Monday, July 5, 2010

Let a Thousand Gilad Shalits Go Free

Note to readers: I wrote this late last night, and then I woke up and saw that Israeli novelist David Grossman, in a front page "over the headline" article in Haaretz, has called Israel to change its attitude towards Hamas, to move beyond the "we don't negotiate with terrorists" crap that it has been dishing out for umpteen years, in fact, to make the switch that it made with the PLO. Grossman certainly is not a fan of Hamas (neither am I) but he is a fan of dealing with bona fide representatives of the Palestinians and getting out of the deep freeze. When it is translated into English, I will give you the link.

There should have been a prisoner exchange a long time ago for Gilad Shalit. In fact, it would have been better had Israel freed Palestinian prisoners as part of a general amnesty in order to improve the chances for a comprehensive settlement. I say this because, as Gideon Levy points out here, even if all Palestinian prisoners are freed, Hamas will do its best to kidnap more Israeli soldiers to use as bargaining chips, as Israel has kidnapped Lebanese civilians to use as bargaining chips. Let us face it; the only difference between Shalit and many of the Palestinians languishing in Israeli jails is that the latter have better prison conditions than the former. Both Israel and Hamas are guilty of throwing people into jail who should not be there, although only Israel is guilty of jailing an entire population. Until there is a settlement between Israelis and Palestinians the sides will be throwing each other in the clink to pressure the other side.

The reason why Bibi does not do a prisoner exchange with Hamas has nothing to do with the fear that Jews will die as a result – that is the line that he says to play to his base -- but because he wants to do everything he can to demonize Hamas, so that it help keep the Palestinians divided and makes it easier to control Gaza (and concentrate on the West Bank) A prisoner exchange will be viewed as a victory for Hamas, and while Bibi seems to like giving them victories (witness the gradual easing of the blockade), it is the sort of victory that will make them look like reasonable partners and not al-Qaeda terrorists.

What is interesting, though not surprising, is the number of Israelis who are opposed to the exchange of prisoners, despite the fact that Israel can always "round up twice the usual suspects" and has done so many times in the past. Haaretz published a very interesting article last Shabbat in which it was suggested that a sharp rise in the number of youths arrested for throwing rocks in the Hebron area can be correlated to the introduction of police software that rewards the police for taking the initiative to make arrests. (I will be grateful to the reader who provides a link to the article.) Some of the youths arrested are beaten and abused, according to their testimony, the testimony of human rights groups, and of sources within the police themselves. Yet, as is the case in totalitarian societies, investigations, when conducted, invariably support the versions of the police. Naturally, most Israelis don't care about any of the Palestinians beaten. But a hardened heart is a hardened heart. And so it is not surprising to hear how many don't care about the death of Gilad Shalit – for failure to release him will almost certainly doom him -- because they have convinced themselves that letting Palestinian prisoners go will encourage more kidnappings – as if Hamas hasn't tried to kidnap soldiers throughout this whole period, or as if Israel didn't itself effectively kidnap Palestinians – fingered by sometimes unwilling collaborators, always appearing before a military court.

What should be done? Well, without any relation to the Shalit business, Israel should a) recognize Hamas as the elected representatives of the Palestinian people and b) free their politicians and legislators from Israeli jails and let them take their rightful positions. Of course, Israel may want to get something in return for this, but the important thing is to take two steps. And, most important, Israel should express a willingness to sit down and talk with the legitimate representatives of the Palestinian people, whoever they may be. All of these measures will be partial until a final settlement.

The Hamas leader Abu Tir is being expelled from Israel after having served time in jail. And what was his crime? He won an election that Israel authorized. It is not because he is a member of Hamas that he was jailed and will be expelled, because he was a member of Hamas before the election, and Israel did not do anything about him. He won, so he is jailed and expelled.

Now what will motivate Hamas more to kidnap IDF soldiers? A prisoner release? Or Israel expelling Palestinian elected officials like Abu Tir?


Yossi Gurvitz said...

Strictly speaking, the Hamas is not the elected leadership of anything. It was elected in Feb. 2006, and its four years of power have expired. The Abbas faction has even less legitimacy. At the moment there is no legitimate leadership in Palestine.

Shmuel said...


This must be the article you're looking for (Hebrew), by Shay Fogelman:

I'm afraid couldn't find it in English.

Y. Ben-David said...

Yes, yes I see how all you "progressives" love HAMAS, admire how "clean" and uncorrupt and popular and democratic they are. I also keep hearing how much they love and respect Jews and Judaism, only having a problem with Zionists. One of your fellow "progressive" bloggers keeps telling us that in addition to the above good characteristics, they recognize Israel, want a peace agreement and strongly oppose terorrism. All of this in contradistinction to us filthy Zionist criminals. So just explain one thing to me.....WHY DO THEY REFUSE TO LET THE RED CROSS SEE SHALIT...since they are so much more virtuous and saintly than we are?

Anonymous said...

It has always struck me as fascinating that the Palestinians are willing to concede the idea that a single Israeli is worth hundreds of Arabs. Any comments on that, Jerry?

Also, I'm wondering, since you acknowledge that Hamas will continue to kidnap Israelis (soldiers or otherwise), why shouldn't Israel arrest as many Palestinians as possible in order to have sufficient numbers of prisoners to trade?

