Tuesday, October 11, 2011

With The Anticipated Prisoner Release, Let One Dumb Comment Be Buried

I write this from Jerusalem on the eve of Feast of Sukkot/Tabernacles -- and for the first time in years, I am hearing  good news -- that there will be a prisoner release between Hamas and the State of Israel

I cannot think of a better holiday gift for the families of the prisoners on both sides. Would that all prisoners be released as part of a general amnesty!

Unfortunately, I just heard on Israeli radio a repetition of the rather dumb comment, often heard in Israel, that Israelis value life more than "the Arabs" -- because Israel is willing to trade thousands of Arab prisoners for one Israeli, whereas "the Arabs" won't trade for less. "The Arabs" are willing to allow hundreds of Arab prisoners rot, rather than release them.

That's one way to look at it. Here's why a little thought shows it is wrong.

Say the shoe was on the other foot. Hamas held a thousand Israelis and Israel held one Arab prisoner. What would you think of Israel if it engineered a prisoner release that left five hundred Israelis in Hamas prison. And if the Israelies held out for all the Israeli prisoners they could get, would you say they valued life less that Hamas?

Here's a different way to look at it.  In order to get the maximum number of its people released, Hamas held out as long as it could -- and when it was clear it could not get them all, it reluctantly agreed to an exchange. Israel, on the other hand, preferred that its soldier spend years in Hamas captivity rather than lose face by releasing Palestinian prisoners. It valued its national pride over the life of one of its soldiers.

Which side valued life more?

The truth is that both sides behaved badly, Hamas kept its prisoner in an illegal captivity, denying him contact with the outside world. Israel took years before it acquiesced to Hamas' demands. And it turned out that the only thing that stood in the way of a prisoner exchange -- at least as far as we know now -- was the view of the former head of Shabak. New head, with different views on the security risk, and, voila -- prisoner exchange.

Oh, and one more thing. There is no equivalence. Only one side can seek out and arrest the other side with impunity. Only one side can swoop down in the middle of the night, break into a civilian house, arrest children, and keep them from their parents and legal counsel as material witnesses.. Gilad Shalit was kidnapped, and that was a violation of the laws of war. Hundreds of Palestinians have been likewise kidnapped by the IDF after being fingered by collaborators -- and that is a violation of their human rights.

Let's hope that there are no last minute glitches -- and that the prisoner release goes through.