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SGT. Gilad Shalit & All Our Sons

Israeli-Palestinian Prisoner Swap Scheduled For October 18th, Barring Unforeseen Circumstances

In Opposition To Prisoner Exchange Bereaved Israeli Desecrates Yitzak Rabin's Memorial With Spray Paint

Massive Support For Prime Minister Netanyahu's Prisoner Exchange Reflected in Cabinet Vote & Public At Large

Gilad Shalit

 If all goes according to plan, IDF Sergeant Gilad Shalit will be exchanged for 1027 Palestinian terrorists on October 18th. Although Israel refused to free some top Hamas terrorists, Hamas claims that it achieved 'more than 90% of its demands'. Hamas chief Haled Meshal has also indicated that he will launch more attacks to kidnap IDF soldiers to use as bargaining chips for freeing the remaining 8,000 terrorists serving time in Israeli prisons. Nonetheless, IsraCast analyst David Essing is of the view that Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu has massive public support for the lopsided prisoner swap.

 Oct.11th, 2012 will be a day that many Israelis will always remember what they were doing when they heard the news that Sgt. Gilad Shalit would finally be coming home. For more than five years, Israelis have agonized over the fate of the young IDF soldier held captive by Palestinian terrorists is some underground dungeon. In Israel, Gilad Shalit is akin to a family member; he is a symbol for all those Israelis who are themselves members of this vast IDF familiy; he represents their own personal loved one, who might have also been taken prisoner. It just happened to be a soldier by the name of Gilad Shalit who was standing guard that night on the Gaza border over five years ago. Gilad was one of all our sons and daughters who wear the IDF uniform and stand in harm's way to defend the Jewish state. This is a powerful bond that binds the people of Israel and why thousands flocked to the encampment of Gilad's parents, Aviva and Noam Shalit, set up fifteen months ago outside Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu's residence in Jerusalem.

Noam and Gilad Shalit

The throng danced and celebrated the news that Gilad would finally be coming home while knowing that Israel had agreed to release over one thousand convicted terrorists, many of them with 'blood on their hands'. Channel 2 TV estimated that those about to be set free had murdered some one thousand Israeli men, women and children. Thousands of more Israelis have been maimed for life by the terrorists. Therefore it is no wonder that many people abroad may ponder: 'Have the Israelis gone nuts, freeing all those hardened killers, knowing many of them will try and kill again?'

It may be hard for them to understand why Israel has agreed to pay such an exorbinate and dangerous price for just one soldier. The reason is the Israel Defense Forces is a people's army - at age eighteen those fit are drafted into the IDF, except for draft-dodgers and the vast majority of the ultra-orthodox. Take Gilad Shalit, for example, who has become a household personality in most Israeli homes. A quiet, unassuming young man, rather tall and thin, not your idea of a tough combat soldier with a knife between his teeth - rather more like a studious college freshman. But Gilad, whose own uncle was killed in action, made it to a combat unit from where he was abducted by Hamas in the cross border raid that killed two of his comrades. He would never have sought a military career; he was only doing his duty and defending the Jewish homeland as do the other Israeli youngsters who serve as the backbone of the IDF. He was a soldier dressed in uniform with a mission to protect Israeli civilians from those 1027 terrorists sent by Hamas, and others, to murder as many Israelis as they could.

Aviva Shalit

Gilad Shalit was held in secret without any Red Cross visits and in total violation of his rights under the Geneva Convention. His suffering and the pain of his valiant parents Noam and Aviva was borne for all other Israelis. Even some of Israel's supporters may exclaim:" But the price-it's not proportional - one IDF soldier for more than one thousand terrorists!' (Oddly enough it recalls criticism of a different ilk by critics who single out the Jewish state for responding disproportionately when her children, women and men are rocketed relentlessly from Gaza.) But this lopsided prisoner swap is not an ignominious defeat that weakens Israel. On the contrary, it is a moral victory that strengthens it by proving the value that the Jewish state places on life and the living. Yet Hamas venerates death and destruction by programing suicide bombers to execute their declared aim of annihilating the Jewish state.

There is a Talmudic tenet known as 'pidyon shavuim', the revered 'redeeming of prisoners'. It finds expression in Israel's national ethos as the 'mutual responsibility' of all Israelis for soldiers of the IDF. Soldiers are never to be abandoned no matter how long it takes. If the necessary intelligence information is available and if feasible, a rescue operation will be mounted even at grave risk to the rescue unit. At the same time, Israel also tries never to negotiate with terrorists or capitulate to their extortion. This poses a terrible dilemma. In the case of Gilad Shalit it took over five years to resolve. Unable to launch a viable rescue operation, the Israeli government had to seek a prisoner exchange that the security chiefs could live with.

