Freeing Gilad Shalit

P. David Hornik is a freelance writer and translator living in Beersheva and author of the book Choosing Life in Israel. 


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On the eve of the joyous Sukkot holiday, Israel learned that Gilad Shalit—the soldier kidnapped and held incommunicado by Hamas in Gaza since June 2006—was soon to be freed in exchange for a thousand security prisoners. That number was already set by the previous government of Ehud Olmert when it started negotiating with Hamas on Shalit. It is, though, the highest price Israel, with its history of lopsided prisoner deals, has ever paid for a single soldier.

Predictably, celebrations broke out in the West Bank and Gaza. But Israelis, except for a small group Tuesday night at the Shalit family’s protest tent in Jerusalem, and despite the confluence of the news and the holiday and the fact that polls have found a large majority supporting such a deal, may feel profoundly relieved but are not celebrating.

The deal lays down that about 450 of the Palestinian prisoners will be released in a first stage, 550 in a later one. Of the 450, 110 will be released to their homes in the West Bank and East Jerusalem, 163 (who are West Bank residents) will be deported to Gaza, 40 (also West Bank residents) will be deported out of the country, and the rest include Gazans who will return to Gaza as well as six Israeli Arabs who will likewise go home.

In the years of tortuous, on-and-off negotiations leading up to this deal, Israel insisted that a larger number of these prisoners, many of them serving life terms for murderous attacks, be deported to Gaza or abroad; Hamas insisted that they include a set of major terrorist masterminds. Israel yielded somewhat on the number to be allowed into the West Bank; Hamas yielded on the masterminds.

That means Marwan Barghouti, a Fatah ringleader of the savage Second Intifada, Abbas Sayyad, organizer of the 2002 Passover attack on the Park Hotel in Netanya, and others of that ilk will stay behind bars hopefully for good.

As for the second round of 550 prisoners, Israel gets to choose who they are, though they have to include all prisoners who are women or minors. In other words, mostly (but not exclusively) a less bloody and dangerous lot than the first 450.

Israel’s bloated cabinet voted 26-3 in favor of this most disproportionate of Israel’s prisoner deals—notable especially for a right-leaning government. The votes of the 26 stemmed both from conviction and from the public’s strong backing for such a deal. On Tuesday night Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu told the nation:

I believe that we have reached the best deal we could have at this time, when storms are sweeping the Middle East. I do not know if in the near future we would have been able to reach a better deal or any deal at all. It is very possible that this window of opportunity that opened because of the circumstances would close indefinitely and we would never have been able to bring Gilad home at all.

In other words: Egypt’s military government played a major role in mediating the deal, something that could soon have become impossible as the Muslim Brotherhood and other radical forces gain strength in that country. As for Hamas, the weakening of its Syrian base and its resultant need to appease Egypt, its Fatah rival Mahmoud Abbas’s recent gain in popularity thanks to his UN statehood bid, and its fear of an “Arab spring”-type revolt in Gaza are conditions that made it want to quickly close a deal. Despite Hamas’s major concession on the ringleaders, many Gazans, West Bankers, and other Arabs will regard it as a triumph.

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  • Larry

    I hope the make bloody they have Shalit back in one piece before that set a single one of the genocidists free.

    Then, after getting him back and turning them loose, they should grab as many back as possible. Screw them thoroughly.

  • ze-ev ben jehudah

    One Jewish live is worth 1027 murderers even woman murderers.

  • bob maram

    i amvery uncomfortable with the shalit deal. every family grieves for their child who is held prisoner. but a thousand freed terrorists is just too much.and god forbid mr shalit being held prisoner for over 5 years may havebeen brainwashed. it is a horrible thought but his captors may be smarter than we jews are and pardon my craziness but i have a vision and i prayit is nota reality that this weet and beautfulyoung man doesnt become a poster boy for these eztremists in gaza. bob maram

    • Leah

      I have been thinking the very same thing. I hope we are wrong.

  • Ariely

    Guess who is the 7 century ideology fighting to impose its values worldwide by the power of sward?
    The difference between 2 moral values
    1; Life is precisions. Every effort should be done to preserve life:
    Versus:
    We desire death as you desire life.
    2: Prisoners including terrorists killing by ideology civilians while in prison get mail, TV, relative visits High education.
    Versus:
    Prisoners are kept isolated. Nobody knows either they are alive or death.
    3: Before been head jacket the prisoners were wearing army uniforms, placed in military areas.
    Versus:
    Terrorists hide and shoot from among civilians, wearing civilians closes.

