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One For One Thousand

New ‘Times Magazine’ story shows how the Shalit deal went down

Marc Tracy
November 09, 2011
From the cover of the forthcoming New York Times Magazine.(SPD/NYT Mag)
From the cover of the forthcoming New York Times Magazine.(SPD/NYT Mag)

Run, do not walk to go read the New York Times Magazine’s new cover story on the Gilad Shalit deal by Yediot Aronoth’s Ronen Bergman. It is extremely well written, comprehensive, and provocative. Some choice tidbits:

• Perhaps the most sensational aspect of the article is the light it sheds on just how crucial the Israeli lefty Gershon Baskin, a guy with no official government affiliation, was to freeing Shalit. Basically, through a Hamas contact that he made at an academic conference (!), Baskin was able to set up a more or less direct Israeli line not just to Hamas but to the ultra-hard-line leader of Hamas’ military wing, Ahmed Jabari—“the first name,” Bergman notes, “on Israel’s list of terrorists to be assassinated.”

• Bergman writes: “It is very unlikely that we will ever learn where he was held. The degree to which Gaza, unlike the West Bank, is opaque to Israeli intelligence has profound implications for future operations there. The inability of Israeli intelligence to discover Shalit’s place of captivity in a small space that is an hour’s drive from Tel Aviv was a profound failure, one to which the departing heads of Israel’s three security organizations—Mossad, Shin Bet and the military—all admitted when they retired this year.” In other words: if doing the deal reinforced the logic of abducting soldiers from Hamas’ perspective, Israel’s inability to rescue Shalit had already reinforced that logic.

• The story of Miriam Grof, the mother of a soldier captured in the 1980s whose activism on behalf of her son provided the template for Noam Shalit’s activism for his, proves—as if any proof were necessary—that hell hath no fury like a Jewish mother who misses her child.

• Bergman also scrupulously provides the perspective of a man whose little boy was killed during a 2003 bus bombing and who opposes all prisoner exchanges. It is chilling that his sentimental view is corroborated by the decidedly unsentimental men who have run Israel’s intelligence and security agencies—they also were greatly opposed to this deal.

Yet after reading Bergman’s piece—and after staring at the magazine’s incredible cover—I personally find it hard to avoid the conclusion that this was the right thing to do. A simple cost-benefit analysis ignores the expressive function of such a transaction: that Israel will exchange a thousand men for one is a statement—a “speech act,” if you will—about how Israel values life (a Jewish life, anyway) and how that sets it apart within its unfortunate part of the world. I don’t know that you can put a price on that, even when the currency is lives.

Marc Tracy is a staff writer at The New Republic, and was previously a staff writer at Tablet. He tweets @marcatracy.