Thursday, October 1, 2009

Prisoner Exchange for a Video of Schalit

The Israeli government has approved the release of 20 female Palestinian prisoners for a video that will confirm the status of Gilad Schalit, held in captivity by Hamas for over 3 years.

I first came across this story here, but upon further investigation, there's more to it than CNN says.

For one, this is not an exchange for 20 prisoners in order to get the video in addition to other prisoners who will be released in exchange for Schalit. The reality is that the 20 will be subtracted from the final number agreed upon in exchange for Gilad. Also, Gilad will receive a book of psalms delivered to him via the President of Egypt himself.

It is also worth pointing out that normally, around Ramadan (this time of year) Israel traditionally releases some prisoners. This year, for some reason, they did not. These prisoners then, are not so much a "bonus" as they may be seen as the traditional Ramadan release.

This first major accomplishment for the negotiating team put in place by Netanyahu's government received the reactions that one may expect from each side. Hamas celebrated this exchange as a great victory and praised the Hamas military wing for such a successful operation. Meanwhile, Israeli leaders merely said that though the decision is hard, they just want Gilad brought home. While the Schalit family is on board, some right wing groups are saying that Israel is giving up too much. One Israeli should be worth one Palestinian they argue, no more no less. This is of course a position that is not particularly helpful as clearly, it would lead nowhere.

The list of Palestinians to be released is available here, but only in Hebrew. Their names are on the right and the reason for their detention is on the left. While I don't have specific details on what exactly each of them did, in the offences section, many have attempted murder next to their name. Others have illegal carrying of weapons and "violence against a soldier." Also, by examining the list it appears that many of them were scheduled for release within the next two years or so. The official statement regarding their release is also available here in English.

Some in Israel think that this video release is not a real sign of anything, and that it may just be a stalling tactic by Hamas, or a means for Hamas to show goodwill towards Egypt to help in the reconciliation talks with Fatah.

I think there's a bit more behind this though. First, consider the enormous pressure the Israeli government is under. Gilad's family has been working hard to keep his plight in the public eye and many Israelis support their desire to see him freed at almost any cost.

Second, consider that--stemming from this first point--historically, Israel has gone to extreme lengths to protect its citizens and especially its soldiers (see this as just one relatively recent example.) This video the Israelis hope for is more than proof of life. It's comfort for Gilad's family, friends and a nation that is deeply concerned about his welfare.

On the other hand, if Hamas is particularly cruel or crafty, they could release a video showing Gilad to be alive, but in horrific conditions which would do little to comfort the family and have the effect of increasing domestic pressure on the Israeli government to redeem this captive and ease his suffering without further delay.


Leila said...

The problem is not that Hamas is holding prisoners. It is that they are not allowing Red Cross visits. Look, Israel is holding thousands of Palestinians, many of which are not guilty of any crime. Hundreds of these are children under 14. These kids have parents too. Israeli lives are not more valuable than Palestinian lives. I personally have no opinion on prisoner swaps, its been going on the Middle East for decades. This is how they operate.

Charlie H. Ettinson said...


First, thanks for your comment and welcome. I'm sorry for not having responded to you much sooner.

You're right, what's key here is that Hamas has been preventing the Red Cross from visiting Schalit. I think the pressure to bring him home would not be diminished if Hamas had allowed visits, but the fact that they haven't makes his captivity even more intolerable.

I don't claim to know all there is to know about Palestinians held by Israel, but from the little I do know, the majority of them are guilty of one crime or another. There people were not picked up because someone didn't like their face, they were arrested for breaking some law. As for the children prisoners, I cannot speak to that, but would like to learn a bit more before I respond.

As for Palestinains having kids and parents, and the value of a Palestinian life, you have no argument from me there. A life is a life. If anyone has set a price on Israeli or Palestinian life here, however, it has been Hamas.

Hamas kidnapped a soldier on the Israeli side of the border with the intention of using him as a negotiating chip. They captured him to trade him for as much as they could, and so they want him to be as valuable as possible.