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The Prisoner Caught in the Political Realm Print E-mail

By Jay Bushinsky 
June 23, 2008

JERUSALEM -- Israel has been in a lose-lose situation since Sgt. Gil'ad Shalit was abducted from his military outpost by Hamas and allied gunmen two years ago.

His capture and the death and wounding of his comrades-in-arms was a tactical failure which required an immediate payoff -- the sooner the better. The unavoidable price was a lopsided prisoner exchange.

The fact that the Palestinian raiding party could dig a long tunnel from the Gaza Strip to Kerem Shalom, the southern border kibbutz where the troops were stationed, without their activity being detected proves that the soldiers were not in the proper state of readiness.

Once the attackers were inside the fortified lookout post they enjoyed a tactical advantage: the element of surprise.  Shalit has been paying the price ever since and if his parents' fears are warranted there is no end in sight.  His concurrent promotion from corporal to sergeant offers no solace for him or them.

As soon as Hamas set the price -- the release of 450 Palestinian prisoners -- Israel's government should have agreed.  Instead, Prime Minister Ehud Olmert preferred indirect negotiations in an apparently vain hope that the number could be reduced. 

Olmert evidently lacked the political stature to authorize a swap.  He knew that Hamas wanted to retrieve gunmen with Israeli blood on their hands and that this would not go down well with the families and friends of their victims. 

He could not stand up against them. It takes a strong leader to buck this kind of opposition, besides, less than two months after Shalit's abduction, he launched the Second Lebanon War against the Hizbollah guerrillas.

The casus belli was the Hizbollah's capture of two reservists on Israeli territory -- Ehud Goldwasser and Eldad Regev.  That event quickly turned into yet another Levantine bargaining situation with Hizbollah demanding the handover of prisoners Israel had intended to trade for long-sought information about the fate of Capt. Ron Arad, the air force navigator who bailed out over Lebanon nearly 20 years ago.

Such considerations should have been deferred or dropped by Olmert. He should have acted in accordance with one of the most important principles of Jewish morality: "pidyon shvuyim," translatable as the ransoming of captives. 

During the past two millennia of exile, persecution, incarceration and inquisition, Jews have paid dearly for the freedom of their fellow Jews.  They knew that "all Israel are guarantors for one another," (kol yisrael arevim zeh la'zeh).

In Shalit's situation, his freedom is tantamount to the saving of his life. And again, in accordance with Jewish tradition, "he who saves a single life, saves an entire world!"  He has been held incommunicado without any contact with the outside world. 

The physical conditions evidently are deplorable, if one can judge from the letter Hamas allowed him to send his parents at the request of former President Jimmy Carter.  In it he also stressed his physical and psychological state which he said were deteriorating.

Those who try to explain why Olmert has been dragging his feet point out that if the 450 prison inmates earmarked by Hamas as the quid pro quo for Shalit are set free some will infiltrate the West Bank and undermine security there as part of an effort to bring down Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas' regime.

Concurrently, others supposedly would agitate within the Gaza Strip for an even harder line against Israel. In the latter case, Israel surely has the armed might to curb or eliminate Hamas' capabilities.  As for the West Bank, lavish American and European funding as well as intensive training by U.S. instructors has provided Abbas with a police force and security setup that should be able to cope with these prospective troublemakers.

The Shalit family's unprecedented decision to take out a court injunction against Olmert and his government barring implementation of the Egyptian-brokered cease fire agreement unless Gil'ad is allowed to go home bears out its concern for his well-being.  His mother said she cannot sleep nights because of the "damp and dingy" quarters in which her son is being kept under constant guard and the loneliness of his open-ended ordeal.

It probably would never have begun had Olmert not pushed for the so-called disengagement from the Gaza Strip three years ago.  That act of political idiocy pulled off mainly because of the prestige of its author, Ariel Sharon, just as "Mr. Security" (Sharon) could get away with the swap of hundreds of Palestinians for a single Israeli involved in criminal activities in Lebanon.  That is what whetted the Hamas" appetite for kidnapping Israeli soldiers and Gil'ad Shalit is its forlorn victim.

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