From the outset, Defense Minister Ehud Barak and IDF Chief of Staff Benny Gantz favored going the extra mile to retrieve Shalit. Obviously, the military wanted an unequivocal statement that IDF soldiers would never be abandoned. (Missing airman Ron Arad, who was taken prisoner in Lebanon twenty-five years ago never to return, was a painful precedent.) However the former directors of the Shabak internal security service and the Mossad foreign intelligence unit were categorically opposed to giving in to Hamas's previous demands. But their successors have taken different positions, possibly because Hamas reduced its demands. For whatever reason, Yoram Cohen, the new head of Shabak, which has overall responsibility for coping with the terror threat from the West Bank and Gaza, has said there is a 'reasonable' prospect of dealing with the released terrorists. Without this Shabak concurrence it would have been well nigh impossible for the PM to accept even the watered down Hamas demands. For his part, the new Mossad chief has not opposed the deal. There were other factors that have created a confluence of varied interests making the swap now possible.

Hamas in Gaza and President Mahmoud Abbas on the West Bank may have signed a reconciliation agreement, but they remain bitter rivals in the divided Arab camp. Over the past two years, Abbas has been gaining the upper hand with his diplomatic campaign in the international arena and his recent appearance at the UN General Assembly. Back in Gaza, Hamas is still reeling from the IDF's Cast Lead operation in 2008 and is leery about launching fresh rocket attacks against Israel. Whereas the West Bank is enjoying an economic boom, Gaza is going from bad to worse and Tehran in no longer bank rolling Hamas. Moreover Hamas is now in real danger of losing its foothold in Damascus where Hamas leader Khalad Mashaal was been a welcome guest. Iran cut off financial aid to Hamas due to Mashaal's failure to publicly side with Syrian President Bashaar Assad in his civil war with the Syrian protest movement. So Mashaal may be looking for a new base in Cairo after the fall of Mubarak. For its part, the Egyptian junta, under enormous pressure at home to prevent anarchy, was interested in boosting its shaky image by acting as broker between Israel and Hamas.

Binyamin Netanyahu (Photo: Amit Shabi)

In Israel, Netanyahu was not only facing a vociferous public opinion demanding Shalit's return. The 'Arab Spring' is showing portentous signs in different quarters, including among the Palestinians, that could put Shalit in even greater jeopardy. Egypt's current ruler Marshal Tantawi was now eager to broker a swap and who could tell what the regime would look like after the upcoming election. As it turned out, the Egyptian intelligence service hosted weekly meetings involving Israeli and Hamas representatives in Cairo that eventually led to the breakthrough. The Egyptian role was so constructive that Netanyahu has telephoned Tantawi to thank him. (In addition, Defense Minister Ehud Barak has even publicly apologized for the IDF killing of five Egyptian soldiers during the Palestinian terror attack that killed eight Israelis on August 18th, although there were indications that the Egyptian soldiers had actually collaborated with the terrorists.)

In addition, Hamas claims that Israel has given assurances through Egypt that she will not rearrest or try to harm the freed terrorists. This may be so but Israel has also warned them not to revert to terrorism. Two hundred and eighty are life-timers meaning they were directly involved in the killing of Israelis. Although the Israeli media will undoubtedly recall the grim details of individual terrorists and their atrocities, the public has lived through those horrors and the swap is a done deal.

Ramifications: In the Palestinian arena, Hamas has gained a major victory in the rivalry with Mahmoud Abbas by forcing Israel to free 1027 terrorists. The Palestinian Street will be marveling at Hamas forcing Israel's hand while all Abbas has been able to accomplish was to make speeches at the UN. How this plays out is difficult to foresee. On the other hand, Hamas also had to concede when it came to two terrorists kingpins Marwan Barghutti and Ahmad Sadat. It can be said the Abbas's utter refusal to negotiate with Netanyahu has backfired on the West Bank leader. It might have been possible for Abbas to have parlayed talks with Netanayu into receiving some of the credit for the prisoner exchange. For example, if the Israeli PM had acknowledged an Abbas role in the swap. But on one point there is no room for conjecture; Hamas leader Mashal has declared: 'The efforts to secure the release of the other 8,000 Palestinian prisoners in Israeli jails will continue!' Translated this means that Hamas will attempt to kidnap more IDF soldiers as bargaining chips. Not that they haven't been trying.

