Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Sergeant Shalit is Home

One concerned neighbour in Mitzpe Hila commented that Gilad Shalit, newly-released from five years in captivity in Gaza after Bibi Netanyahu agreed to swap 1027 Palestinian prisoners for him, now resembles a concentration camp victim. But though startlingly scrawny and pale, the IDF tank crewman is out at last and the nation is caught up with tears and fears and euphoria. Shalit's father told the press: "He came out of some dark pit or dark cellar and encountered such commotion out here." Presumably his Arabic language skills had improved, too. An interview with Egyptian anchorwoman Shahira Amin appeared to be opportunistic propaganda that left the confused former prisoner gasping for breath. In response to a prod about the remaining 5500 Palestinian prisoners who were not included in the trade, Shalit said he would be happy to see them released, as long as they no longer attack Israel.

The first Israeli soldier taken captive and returned alive in 26 years has made headlines worldwide. Lawrence Wright blogged on the New Yorker webpage:
In the five years since the abduction, there has been another exchange going on, not of the living but of the dead. Four hundred Gazans were killed by Israeli forces in the first few months after he was taken. Six Israeli soldiers and four civilians also died during that period. The exchange of one living Israeli for a thousand and twenty-seven living Palestinians is certainly a comment on the disparity of the value of life in each society. As long as Shalit was being held, the exchange of the dead would also continue at the same disproportionate rate. It certainly made sense for Hamas to make the deal. Whether it makes sense for Israel will not be known for decades. If the trade opens up an avenue for real peace negotiations, one that would include Hamas, then it will be a deal worth making for both sides.
But if Netanyahu reneges on his promise to free all the named Palestinians [477 were released today], there may be hell to pay.  Using IDF soldiers as currency has little to recommend it as a strategy, and this seems to be a politician's gambit. 

(Getty images published this shot of Shalit's interview in Egypt.) 

Thursday, October 13, 2011

A Thousand Prisoners for One Israeli Soldier

On Sunday, June 26, 2006, at 5:40 in the morning, several Hamas militants tunneled beneath the Kerem Shalom border crossing and killed two IDF soldiers by launching a rocket grenade at their tank, then captured the young corporal Gilad Shalit and took him back inside the Gaza Strip.  (In captivity, he was promoted to Sergeant.)  Because Shalit holds French as well as Israeli citizenship, there has been considerable European input into the extended negotiations over his freedom. Now, post-Arab Spring, Shalit's release looks closer than ever, but cynics warn that it is not quite a done deal yet.

Reuters reported today about the reaction inside Israel to the proposed swap of more than 1000 Palestinian prisoners for the single now-famous Israeli conscript:
Tens of thousands of Israelis have visited social media websites, which were in their infancy when tank crewman Shalit was grabbed, to push their government not to make a deal with Hamas, a group sworn to Israel's destruction. It appeared an exchange would not get under way before early next week. Under Israeli law the Palestinian prisoners' names must be published 48 hours ahead of their release to allow legal appeals against granting them liberty. Israel's Justice Ministry said it intended to publish the list no later than Sunday.
Hamas and its supporters in the Gaza Strip have threatened to seize more Israeli soldiers until all 6,000 Palestinian prisoners are freed from Israeli jails.
The deal resolves one of the most emotive and intractable issues between Israel and the Palestinians, but has no obvious direct effect on peace negotiations which have been stalled for the past year, apart from potentially improving the climate for a resumption as urged by Washington and its allies.
The breakthrough pact was achieved after many false dawns in years of secret efforts to free Shalit, who was captured a year after Israeli forces withdrew from the Gaza Strip. Israel tightened its Gaza blockade after he was seized and again after Hamas took over the enclave from a rival movement in 2007.
Yoram Cohen, chief of Israel's Shin Bet internal security service, said he believed Hamas opted for a deal now because it hoped to strengthen its ties with Egypt at a time of unrest and uncertainty in Syria, where the group has its headquarters.
No one expects Ofer Prison in the West Bank and the Megiddo and Ketziot prisons in Israel to suddenly empty out. In fact, compared to California, where 30,000 inmates will get out of jail early because of overcrowding, it's a trifling number.  But plenty of people on both sides are doubting that the release for prisoner exchange is a win-win situation.

Monday, October 03, 2011

Hello Yom!

"Hi. This is Sarah Palin. Is Senator Lieberman in ?"

"No, Governor. It's Yom Kippur!"

"Well, Hello, Yom. Can I leave a message?"


Hat tip to Ms Isaacson for this topical post.