The Israeli ethos of "not leaving anyone" behind is embedded in our national psyche. In his 1956 Diary of the Sinai Campaign, Moshe Dayan expressed his admiration for troops who risked their lives to bring back wounded and dead comrades, and opined that this sometimes irrational devotion was nonetheless necessary to maintain the espirit de corps
of the IDF
. But after the Suez Campaign
, Israeli POWs had to suffer patiently until honorable prisoner exchanges were arranged. And most regrettably, the prisoners of the Lavon affair
were not released.
But Israel has come a long way since 1956. Ever since an opportunity was missed to release captured navigator Ron Arad, we have become obsessed with issue of captive soldiers. These are no longer prisoners of war taken during military operations, but often soldiers kidnapped in Israel, specifically for purposes of blackmailing the Israeli government. Everyone should remember the relentless campaign to release the two soldiers, Eldad Regev and Ehud Goldwasser, who were "kidnapped" (actually killed) at the beginning of the Second Lebanon War
. It was clear to everyone with rational powers that they were dead, but the Israeli government, bowing to a steamroller of pressure, made an odious deal to "exchange" the soldiers for terrorist Samir Kuntar (see With blood on their hands
and It's not to late to save our boys and girls
. Hours after the deal, the same journalists who had cursed the government for not acting to save the poor soldiers just the day before, were now whining about the terrible price Israel paid, about the loss of prestige, and about the obscene orgy of celebration in Lebanon surrounding the release of terrorist Samir Kuntar.
But Israelis in general, and journalists in particular, have the memory capacity of mentally challenged chickens. They are almost all at it again, as they have been for months, pushing for the release of prisoners far more dangerous than Kuntar, so that dear Gilad Shalit can come marching home again, provided he can still march. Three particularly absurd specimens stand out. In Ha'aretz, Nehemiah Shtrasler
The price achieved by Ofer Dekel, after exhaustive negotiations, is a reasonable one - 450 heavyweight prisoners. The worst we have. This price is reasonable because it is not a strategic price. It does not undermine our strength or our existence. It will not change the balance of power between us and them.
Shtrasler is mistaken. There is a vital strategic issue here. He has only to consider the gains in prestige and support achieved by the Hezbolla to understand that the release of prisoners will be translated into more guns, more support in the Palestinian population, and more support for Hamas. groupies in Europe. Suppose, for a moment (without saying there is any equivalence) that the Haganah or Irgun had succeeded in kidnapping a British soldier and exchanging him for a large group of Jewish underground prisoners and a thousand illegal immigrants from the prisons and detention camps of the British Mandatory government. Is there any doubt that HM British Mandate for Palestine would have been dealt a strategic blow? How would it have been viewed in Europe, and how would it have been viewed by Jews living abroad?
Hanoch Daum offers this 'wisdom'
There is no security official who can convince me that we can release 320 terrorists, but that the release of 450 will gravely harm us and eliminate Israel's future. Yes, the best thing would be not to release anyone and continue to fantasize that our elite forces will free Shalit or that he will be released after we prevent visits from Hamas detainees.
These illusions are nice, but not when Gilad is being held in Gaza, at a desolate tunnel below a moldy house, without heating or air-conditioning and without seeing the day of light, like a caged and wounded animal. Gilad Shalit was abducted, and we are responsible for bringing him back...
Daum is right, and he is also wrong. He is right that there is not much difference between 320 and 450 terrorists, especially if Marwan Barghouti is released in either case. Barghouti represents a one man 'strategic issue.' He was responsible for uniting all the "blow 'em up" forces in the Palestinian territories into the "National and Islamic front" and his release would not only send support for Hamas sky high, it would release a political bomb that could be as dangerous as the return of the Ayatollah Khomeini to Iran in 1979. Once Israel agreed to negotiate for release of a kidnapped soldier, the number of prisoners released will not make much difference. But Daum is wrong that the issue was the number of terrorists. The issue, according to Hamas. was that Israel insists on expelling some of the worst offenders from Gaza or from the Palestinian territories. Unless Hanoch Daum has some real inside dope, he is probably wrong about where Shalit is being held and under what conditions. There is, in fact, no proof that really shows that Gilad Shalit is alive anywhere, and there is no real reason to believe he is alive. Indeed, we all have a responsibility to Shalit, but we all, Daum included, have other responsibilities as well. Israel has begun to collectively eat, sleep and drink Shalit. The Iranian nuclear problem is forgotten. The international financial catastrophe is forgotten. The fact that we have no real government is forgotten as well. We have lost all perspective and become the laughing stock of the Middle East.