I'm also curious, since you dismiss this issue, why you reject the notion that some of the Palestinian prisoners won't revert to attempting terror attacks? This has happened before and it's the reason there is a strong movement in Israel to deny an exchange for Shalit. Do you know something these people don't?

Anonymous said...

"Let us face it; the only difference between Shalit and many of the Palestinians languishing in Israeli jails is that the latter have better prison conditions than the former"


How do you know this? Has a Red Cross official (or anybody else other than Hamas operatives) provided you with this information? Palestinian prisoners "languishing" in Israeli jails can get university degrees, family visits, conjugal visits, red cross visits, colleagues with whom to discuss the latest soccer game or political or religious topic.

Gilad Shalit will come back to Israel after an exchange of prisoners. He will be returned dead or alive. If he is returned alive, he will suffer for the rest of his life from the psychological harm of this brutal confinement.

His confinement is NOTHING like that of Palestinian prisoners in Israeli jails.

Jerry Haber said...

Yossi, you are right. Elections should have been held, and they should now be held. But you will admit that Hamas was not allowed to fulfill their mandate in ways that Fatah was.

Shmuel, thanks

Y. Ben David, I don't like Hamas, just as I don't like ha-Bayit ha-Yehudi. I would love to send them all to some desert island. Relgious fundamentalists make me nauseous. That said, I seem to remember when people talked about the PLO and its charter the way they now talk about Hamas and its charter. In a few years, we will be talking with Hamas and be the target of a more extreme group.

Their refusal to let the Red Cross see Shalit is their way of putting pressure on us. We have ways of putting pressure on them. Both ways are illegitimate, as I said in the article.

It is fascinating to me, Anonymous, that Israelis consider a single Palestinian to be worth 1 percent of an Israeli. I assure you, that if the Hamas had the power that Israel does, then thousands of Israelis would be in their jails.

I am sure that some of the released prisoners will continue the armed struggle, if that is what Hamas decides. I am also sure that there is no shortage of volunteers to be shahidim. You don't want them to commit attacks against civilians. Neither do I. Sit with their leaders and negotiate a settlement (or with the PA in which they are represented.)

Anonymous, I am surprised that you disagree with what I wrote, which is that the Palestinians have better prison conditions than Gilad Shalit. But let's not fall for the propaganda. Read Gideon Levy's accounts of what the Palestinians in Israeli jails -- many of whom, unlike Shalit, are civilians -- endure.

Jerry Haber said...


You are violating the terms of your participation here. Henceforth, I will give you one short comment per post. You don't like the terms? Start your own blog. I don't have time to read your comments, much less respond to them. And by the way, Iran as never threatened to destroy Israel.

Anonymous said...

first off jerry,

abu red beard tir was arrested not after he won office, but after shalit was kidnapped...get the facts straight.

and i have have absolutely no problem with israel trading prisoners for shalit

as long as you and the rest of your suicidal comrades, are the ones who get to drive them to gaza

you need a rav and a chavrusa my friend

Jerry Haber said...

anonymous, that's your quota for this post. You really ought to read George Antonius' book the Arab Awakening to see what a leading role Christians have played in the Palestinian National Movement (you may also want to read Edward Said's works)

bacci40; I stand corrected as to timing; he was arrested together with others to serve as bargaining chips to get Shalit freed. The IDF denied that this was their motivation, of course, but everybody knew otherwise and he was finally released and now expelled -- again, not for any actions he did, but to put pressure on Hamas.

His crime? Getting elected; note that Israel went after mainly elected Hamas officals and did so en masse as a reprisal. Don't think I imagine that Hamas would have acted differently. Hamas, had it the power, would have arrested and jailed Israeli members of the knesset and ministers from the Kadima party, but they don't have that privilege, they only have Kassams.

The arrest of political figures to serve as bargaining chips is not much different from the kidnapping of soldiers to serve as bargaining chips. I guess the only difference is that more people would wish to free Gilad Shalit than Tzipi Livni and Abu Tir

Y. Ben-David said...

George Antonius wrote his book IIRC something like 80 years ago. Yes, Christians were in the forefront of Arab nationalism, and later, the Pan-Arab nationalism of parties like the Baath movement,which was founded by Christians. They did this in order to head off Muslim radicalism. Same with Christians like George Habash and his Marxist Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine.

But today, "Arab nationalism" is out. It was seen to fail in its confrontation with Israel. Now radical, political Islam is perceived to be much more effective, and was seen to have driven Israel out of Lebanon and Gush Katif (Gaza). So Christians are going to be marginalized in the new Islamic Middle East in which countries like Turkey and Iran, neither of which are particularly popular with the Arabs are seen to be major players.

Devir said...

Normally I don't write just laudatory posts, but I have to make an exception, since some of your readers criticism is, in my view, quite biassed.
It shows you are someone who loves Israel but your honesty and morals make you see what everybody should see.
Your comments are solid and articulate. They also show your heart hasn't hardened...

Unknown said...

Here's the link to Shay Fogelman's article in English

pacifist hawk said...

"His crime? Getting elected; note that Israel went after mainly elected Hamas officals and did so en masse as a reprisal."

His crime is supporting an organization that supports attacks on Israeli civilians. Is that not a crime?

Jerry Haber said...

pacifist hawk

are you serious? you think that he was picked up because he was a member of Hamas? Then why was he arrested only after he was elected. Why was he allowed to run?