In the aftermath of the Gilad Shalit deal, in which last week Israel freed 477 security prisoners (to be followed by 550 more) for its kidnapped soldier, a prominent Saudi has called for more kidnappings.
Ynet describes Awad al-Qarni as “a famous Muslim cleric who often guests on TV shows and operates his own website.” He’s also a standard anti-Semite; asked in 2006 to explain the U.S. invasion of Iraq, he pointed to the “Jews in the American administration—I mean the Likud Jews, the extreme right wing over there…. Some of the top American officials have Israeli citizenship. Some of them were top officials in Israel….”
Al-Qarni is offering $100,000 to any Palestinian who kidnaps another Israeli soldier. He says he’s doing so in response to an ad by an Israeli family offering a similar sum for anyone who catches a terrorist who murdered their relative in 1998.
While Western minds might note a moral asymmetry between having a murderer and an ordinary soldier as the target, Al-Qarni’s Facebook post on the matter had already “received more than 1,000 likes and extensive coverage in Hamas-affiliated newspapers in Gaza.”
Al-Qarni’s offer is part of a wave of enthusiasm for the release of so many murderers in the Shalit deal. Ahmad Jabari, head of Hamas’s military wing, said Hamas would “continue to abduct Israeli soldiers and officers as long as there are Palestinian prisoners in Israeli jails.” Hamas TV proclaims that abducting six more soldiers is all that’s needed. A spate of maverick, spontaneous terror attacks on the West Bank may also be connected to the triumphant mood.
In Israel the picture is different. Tuesday last week, the day of Shalit’s return to Israel, set a record for Israeli TV watching with over three million viewers out of a population of less than eight million. But the joy felt by most Israelis that day has given way to some hard soul-searching about the “next kidnapping.”
The Israel Defense Forces reportedly views the threat of another kidnapping as “concrete” and is considering ways to prevent “the abduction of living soldiers…at any cost.” That includes, if necessary, risking an abducted soldier’s death by “opening fire at the abductors’ vehicle.” The “guiding principle” here is that “a dead soldier is better than a kidnapped soldier [for whom] Israel…will be forced to pay a heavy price….”
And soon the Shamgar Commission, set up in 2008 after Israel’s previous lopsided prisoner deal, is supposed to hand its recommendations to the government. A lively debate has already started about a possible legislated stipulation to keep future hostage deals to a 1:1 ratio. Skeptics say it won’t work because future governments would still succumb to the same sorts of pressures that led to the Shalit and other exchanges.
In the larger perspective, Israel is still in a process of learning how to live in a region where, to put it gently, universal values don’t always prevail. The laudable social solidarity, the profound concern for the individual soldier, that has produced the now famous—or infamous—prisoner deals has to be balanced with a more sober policy that can prevent or defeat extortion.
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