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.


DW said...

How is this deal different from what could have been negotiated 2, 3, 4 years ago? Which side made new concessions? Did they each?

Donald said...

I agree with your post.

One thing that has often struck me about pro-Israel propaganda is that it is frequently illogical or bizarre. If I were in charge of spinning this on behalf of Israel I would stick to something simple, like claiming that all the released Palestinians were "terrorists" or murderers. Sure, it'd be a lie, but at least it's a lie that makes sense. This notion that Israel values life more because it holds a vastly larger number of prisoners and swaps occur at a 1000 to 1 ratio makes no sense at all. I suppose it has the virtue of being hard to refute because the logic is so twisted. Sometimes sheer audacity in a stupid argument is a plus. You had to write an entire column to refute it. So maybe the people who come up with these claims know their business better than I do.

pabelmont said...

Even after the release of a (mere) 1000 prisoners, Israel will still hold many thousands of Palestinians as prisoners, many without charge or trial (as required by human decency and by the Fourth Geneva Convention (ho hum to either and to both)), many of them children. Some will say that Hamas did not hold out for ENOUGH!

If the "deal" releases Hamas prisoners and not Fateh prisoners, it will stink of a "politically inspired deal" to strengthen Hamas as against Fateh at the moment that Fateh's branch of the PA is trying to perform an interesting manipulation in the UN. Be interesting to see whether Marwan Barghouti is released. Be interesting to see if USA removes HAMAS from its terrorist list (because, you know, the arch state-terrorists USA and Israel do not negotiate with (non-state) "terrorists").

RagingModerate said...

It is a mark of Professor Haber's cognitive distance from Israeli society that he mistakes Sgt. Shalit's first name. (Is there any Israeli who does not know it is Gilad?)
It is a mark of Professor Haber's incurably moralistic temper that he attributes the prudent reluctance of Israeli decisionmakers to permit the freeing of countless prisoners -- men (and a few women) who have engaged in terrorist acts that have taken many Israeli lives and who are ideologically predisposed to do so again -- to Israeli "national pride."

Donald said...

Raging Moderate steps up to the plate--yes, all 1000 of these people were terrorists. See, that's the kind of simple to-the-point hasbara I expect to see. Good show.

Juan said...

Thanks for your welcome clarity on this matter, Jerry!

Anonymous said...

Whichever side values human life more, I don't know, or particularly care about at this point; high-handed morality and pretentious preaching aren't things I enjoy. However, is that quite a few of those prisoners Hamas campaigned for, and got released, don't give a damn about the lives of others (or at least Jews, which makes me a tribalist, I suppose). Whatever 'truth' about either one that can be divined through this event won't change the minds of propaganda spewers and supporters/detractors of either side alike.

Contempt for human lives is nothing new in belief, ideology, or humanity in general. I suppose this conflict, and conflicts in general, merely bring it out into the open.

Tamar Orvell said...

I miss your voice, and hope all is well!