Reflecting on the release of Gilad Shalit

On June 25th 2006 on the Israeli border near Gaza, Hamas militants surprised a tank patrol, abducting Gilad Shalit and killing two of his comrades. Hamas kept him as a hostage in isolation, likely in an underground bunker, for 1941 days. One thousand, nine hundred and forty one days without contact from friends and family and without medical care or an awareness of the outside world.

On the 11th of October rumours emerged that a deal had finally been agreed, to secure Gilad Shalit his freedom and one week later he arrived home to his family. Malnourished and pale from lack of sun, he looked a direct contrast to the image that had been used as part of the campaign for his release, a smiling photo of a healthy nineteen year old boy. His liberty was secured in return for the release of 1027 Palestinian prisoners, men and women incarcerated for crimes including murder and organising suicide bomb operations. It is estimated that the 477 prisoners released on Tuesday are responsible for around 560 Israeli deaths. Many of the prisoners had multiple life sentences, including Ahlam Tamimi, a Palestinian woman who drove a suicide bomber to a pizzeria in Jerusalem where he killed 15 and injured many more. When asked by Israeli news sources if she felt remorse she responded, “No, why should I?” It is clear that a huge sacrifice has been made by the Israeli government to ensure Gilad Shalit’s return, but one that few Israelis would say was not worth it.

It’s difficult for outsiders to understand why the Israeli government would agree to release this many criminals in return for only one soldier. The army is an integral part of Israeli society, with every citizen doing three years of service when they turn 18. As Israel is such a small country most people will have friends or family in the army at any one time. In return for this service the Israeli Defence Force makes a promise to its soldiers to ensure that if captured they will do everything within their power to bring them home alive. For many, Shalit represented their brother, sister, son or daughters serving in the army, becoming afraid that if he wasn’t returned the same thing could happen to their family members.

Whilst Gilad Shalit’s return has mostly been met with relief, those whose children, friends or parents have been killed in bomb attacks by the prisoners who have just been released, and who tried to block the deal to no avail, have reacted differently.

The deal is a great victory for Hamas, who will use this move to claim that they are the party that truly represents the Palestinian people, and Netanyahu, whose approval ratings have soared after securing the deal, especially as Shalit is the first captured member of the Israeli military to return home in 26 years.  But it is a great blow for the more moderate Fatah party, whose attempts at diplomacy have largely failed over the past few years and their recent application for statehood at the UN looks destined to be vetoed by the Americans.

A spokesman for Hamas made it frighteningly evident that the organisation would actively continue to capture young Israeli soldiers for leverage. Sickeningly, the returning prisoners, many of whom murdered numerous civilians, received a hero’s welcome in Gaza where thousands flocked to the streets to celebrate their return.

It is more than unsettling to witness the absurdly disproportionate swap of one captured soldier for one thousand prisoners, including many prosecuted for murder. Even years after Gilad Shalit’s release he will not be free of the burden of knowing he had to play a part in the freedom of those who had killed innocent lives and may well kill again. The worst thing about this deal is that it is a victory for terrorism; it shows Hamas and radical members of the Arab world that terrorism is effective, that terrorism works. Gilad Shalit’s freedom after nearly six years must be celebrated, his privacy protected and his future planned for, but we cannot delude ourselves by pretending that his release is without problems.

Hannah Pupkewitz and Daniel Fine

12 Comments on this post.
  • dan
    25 October 2011 at 19:50
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    Ahh well at least he doesn’t have to go back to living in a refuge camp and on food aid like most Palestinians and including most of the released. The released prisoners were celebrated like all released prisoners including are and they are deemed heroes for killing the oppressors. I’m not agreeing with that but that’s how Israel, the killed civilians and especially the Israeli army are understood.

  • Josh
    26 October 2011 at 00:25
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    He seems happy enough.

    ‘Gilad Shalit, the Israeli soldier who has been released as part of a swap deal with Hamas, has said he would be “very happy” if all Palestinian prisoners still held by Israel could be freed “as long as they don’t continue fighting against Israel”.

    Speaking to Egypt’s Nile TV, Shalit, who had been held in captivity for five years, said “I hope this deal will help the conclusion of a peace deal between the Israelis and Palestinians.”‘

    ‘The 25-year-old soldier, who appeared overwhelmed and faint, said that he had been treated well by his Hamas captors during the years he was held hostage.’

  • Emily
    26 October 2011 at 09:44
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    You can’t really criticise Hamas for “claiming that they are the party that truly represents the Palestinian people” seeing as they were elected by the Gazan people using a system frequently praised by those who support Israel’s suppression of Palestine. It’s called democracy.

