Prisoner Swap or Another Betrayal?

On November 1, 2009,

Cap­tur­ing and detain­ing Gilad Shalit in a Hamas hell­hole for four years serves no pur­pose. Clearly, Hamas has its own agenda to lever­age this high-profile pris­oner. Israel also has her own highly politi­cized (and often crit­i­cized) stance regard­ing nego­ti­at­ing for hostages.

But when will Hamas release Gilad? The deal struck with Hamas, Israel, Egypt and mar­gin­al­ized part­ner Abbas is now in peril of ever pan­ning out, has taken far too long and is lop­sided to boot.

The fact remains that while the Israeli gov­ern­ment released 20 female Pales­tin­ian pris­on­ers in the ini­tial phase, Hamas released a video to prove Gilad is alive. Seem unfair? A video in exchange for 20 female detainees accused of crimes rang­ing from plot­ting sui­cide attacks to car­ry­ing con­cealed weapons? While view­ing the video of Gilad read­ing a Sep­tem­ber 14th Falas­teen news­pa­per aloud is a huge relief it’s not the same as see­ing him eat and drink in his family’s kitchen. I’m sure his fam­ily would agree. Did I note that he looked a bit thin? Human rights vio­la­tions, any­one? Prior to cap­ture, Gilad looked healthy.

The sec­ond phase of the release plan that Israel nego­ti­ated between Hamas, Egypt and Abbas involves releas­ing hun­dreds of pris­on­ers in exchange for Shalit’s trans­fer to Egypt. Let me vent how this exchange is a tad lop­sided: hun­dreds for one. Not to lessen his speedy return (which we are all hop­ing and pray­ing for) but the sin­cer­ity of the swap is akin to let­ting the neigh­bor­hood bully trade one piece of your favorite candy while he gig­gles and hijacks your entire stash. Acts like this are no dif­fer­ent from pirat­ing efforts in Soma­lia. It’s all about invok­ing fear and ter­ror whether we’re talk­ing mil­lions of dol­lars in ran­som for wealthy yachters, work­ers of oil com­pa­nies like Chevron or Shell or the swap of one high-profile Israeli sol­dier for hun­dreds of prisoners.

BTW: the third phase is actu­ally the phase where Hamas is sup­posed to release Shalit. In this major release, Israel is to release its heavy-duty detainees (in other words the most vio­lent and seri­ous offend­ers) along with a huge group of addi­tional Pales­tin­ian prisoners.

Imag­ine this sce­nario where 20 female Pales­tin­ian pris­on­ers, hun­dreds of Pales­tin­ian pris­on­ers and heavy-duty detainees all in exchange for one: Shalit. Per­haps a bit uneven? Most would agree. Why not release Gilad in the first phase? Or how about the sec­ond? Why wait four years to con­coct such a hap­haz­ard plan that resem­bles an awful three-act play? Many have sat through one and even walked out dis­heart­ened. Obvi­ously, we don’t want that. We sim­ply want to revive this dead­locked deal and bring Gilad home where he can once again enjoy his fam­ily, his friends and his life.

In any case, the stalled swap seems risky in the third phase. How can we trust Hamas? Swaps like this have proved lethal before with Israel on the los­ing end. Take the 1985 swap where Israel traded 1,150 Arab prisoners—some of whom did a 360 and hailed fire again—for three sol­diers cap­tured dur­ing the Lebanon occu­pa­tion. Experts believe pay­ing off kid­nap­pers only increases future abductions.

With no clear time­line of when we can expect to see Gilad is there rea­son to think a kid­nap­ping, ter­ror­ist orga­ni­za­tion who has gained so much mileage out of his cap­ture (and has clearly under­fed him) will really hand him over. Ya think?

Seem hope­less? Not a chance. There are a num­ber of ways to help. Con­tinue pres­sur­ing Prime Min­is­ter Ben­jamin Netanyahu and the Israeli Gov­ern­ment to nego­ti­ate a swift and fail-proof release. Con­tinue spread­ing the word to influ­en­tial offi­cials of our own gov­ern­ments. And keep Gilad’s name and res­cue efforts alive through blogs, tweets and thoughts and prayers (One group has already cre­ated a blog on Gilad’s behalf).

Photo credit: Gilad Shalit: Haaretz
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