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Kidnapped soldier Gilad Shalit has become an industry; the Gilad Shalit brand probably accounts for a significant part of the Israeli GDP.

As an op-ed in Ynet News observed:

Celebrities who need their name and photo to appear in the news frequently “volunteer” to appear in a PR campaign... Only the most prominent celebrities are invited to take part in such high-profile campaigns.

An opposition politician was advised by his PR consultants to reinforce his status as a “leader” – and ever since then he has been making statements about the need to show “leadership” on the Shalit issue. However, maybe real leaders need to be silent? And perhaps a real leader would take unpopular decisions? This politician can’t answer those questions.

The same is true for his colleagues: A minister who wants to see Marwan Barghouti released, links it to Shalit. Another minister who wishes to boost the fruit trade with Gaza presses for “Shalit’s release” in order to open the Gaza crossings.

A brief video of Shalit showing him in relatively good health, claiming that he read the news in the newspaper Falastin (though he probably cannot read Arabic), and praising the "Majahadin" (should be Mujahedin) of the Izzedin al Qassam Brigades, cost Israel the release of twenty Palestinian prisoners. For 200 prisoners we can get a full length movie perhaps and for 1,000 they may rent us a full season of The Sopranos. The eye glasses that were supposedly delivered to Shalit were not in evidence, but otherwise he did not look to be in really bad condition, considering. Nonetheless, his father insisted that he is "rotting in Hamas captivity" and "no effort should be spared" to free him. Nobody remarked on the frustrating irony that while Israel is being raked over the coals for "human rights violations," Israel must release 20 prisoners in order to obtain a video of Shalit. When it is a matter of blaming Israel, Hamas can be pictured as a responsible combatant with "legitimate" rights. But Hamas is iself exempt from international law. When they have to comply with the law they can be shown to be nothing but thugs and kidnappers who have no legal obligations, and do not have to treat Shalit as a prisoner of war. Nobody, least of all Judge Goldstone, seems to care.

The cost of the video is far more than 20 released prisoners, since Hamas gained a fairly great propaganda victory and some "legitimation." The cost of a prisoner trade that would bring about Shalit's release would be far higher - about a thousand prisoners in all. Due to the relentless pressure of the Shalit industry, the price goes up all the time. But that would only be a down payment on the real price. Hamas leader Khaled Meshaal has promised to kidnap more Israeli soldiers in order to extort the release of more Palestinian prisoners. Hamas would gain legitimation, reopening of the Gaza checkpoints and Palestinian support as the liberator of Palestinian prisoners. And of course, a lot of those prisoners would go back into the terror business as soon as they are released. Hamas are especially anxious to make a deal now, before the Palestinian elections.

When Defense Minister Ehud Barak described the "release Shalit lobby" as guilty of whining, he was not exaggerating. His declaration that soldiers must be ready to die for their country would seem to be a truism that requires no defense. However, his remarks were met with heated and scarcely believable argument:

Why should young soldiers risk their life ...when it turns out... that the state cannot guarantee their safety[?]

I checked that the original Hebrew really does say the same thing. It didn't occur to the op-ed writer and to the editors of Yediot Ahronot newspaper that if the state could guarantee the safety of soldiers, they would not be risking their lives. Is it really necessary to explain what "risk" means, what a soldier is, what an army is, and what they are supposed to do? Do we really have to refer people to Natan Alterman's poem, the Silver Platter? Did Israelis forget so quickly that independence, sovereignty, nationhood has a price? Have we all already forgotten the bitter humiliation of the shameful and senseless Hezbollah prisoner swap, in which a few dead bodies were exchanged for the murderous Samir Kuntar, who was received as a hero, and hundreds of others?

At the time of the Hezbollah swap, It was Ehud Barak himself who justified the swap:

"We have a moral obligation to return our soldiers from a mission whether they are alive or unfortunately dead. That's what guided the government's decision."

Perhaps Barak learned something from the Hezbollah swap, but he can hardly blame the Shalit family and its supporters from holding him to his word, especially since in this case it appears that the captive is actually alive.

The argument about freeing Shalit "for any price" should not be a political argument. Left or right, nobody wants to be blown up or kidnapped. Any deal is undoubtedly going to encourage further kidnappings. The Palestinian prisoners under discussion are not "political prisoners." They aren't in jail for their beliefs, but for planning terror attacks and aiding in them. If the Israeli government is going to release such people in return for liberation of kidnap victims, then isn't best for Israel to do away with jail sentences, and simply release the malefactors as soon as they are caught? In fact, why bother catching them at all, if they are all going to be released anyhow?

It may be inevitable now that Shalit will be traded for hundreds of Palestinian prisoners at some point. It is hard to justify refusing a deal for Shalit after an Israeli government traded Samir Kuntar for the dead bodies of Eldad Regev and Ehud Goldwasser. But the constant pressure ensures that Israel will make the worst possible deal, at the worst time, for the highest price.

In a few months, there will probably be a unity deal between the "peace partner" government of "moderate" Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas and the renegade Gaza Hamas government. Hopefully, Shalit would then become the direct responsibility of the Abbas government. On the one hand, release of Shalit could be made a legitimate condition for continuation of the peace talks. On the other hand, any release of prisoners would be to the credit of the Fatah and Palestinian Authority, rather than to the credit of Hamas.

Isn't it worth waiting? Probably, but in a public atmosphere where the government is supposed to guarantee that soldiers are never ever harmed in any way, it is impossible to expect rational decisions.

Ami Isseroff

Original content is Copyright by the author 2009. Posted at ZioNation-Zionism and Israel Web Log, http://www.zionism-israel.com/log/archives/00000718.html where your intelligent and constructive comments are welcome. Disributed by ZNN list. Subscribe by sending a message to ZNN-subscribe@yahoogroups.com. Please forward by e-mail with this notice, cite this article and link to it. Other uses by permission only.

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I watched the video. I did not see in Gilad "a picture of health". He is very thin, there are dark shadows under his eyes, he seems haunted, fragile. There is no doubt that whatever his physical condition is, mentally he is not well.

I admire your blog very much, Ami Isseroff, but I don't think the tart tone you use in this case is merited at all.

"The Gilad Lobby"? Such callous cynicism.

Noga, Sunday, October 4th

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