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.

1 comment:

Jan said...

is, however, one setting in which the two sides stand on level ground. When the prisoner deal was announced this week, there were jarringly rare images of both Israelis and Gaza strip Palestinians joyously celebrating the same news story. There it was, in that moment: an equality borne of shared humanity.

Rachel Shabi on ALJazeera