    The free world highlighting 21 century human values is silent when the defending Israel is attacked by terrorists.
    Unfortunately some claiming to be human rights activists support the 7 century values when it comes to the defending Israel.

  • Bamaguje

    Can’t the Israelis administer some delay-acting poison that will later kill off the released murderous terrorists?
    Or are they so principled to think that would be acting in bad faith?

  • Sooke

    If just one of those thousand returns to terrorism and kills an Israeli, the deal was pointless. And how likely is it that just one returns to terrorism?

    To Israel's enemies, this deal tells them that kidnapping pays. It also tells them that the Israelis are racist – 1000% racist. One Israeli life equals 1000 Arabs.

  • mrbean

    Look for more kidnappings by Muslim terrorists against Israelis as the tactic yields significant results.

  • Ben

    I see this exchange as the act of populism.

  • WildJew

    In his book "Fighting Terrorism," Mr. Netanayhu makes NOT releasing jailed terrorists – "a mistake Israel has made over and over again" – a fundamental principle in his chapter "What is to be done."

    Though PM Netanyahu stands head and shoulders above his predecessor, Ehud Olmert and his potential successor, Tzipi Livni, he has not displayed the kind strength of leadership many had hoped we would see from him.

    Netanyahu's appointment of Ehud Barak as defense minister has been a disaster. The prime minister gives his defense minister a free hand, destroying Jewish homes in Judea and Samaria – something Barak has done with relative abandon. Netanyahu's repeated praising of Barack Hussein Obama – America's and Israel's worst nightmare – has been disappointing to many. At a time when Americans are fighting to remove this dangerous Muslim-born president from office, November 2012, we don't need Israel's prime minister lauding him for his non-existent friendship.

  • RobGinChicago

    It's not like Hamas needs any motivation to kidnap or kill more Israelis, and they have no shortage of delusional willing cannon fodder. The fact that this deal, at least temporarily, boosts the stock of Hamas, while taking the sheen off of the PA and Abbas is a real "bonus", in that the jihadis will let their "freak flags fly", and the manufactured mirage of moderate Abbas and the PA will need to be dropped if Abbas wants to have any hope of remaining relevant with his subjects. The more extreme Abbas is forced to appear, the more the Israeli's will be able to maintain that they should not be expected to commit national suicide by granting concessions to those who want them destroyed. Israel's security apparatus had best be on their toes, as it will be a rocky ride, but forcing the PA into the open and exposing their true unwillingness to ever make peace actually works to Israel's benefit.

  • xlent

    I love it! 1 Israeli is equivelant to 1000 a rabid dogs. In TRUTH 1 citizen of Israel is probably worth a million of any one of their near neighbors.

  • ziontruth

    This question has been floating around ever since the announcement of the deal: Is it a debacle or not? I'll add one more opinion to the mix:

    The answer is conditional. For years, Israeli government officials have said the long-due merciless pounding of Gaza in response to the barrage of rockets on pre-1967 Israeli Jewish town has been postponed in fear for Shalit's life. Therefore if, after the freeing of Gilad Shalit, the IDF is not given permission to mercilessly pound Gaza in response to the Kassams, this deal will have been a debacle; if the IDF is given free rein, it will have been worth it.

  • Amused

    It was the right move . Shalit is an Israeli , a fellow human being and countryman . Yes 1000 of Israel's enemies will be exchanged , where they will join the other of Israel's enemies . Those out of jail are no different than those in . Israel has saved the life of one of it's own …the many take the risk for the one .
    Long live Israel .

  • Shalom Freedman

    These words of David Hornik summarize the negatives. "On one side, then, a further encouragement of kidnapping; a possible spike in terror; the pain of relatives of the victims of the released prisoners; a boost to Hamas; and a dire subversion of justice as murderers go free."
    There is also an element of violating the long- time ethos of Israel in regard to terror, not freeing those with 'blood on their hands'.
    But I think Hornik rightly sees the major element as restoring and underlining the solidarity of Israeli society. I only wonder if in 'saving one life' and perhaps 'endangering many' the right thing has truly been done.

  • Ben Cohen

    In this particular case I agree with the more conservative line; Israel is making a mistake by trading one prisoner for 1000. It is an incredibly lopsided trade, and imo it sets a bad precedent (for obvious reasons).

  • cubnkira

    However, common sense must apply, and there was none here.

    Hamas, just yesterday said that this would not be the last Israeli soldier that they kidnapped. So what is the point. The released terrorists will kill many more than the one life they may have saved.