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After Shalit Deal, Joy Muffled by Reluctance

The cost is staggering, the reward inarticulable

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An image of the captured Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit.(Uriel Sinai/Getty Images)

Israel is a young country, and not only in terms of its own lifespan. More than 27 percent of its citizens are aged 0-14, and that group is growing. Which means it’s safe to estimate that roughly one in ten Israelis has never been alive during a time that Gilad Shalit, himself only 25, was a free man. That changes tomorrow. Or such, anyway, is the plan.

And quite a plan: Haaretz reports there will be 11 phases, a series of preordained moves in which the several sides (the Israelis, Hamas, the Egyptians) take various steps to reassure the others that they will follow through on their ends of a bargain that will ultimately see over 1,000 prisoners go free. For example, Israel releases a few dozen female prisoners; then Shalit is transferred, via the Rafah crossing, from Gaza to Egypt, only at which point will Israel begin releasing some of its male prisoners. (Upon transfer from Egypt to Israel, Shalit “will be given his old cell phone in order to telephone his mother.”) Prime Minister Netanyahu is playing an extensive, symbolic role in the latter part of the proceedings. After all, this was his decision, and his to own—for better and for worse. He was reportedly difficult to persuade throughout, right back to when chief negotiator (and former Mossad official) David Meidan first made informal contacts with Hamas.

It was not hard to see why Netanyahu, or any Israeli, might hesitate to make this deal, and the disclosure of the names of nearly 500—almost half—of the Palestinian prisoners whom Israel will release makes it even less hard. “These are not just prisoners with ‘blood on their hands,’” Amos Harel and Avi Issacharoff (who wrote about the Shalit situation for Tablet Magazine) report. “Rather, the list includes some of the founders of the Hamas military wing, such as Zaher Jabarin and Yihya Sanawar, and prisoners involved in some of the most ignoble terror attacks in Israel, including the 1989 attack on bus 405 and the 1994 abduction of Israel Defense Forces soldier Nachshon Wachsman.” And the people behind the 2001 Tel Aviv night club attack. And the 2001 bombing of the Jerusalem Sbarro. And the Passover massacre at Netanya in 2002 (for me, the always-remember-where-I-was moment of the Second Intifada). More names, and the crimes they committed, are listed here.

It is therefore unsurprising that the deal has not been greeted with unanimous approval. Three cabinet members—Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman, the Yisrael Beiteinu head; Uzi Landau, the infrastructure minister, also of YB; and Moshe Ya’alon, of Netanyahu’s own Likud—voted against the deal outright. Interior Minister Eli Yishai, head of Shas, suggested freeing certain Jewish terrorists as part of the deal for the sake of “balances.” And speaking of: one entrepreneurial soul, an Israeli Jew who claimed he was related to terrorist victims, vandalized Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin’s grave in protest (click for ugly, important picture). Victims’ families have the opportunity to petition the High Court to overturn releases, but the court is expected to stare the government’s decisis on this one. In a touching article, the Times’ Ethan Bronner reports on two families of victims of prisoners who will be released—one of which opposes the deal, the other of which supports it. Two Jews, two opinions. (A new poll suggests that 79 percent of Israelis support the exchange.)

Is it a gift to terrorists? Plainly. Is it massively, just gargantuan-like, lopsided? Inarguably. The only consolation to be taken is that some of the terrorists Hamas has wanted these past five-plus years were not included (and nor is Marwan Barghouti, although he is a special case: it is far too complicated to try to parse whether Israel should truly wish him jailed, or Hamas truly wish him freed). It’s not even clear that Hamas will honor elements of the deal barring the return to the territories of some prisoners, who are being deported upon their releases. Is it going to lead to further kidnappings of Israeli soldiers in exchange for further prisoners? Well, why wouldn’t it? This is what happens when you literally negotiate with terrorists.

Meanwhile, is Israel getting much in return besides Shalit? Freeing Israeli-American Ilan Grapel will require more Israeli prisoners released. Turkey claims it aided the mediation, but Egypt disputes it, and certainly the deal is not suddenly going to repair Israeli-Turkish relations. Aaron David Miller is quite correct when he notes that this will have no effect on the peace process—in fact, in empowering Hamas and marginalizing the Palestinian Authority, it’s pretty sure to hurt it (further).

If the deal seems totally bewildering to non-Israeli readers, well, maybe it’s simply bewildering. Or maybe we don’t understand what it means to live in a society where one soldier can be everyone’s son, and everyone’s son can provide a reason for staying together, and engineering a major strategic defeat is worth it so that none of your citizens can claim they were never alive at a time that Gilad Shalit was a free man.

