiations to release prisoners…The government of Israel will not give in to extortion by the Palestinian Authority and the Hamas government, which are headed by murderous terror organizations. The Palestinian Authority bears full responsibility for the welfare of Gilad Shalit and for returning him to Israel in good condition.”

In this respect, the very sealing of a deal with Hamas was a major Israeli concession. Israel sought every possible way to retrieve Shalit without having to negotiate, but failed. The weeks after the capture of Shalit witnessed more than 400 Palestinians killed in Israel’s “Operation Summer Rains” in a failed effort to retrieve him. Israel’s massive offensive “Operation Cast lead” in December 2008/January 2009, which left 1400 Palestinians dead, also put the recovery of Shalit as a central objective of the mission. The siege of Gaza is still justified as necessary in the context of Shalit’s continued detention.

All of this was part and parcel of a broader Israeli strategy vis-à-vis Palestinians which entailed not only the historic rejection of all Palestinian political rights, but an on-the-ground military doctrine which holds that “might makes right,” Israel has a “long arm of justice,” and Israel will “burn into [Palestinian] consciousness” their own defeat.

Viewed in this context, Shalit’s capture and detention for five years, and Hamas’ ultimate successful negotiation for a prisoner release are all the more impressive.

Gideon Levy writes: [Gilad Shalit] will return not to a country but rather to a telenovela in which emotions are forever and always the only language. It must be hoped that he will return in good mental health, but he certainly won’t be returning to a healthy society. He will return to a society in psychosis. The national psychosis surrounding his fate began the day he was captured, and is now reaching its peak. The IDF readied a few sets of uniforms for him, it was reported, in the event that the national boy lost a great deal of weight – the main thing is to show him off in uniform, as befits a war hero.

Yedioth Ahronoth has already launched a sales campaign disguised under the banner of “Do you want to write to Gilad?” and the hundreds of thousands of yellow ribbons that fluttered from every tree and the side mirrors of every car will flutter for the last time in the autumn breeze. Israel will once again pat itself on the back in sticky solidarity, in brotherhood and in mutual responsibility – there’s no one like us.

Over the weekend a retired brigadier general already wrote, “That’s exactly the difference between us and them.” (What exactly is the difference? That wasn’t clear. ) And a general in the reserves declared: “Hamas has a heart of stone” (as if someone who detains tens of thousands of Palestinian prisoners, some of them political, some of them without trial, some of them held for years with no family visits, has a heart of gold ).

In the last five years not a single Israeli has remained apathetic about Shalit’s fate. That is how it should be, and it is cause for pride. That humanization of a single soldier, with a (pale ) face, with (noble ) parents and a (worried ) grandfather, and even his having been turned into a “boy,” is a sign of a humanitarian society. One can even somehow accept the frenetic nature of Israeli society, which goes from one extreme situation to another in a flash. The two soldiers who were killed during Shalit’s abduction are unknown soldiers, Shalit became an iconic hero; Yitzhak Rabin turned overnight from a despised prime minister into a saint. MIA soldiers have been forgotten, other captive soldiers never became national symbols, and only Shalit became what he became.

Five years with only a rare news broadcast that did not mention his existence. Apparently there was something about Shalit and about his parents that captured the nation’s heart. And this too is only for the good.

The problem starts with the ridiculous crowns we claimed for ourselves and with the hypocrisy, emptiness and blindness characterizing them. The campaign to free Shalit, which was not free of repellent aspects, such as the efforts to prevent visits to Palestinian prisoners, turned into a campaign of the state, a pressure release valve for the demonstration of caring and civil involvement – hollow and shallow, just like the “candle youth” who sobbed over Rabin’s murder and voted for Netanyahu in the next election.

Who isn’t against terror and for Shalit’s release? But that same sobbing society did not for a moment ask itself, with honesty and with courage, why Shalit was captured. It did not for a moment say to itself, with courage and with honesty, that if it continued along the same path there will be many more Gilad Shalits, dead or captured. In successive elections it voted, again and again, for centrist and right-wing governments, the kind that guarantee that Shalit will not be the last. It tied yellow ribbons and supported all of the black flags. And no one ever told it, with courage and with honesty: Shalit is the unavoidable price of a state that chooses to live by the sword forever.

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