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Israel – Palestine Prisoner Swap Provokes Joy, Anger – OpEd

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By Linda Heard

We should all pray for the day when neither Israelis nor Palestinians feel the necessity to grab the others’ sons

There will be thousands of Palestinian mothers, fathers, wives and children on tenterhooks today awaiting the arrival of loved ones in some cases believed to have been lost forever within Israel’s prison system. Israel and its allies may have dubbed most “terrorists” but to Palestinians they are patriotic freedom fighters who were willing to give up their life and liberty for a just cause, that of freeing their people from six decades of occupation. Others are simply “guilty” of being in the wrong place at the wrong time or were colored by association.

Not everyone can condone some of the methods they used in their struggle but it should be remembered that these desperate human beings are symptoms of the oppression and brutality the Palestinian people have endured for so long with no end in sight. Indeed, those critics who say it’s wrong to use bombs that indiscriminately kill and maim civilians are absolutely right. But those same critics usually ignore the fact that Israel’s state terror machine does exactly the same thing in a more sophisticated way as we witnessed during Israel’s Operation Cast Lead in Gaza — a 22-day-long killing spree leaving a death toll of 1,400, including women and children.

If Israel wants to eradicate “terror”, it only has to halt settlement expansion in Jerusalem and the West Bank long enough to embark on a genuine pursuit of peace with the Palestinians and all 22 Arab League member countries as outlined in the 2002 Arab Peace Initiative. Instead, Israel has just announced the construction of new Jewish homes in Jerusalem.

It’s a sad indictment on the world community’s values that the international media has rarely given a thought to the over 8,000 male and female Palestinian prisoners being detained in Israel some as young as eleven-years-old. Yet, an Israeli soldier — a person who by definition is armed and trained to kill and, in this case, to kill Arabs — has been turned into a popular hero when the only thing of note he’s achieved in his young life is to suffer the misfortune of being abducted. Those of his comrades-in-arms, who were killed in that same raid five years ago, barely get a mention.

No doubt the soldier in question Gilad Shalit will be surprised to discover what an international cause célèbre he has become during the years he has spent underground in the knowledge that not even mighty Israel could come to his rescue when his bolthole was booby-trapped. He’ll be astonished to learn that his case has been discussed in the United Nations and that the US and European governments have been pressing for his release. Even the Vatican pledged to bring Shalit home while omitting to utter that same noble sentiment over Christians being held by Israel let alone Muslims.

He’ll also be surprised that he’s been promoted from corporal to sergeant major although it’s doubtful that this conscript will seek a career in the military when doors in just about every field will magically open for him. In actual fact, the real heroes are Shalit’s parents Noam and Aviv who left their tiny village home in northern Israel for a protest tent in Jerusalem where they spent a year petitioning everyone who mattered and ensuring their son’s plight was kept in the world’s spotlight.

Once he’s been medically-checked, debriefed by intelligence personnel and paraded around by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu — who did a U-turn on prisoner swaps hoping that some of Shalit’s glory would rub off on himself to elevate his election chances — he’ll be hounded by the media and Hollywood studios to tell his story. There may be an Entebbe-style Shalit blockbuster movie. There’ll surely be a Shalit TV miniseries and if he cares to write a book it’ll be top of the New York Times Best Seller List.

And you can be certain, too, that his captors will be portrayed as cruel barbarians despite the video documenting Shalit’s five years of incarceration due to be released by the Salah Al-Din brigades that purports to prove how well he’s been treated and will illustrate the kind of personal relationship he “enjoyed” with his jailers.

Netanyahu isn’t the only one making capital out of the deal. Top Hamas official Mahmoud Zahar is patting Hamas negotiators on the back for concluding a deal Fatah was unable to seal. President Mahmoud Abbas has “negotiated with Israel for a million years and hasn’t achieved a deal like this one,” he said. Notably, while both parties have expressed regret at Israel’s intransigence against the release of Marwan Barghouti, keeping him locked up is in their interests as his presidential bid would knock Abbas and Ismail Haniyah out of the running.

The “angry” include the families of victims to Palestinian attacks which have petitioned Israel’s High Court to prevent the prisoner exchange from proceeding, although given the public mood, their petition is almost certain to fail; it could, however, hold things up.

Israel’s right wing is also seething because they hold to the ideology that Israel should not negotiate with “terrorists” on any terms. Ha’aretz reports that a number broke into the justice minister’s home demanding that he put a stop to the exchange and asking for the release of Israeli Jews jailed for targeting Arabs.

A number of Israeli academics speculate that the deal will encourage Hamas and other militant groups to abduct other Israeli soldiers for use as bargaining chips or feel a sense of injustice that freeing one soldier has been afforded such priority. Israeli columnist Akiva Eldar advocates the urgent need for a regulation to reduce the motivation of those who would kidnap Israelis to the effect the government would be barred from swapping more than one Palestinian prisoner for “each Israeli POW/kidnap victim.”

Forgetting the rights and wrongs for a moment, this is hopefully a day when families will hug loved ones they believed they’d never see again. Those of us with an empathetic heart can only feel glad for them – all of them – and pray for the day when neither side feels the necessity to grab the other’s sons.

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Arab News is Saudi Arabia's first English-language newspaper. It was founded in 1975 by Hisham and Mohammed Ali Hafiz. Today, it is one of 29 publications produced by Saudi Research & Publishing Company (SRPC), a subsidiary of Saudi Research & Marketing Group (SRMG).

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