Gilad Shalit

Cabinet Minister Silvan Shalom has disclosed that Israeli security forces have thwarted a number of kidnapping attempts over the past five years. Undoubtedly, after the massive celebrations that have already begun in Gaza and the West Bank, more kidnapping raids are now being planned. So how should Israel deal with the issue of kidnapped soldiers? Negotiate or not? Some countries, including the U.S., simply refuse to bargain with terrorists. At the outset of the Shalit case, the then PM Ehud Olmert declared publicly that he would not negotiate with Hamas. But both Olmert and Netanyau could not face down Hamas that knew of Israel's sensitivity over the question. In fact, from the outset Hamas demanded one thousand prisoners and that's what they're getting, although not all the 'heavy hitters' they had first demanded. Those returning to the West Bank have been restricted and placed under surveillance. In an attempt to find a reasoned approach on how Israel should deal with Palestinian extortionists, a public commission, headed by a former Supreme Court Chief Justice, Meir Shamgar has drafted recommendations for future government conduct on this sensitive issue. However its publication has been suspended pending a resolution to the Shalit affair. One school of thought is that a law should be passed banning the government from negotiating with terrorists on prisoner swaps. The idea is that Hamas would know in advance that the Israeli government could not negotiate no matter what, therefore they could not dictate such outrageous terms.

Another question is how to deal with those killers whom Israel now sets free and who later try to kill again? Past experience in prisoner exchanges show that some 50% do return to terror activity. Will they enjoy a revolving door, sentenced to life ( there is no death penalty in Israel for terrorists) but in one door and out the other side, if and when Hamas kidnaps another IDF soldier?

Therefore not all Israelis support the prisoner swap. In Tel Aviv, a twenty-seven year old Israeli whose parents were murdered by Palestinians desecrated the Yitzak Rabin memorial with paint. He also sprayed 'Free Yigal Amir', assassin of the former PM who signed the Oslao Accords with Yasser Arafat as well as printing the words 'Price Tag', the name of the self-proclaimed Israeli terrorists who vow to avenge Palestinian terrorism. When apprehended the suspect said: 'They murdered my family!'

Some bereaved relatives of terror victims have threatened to petition the High Court of Justice after the end of the current Succot holiday. Other bereaved relatives have said the sight of the killers going free will deeply distress them but, like other Israelis, they will grit their teeth and take solace in Gilad's return.

Danny Dayan, a representative of the settlers in Judea & Samaria said he knew he was running counter to the public groundswell in favor of the prisoner exchange but he predicted that some of those Israelis celebrating the news would themselves fall victim to a new round of terror initiated by the terrorists about to be released. He called the prisoner exchange no less that Israel's setback in the Second Lebanon War of 2006. IsraCast has long contended that Israel cannot conscript eighteen year old soldiers put them at risk in fighting fanatic Muslim terrorists bent on killing her civilians and then take the position of tough luck if some of those soldiers are taken prisoner. If IDF combat troops 'are there' for all Israeli civilians, those civilians must also 'be there' for the troops when it comes to making a prisoner swap within reason. As noted, the IDF and Shabak have prevented similar kidnapping attempts since Gilad's abduction over five years ago indicating that lessons have been learned.

And this footnote: In Jerusalem, Professor Gerald Steinberg, president of the human rights watchdog NGO Monitor has noted that the Shalit episode has further exposed the moral bankruptcy of international human rights mechanisms:

'Throughout the five years of Shalit's captivity in Gaza, during which every human rights obligations was blatantly violated, organizations such as the UN Human Rights Council, Human Rights Watch, Amesty International, Euro-Mediterranean Human Rights Network, Gisha and the International Red Cross demonstrated very little interest. Similarly, the report of the UN Fact- Finding Commission on the Gaza War, headed by Judge Richard Goldstone, downplayed Shalit's captivity in blatant violation of international law. This moral stain will never be erased'

In addition, NGO MOnitor noted that the agreement to release hundeds of terrorists, responsible for heinous crimes, and tried and convicted according to due process of law, highlights the continued ersosion of international legal principles. Instead of serving their time for these convictions, the murderers have been freed under extreme duress and compulsion, adding to the incentives for similar actions in the future. Organizations dedicated to human rights have a moral obligation to condemn such moral extortion.

David Essing

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