  • JY
    26 October 2011 at 09:58
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    This is an extremely misleading article which provides no context whatsoever. You mention the 560 deaths attributed to the “criminals” released in exchange for Shalit, yet neglect to mention the fact that the captured soldier himself is a member of one of the world’s most prolific criminal military enterprises – the euphemistically named Israeli “Defense” Forces. The army which Shalit was representing on active duty when he was kidnapped has been responsible for the deaths of hundreds of civilians in the time since his capture, including but not limited to the 1,400 or so who perished under the Zionist onslaught in the Gaza Strip during the winter of 2008/09. Your article makes no reference to the fact that Palestinians do not recognise the legitimacy of the Israeli state in the first place, foisted upon them as it was by foreign powers which had no legitimate claim or title to the land. Finally, if you are looking for evidence to substantiate your statement that “terrorism works”, you need look no further than the existence of the Israeli state itself, which only came to pass following a relentless paramilitary campaign waged by Zionist settlers against both British mandate troops and the indigenous Arab population of Palestine. These “terrorists” are now revered as the founding fathers of the Israeli state, however their methods are similar in many respects to those deployed by the Palestinians who target non-combatants today. Indeed, the King David Hotel bombing remains today the single most deadly attack by any “terrorist” group in the time since Zionist settlers first arrived in Palestine. It was perpetrated by the Irgun, whose membership included a certain commander named Eitan Livni – father of current Kadima leader and noted war criminal Tzipi.

  • dan
    26 October 2011 at 11:30
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    I’m glad there has been some follow-up on this piece. This is in the news section and therefore should report the news. However its clearly an opinion piece or a commentary, full of loaded language and covert racism. This is not news.

    If we want to look for those responsible for this terrible plight, then also look at Sharon for visiting the Mount and claiming it will always be Israeli, thereby destroying the peace process which was entering its final stage under Barak and starting the Intifada or further back Yigal Amir, an Israeli for murdering Rabin.

    Ask Israelis how they feel and they’ll tell you how sensitive, sad, angry they are. Yet from this piece, we only have the idea that its a criminal kidnapping rather than a prisoner exchange. It, like terrorism and carpet bombing and assassinations in Dubai and land mines etc are acts of war.

    The situation is complex and multi-faceted. You managed to reflect on none of that. Thanks for the opinion.

  • Tom Clements
    26 October 2011 at 12:06
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    This is NOT news. This is opinion. Very unprofessional of Impact’s news editor to allow this.

  • Ben McCabe
    26 October 2011 at 12:58
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    @Dan, Tom Clements

    You will no doubt see that this is actually a comment (or if you prefer, opinion) piece. News does do more than just report the News, and this has been reflected in the new section on the website.

    I’m not going to go into the merits or lack of concerning this article, that’s not my place. However, if you look at the page, you will see this is clearly a comment piece, and therefore does not necessarily need to be neutral in its opinion.

  • Eric John
    26 October 2011 at 13:55
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    @Dan: Careful there…on what grounds are you accusing our writers of ‘covert racism’? Please explain yourself.

    @Tom: As Ben said, this is a comment piece. The comment section is a subsection of the News section and allows our writers to give their opinions on the news.

  • dan
    26 October 2011 at 19:49
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    @ Ben – I am in the news section right now Ben and its top story. Keep it in comment if its comment. Take a look at the Guardian, The Times, Telegraph etc and the commentary pieces are not top story in the news section. They aren’t there. I appreciate this might be a mistake on your or my part but I’d say they should be separate.

    @Eric – Racism…belief that the traits of other races require discrimination.

    A) Israeli soldiers in a war of defence (like Japan in WW2) and we should celebrate and feel relief when one is released.

    B) The Palestinians released are all terrorists and we should all fear those Palestinians because only they have a record of killing people. Very few have been convicted of that, even fewer of terrorist attacks and most were due to be released anyway after serving decades. They also weren’t all Hamas members or even terrorists. (I could argue over the categorisation of Hamas as terrorists due to their tactics and irregular nature but thats for another day). But we should still demonise them as a whole construct rather than reference the reasons for terrorism/poverty/discrimination/racist. Just feel fear instead.

    I think we should ask why a bunch of terrorists like Hamas is somehow now an elected party and some prisoners have no regrets. Something must be wrong and it cant all be the fault of the poverty stricken and blockaged Palestinians can it? I am no defender of Hamas’ disgraceful actions at times but this continuing crisis deserves more than this pithy account

    I appreciate you are defending your contributors here Eric but in all fairness, they should be here instead of you. I would also add that I do appreciate the magazine contributors writing on issues like this. I just think some original research or balance would help.

  • Jonathan
    26 October 2011 at 22:57
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    Israel is the bigger terrorist.

  • dan
    6 November 2011 at 19:44
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    Democratically elected Hamas has the right to defend Gaza from Israeli terrorists.

  • dan
    7 November 2011 at 13:31
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    that’s a different dan.

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