Three years ago, Palestinian militants captured Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit in a cross-border raid. Despite numerous diplomatic attempts to earn Shalit's release, the 22-year old remains in Hamas custody.
In exchange for his freedom, Hamas demands the release of 1,400 Palestinians currently held in Israeli jails, among them those who are considered to have “blood on their hands,” directly implicated in Israeli deaths.
Shalit's release, Israel says, is a pre-condition of a future ceasefire. The ceasefire engineered in June 2008 was intended to lead to Shalit's eventual release, but trust was broken when Hamas began bombing southern Israel shortly thereafter.
Over the last 30 years, Israel has traded over 7,000 prisoners to liberate 19 citizens held captive and 8 bodies of the deceased. Exchanges include a 1985 trade where 1,150 prisoners were released for three Israeli soldiers captured in Lebanon. Most recently, the return of the bodies of Ehud Goldwasser and Eldad Regev, captured in July 2006 shortly after Shalit's kidnapping, were traded for the release of convicted murderer Samir Kuntar, four Hezbollah militants, and the remains of 200 others.
The Israeli public have demonstrated a heavy emotional investment in Shalit's continued captivity.
Lirun of East Med Sea Peace laments:
We all want him home.. very much so.. this has gone on for too long and israel is traumatised by memories of the ron arad saga… these are awful times..
Ron Arad is an Israeli military pilot captured in Lebanon in 1986. Israel negotiated his release on diplomatic fronts, and when that failed, sent in agents to rescue him. Nothing succeeded. Arad is suspected to be deceased, but findings have yet to be officially confirmed.
Nafka Mina writes:
It would do good to remind our Arab neighbours and the world about this price whenever someone brings up the “disproportionate” killing of Arabs by Israelis in times of conflict. If the other side is setting a price of 1,000 Arabs for 1 Jew in a prisoner exchange, then they shouldn't complain when, in a war, more Arabs than Jews are killed. If they were to value life as much as we do, then the exchange would be 1 to 1.
This is not a hypothetical claim, about future victims of the terrorists being released. During the recent fighting in Gaza, many Israelis were in favour of continuing the operation until Shalit was released, knowing full well that many soldiers will die in the process. Everybody talks about Shalit; nobody talks about the two soldiers in this tank that were killed in the same attack.
I do not understimate the psychological effect of future soldiers and their families knowing that Israel will go to great lengths to ensure the safe return of soldiers it sends to war. But I fear that the counter-effect of succumbing to irrational deal-making outweighs its benefits… I continue to pray for Shalit to return home safely, and soon. But I pray also for the government of Israel to stand strong not only against our enemies but also against domestic pressure, to consider the national interest before other emotional considerations.
A Soldier's Mother comes to a similar conclusion, stating that although Israel yearns for Shalit's release, it must be cognisant of the cost of such a trade. She explains:
Gilad deserves to come home – but releasing murderers is not the way. According to several news sources, our government is seriously considering the release of the following murderers:
* Marwan Barghouti, who was convicted of five murder counts and given multiple life-sentences
* Ibrahim Hamed, the leader of the military wing in the West Bank
* Abdullah Barghouti, who was the mastermind behind the bombings at the Sbarro Pizzeria and Cafe Moment in Jerusalem
* Abbas al-Sayed, mastermind of the Park Hotel massacre on Passover eve 2002 in Netanya
To release these men is to accept that they will murder again and each death will be the result of a deal for Gilad gone wrong. It’s sometimes easy to agree to pay the price today without worrying about tomorrow and who we will bury…
Do not reward murderers or further punish the families of those they murdered. Don’t ask a father who lost a child in Sbarro or the Moment Café if releasing his child’s murderer is a fair trade for Gilad. What can he say? How many more times can his heart bleed?
Articles of Interest from Global Voices Online, Israel–
- Unilateral “Ceasefire” Goes Into and Out of Effect (January 2009)
- Ceasefire with Hamas Ends (November 2008)
- Intense Emotions Over the Hezbollah Prisoner Exchange (July 2008)
- Israel, Lebanon: Russophone Bloggers Discuss Prisoner Exchange Deal (July 2008)
- Broken Truce Angers Israelis (June 2008)
- Iranian Grad Missiles Hit Ashkelon Mall (May 2008)
- Gilad Shalit for Prisoners with Blood on their Hands (January 2008)
- Journalists Face Possible Jail Time for Visits to Enemy States (December 2007)