But the most discordant and absurd note was sounded by the Shalit family's PR manager
"This is an insolent statement on the part of the PMO," Hezi Mashita told Army Radio. "Especially after the Schalit family kept quiet for months and years, and are now, in the past ten days, acting on their responsibility towards their son - as opposed to the 1,000 days that the Israeli government had."
It is Mashita who is insolent, and who has grossly distorted the truth. Everyone in Israel has known about the Shalit family's high pressure campaign for months. What happened in the past ten days has simply been that very bad has gotten to be much worse, with infant pictures of Gilad Shalit published in the newspapers. It was sufficiently hysterical in December, when Hamas staged a grotesque entertainment for its subjects - making fun of Gilad Shalit and his family. That is the net result of Mr. Mashita's efforts.
The insolence of Mr. Mashita and the chorus of Shalit groupies he leads, consists in assuming that they are more interested in freeing Gilad Shalit than the government, and that they, and not the government, understand Israel's security. Their stupidity consists in pressuring the only party that really is trying to do just about everything reasonable to free Shalit - the Israeli government - and thereby raising the price for the release of Gilad Shalit. Why don't they try to bring pressure on Hamas instead of pressuring the Israeli government? Why don't the Shalit family move their tent to UN headquarters in New York or to the headquarters of the International Red Cross? Why don't they remind the world that every international organization that is pledged to uphold international humanitarian law has abandoned and betrayed Gilad Shalit. Not one of the humanitarian organizations has done anything to get him freed or even to ensure that he is treated according to the accords governing prisoners. If Gilad Shalit was a Palestinian, would Umm Gilad be appearing on television berating the Palestinian leaders for not bringing him home, or would she be calling for Sumud - steadfastness? Do we have to learn courage and dignity from the Hamas?
When -- and if -- Shalit comes marching home, where will the people be gay, in Israel or in Gaza? That depends on how Gilad Shalit is freed.
So please dear Abu Gilad and Umm Gilad, be mindful of why your son went to serve in the IDF. He went to send to defend the Jewish people and the honor, respect and dignity of the Jewish people and Israel. Do not sabotage what Gilad Shalit set out to defend.
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Replies: 4 Comments
My reaction to Shalitīs parents setting up a tent in front of Government house, was that it would have been more productive if they - and a huge crowd of us in support - protested in front of the UN , AI and the Red Cross. I am pleased to read that Ami Isseroff presents the same arguments.
Ellen, Saturday, March 21st
Brilliant commentary, Ami.
How can so many Israelis be so blind all at once? this boggles the mind? where are our leaders? Ami, bend the ears of a few more!
Peter Clement, Friday, March 20th
Please already, Israel is not a victim any longer...not since 67' and their illegal occupation. They control the water supplies in gaza and the west bank, along with the strategic highlands,they are continuing their jewish only settlements meahwhile destroying palestinian homes at the same time. So yes the palestinians launch thier random rocket attacks that do inflict damage on a less precise level... but the israeli army is a modern killing machine supplied by US modern technology. Israel is also in the top ten of military production in the world. So the oppressed are now the oppressors....Yes Hitler executed 6 million jews, but don't forget that he sacrificed the same number of his own people in wwII. Along with 16 million russians and slavs....so get over it Israel...you are not the only people to suffer overwhelming casualties in conflict. What about the 10 million chinese killed at the hands of the japanese....where is their halocaust museum? are they not god's people too?
Larry Deardorff, Thursday, March 19th
Excellent analysis. To many observers Israel's behavior seems incomprehensibly self-destructive. The nation that once set the precedent for not negotiating with terrorists seems to have lost its nerve by willing to pay almost any price the terrorists demand. Clearly this attitude strengthens Hamas, weakens Palestinian moderates, and ensures there will be many more Shalits in the future, courtesy of the trained killers many in Israel now seem willing to release. Once you show willingness to give a Kuntar for a corpse, the enemy knows they finally have you.
Carlos, Thursday, March 19th
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