Shalit Swap: The Step-by-Step Guide [Haaretz]
Behind the Scenes of the Shalit Deal [Ynet]
Israel Releases Names of 477 Prisoners to be Freed in Trade [NYT]
In Shalit Deal, Israel Crossed Its Own Red Lines [Haaretz]
A Yearning for Solidarity Tangles Public Life [NYT]
Related: News of a Kidnapping [Tablet Magazine]
Everyone’s Son [Tablet Magazine]

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Jerome says:

I am glad Shalit will finally be coming home. It’s a great thing. Netanyahu, however, not only negotiated with terrorists, but is freeing a great number of them for Shalit’s freedom. Meanwhile, he seems to have no real interest in negotiating with the P.A., that has done much to tamp down violence in the West Bank. The release will no doubt make Netanyahu more popular, but the hosannas that he may be showered with are completely undeserved.

Howard Lerner says:

Pidyon shvuyim (redemption of captives) has been tightly woven into our historical and cultural histories. That our sages have authored opinions when not to redeem, indeed. Yet the overriding value we place on community, ultimately grounded in promise, and belief in hope, moves us forth. Expressing concerns, admonitions, warnings, and possible better choices are appropriate, should be listened to, and may help us as we go forth. But this redemption is a strengthening of community. Those who wish and strive for our destruction will not be further hardened or made more cunning by this redemption. They have already made their choices. If anything, their misreading of our strength as weakness will weaken them.

Thank you Marc Tracy for your, by and large, balanced commentary about the Shalit deal. However, I would like to clarify one error you have made in your reporting because I believe it touches all of us, and helps to sharpen the mixed feelings we are all experiencing. You write that Rabin’s memorial was vandalized by someone who “claims that he was related to terrorist victims” and then refer the readers to an “ugly, important picture.” The so-called ‘vandal’ is Shvuel Schijveschuurder whose parents and three siblings were murdered in the Sbarro terrorist bombing in Jerusalem in 2001. One of the terrorists — Tamimi — is now 31 and has never regretted her actions and even smiles when she thinks about her having killed 8 children (among others.) She is charismatic, still young and I have no doubt will return to her ‘mission in life’ as quickly as she can. She is being released. Surely you can understand Shvuel’s action. In fact, the police were so understanding that they released him virtually immediately. Pain can be very palpable in this tiny country…

philip mann says:

Does anybody have a diiferent idea of how Shalit could have been freed ? These murderers are free to strike again,and more importantly, Hamas knows that the ratio of their people`s value to an IDF soldier is one divided my zero- i.e. ,infinity.

Where do we go from here ?

Peter W says:

Released terrorist murderers will go on to murder more Jews. Others will be encouraged to not only kidnap more Jews, but also encouraged thinking that even if they’re caught and imprisoned, Israel will release them to pay a ransom.

How many future dead Jews is Gilad worth? What is the number? 10? 20? 180? Is Gilad’s blood redder than the blood of the future victims? The only price we do not pay to ransom a captive is to pay with more lives; but that is exactly what is being done.

This bargain, which will foreseeably result in many, many Jewish funerals, is a greater catastrophe than if Gilad had been killed instead of kidnapped.

The solution for the future is to execute terrorists within hours of their capture and their guilt is confirmed. (Often easy to do, as the terrorists boast.) The solution in the Gilad case, is a solution that we Jews are way too weak to adopt: For every hour that Gilad is held, one terrorist murderer is executed. Israel has no problem killing unwanted dogs in shelters; why should they have a problem killing terrorist murderers to free Gilad?

Danielle says:

Hopefully Israel will hunt down those released prisoners again. We don’t want Shalit to lose his life in vain.

Rabin is/was not a saint and contrary to what Ron Huldai (the mayor of Tel Aviv) said, his memorial is not a ‘sacred space.’ Shuvel’s action was inappropriate but he isn’t simply some nut who ‘claimed’ to be related.

Shvuel Schijveschuurder lost both his parents and three siblings in the Sbarro bombing while the woman who drove the bomber there is now getting ready to spend the rest of her days frolicking around Jordan. He’s rightfully angry.

So far in the Israeli press, the Shalit family hasn’t really expressed much in the way of compassion in the face of this deal. Just today Noam Shalit showed up at the High Court to get into a verbal sparring match with these people. Perhaps if the Shalits showed some empathy with these families, it would go a long way in lowering tensions.

I understand their happiness, but surely they can’t be so tone deaf as to not comprehend the others’ reactions.

Karen G says:

Yes, the price was almost unbearable for Gilad Schalit’s release. But the cost to the morale of this country was even worse. You just have to live here and contribute a son to the IDF to realize this. It was as if the whole country released a collective sigh of relief that morning. And we all shed tears for the bereaved families-that is why the celebration was only in Mizpe Hila and not in the rest of Israel. I live here, and I would rather be on a heightened state of alert than live with the fact that a soldier is in captivity.

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After Shalit Deal, Joy Muffled by Reluctance

The cost is staggering, the reward inarticulable

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