This is a guest post by Joel Weiner
I was on my weekend off from Yeshiva in northern Israel this weekend, and spent it in Jerusalem. Last night I went to the big rally for Gilad Shalit outside the Prime Minister’s house to mark Gilad’s fifth birthday in captivity. It was very moving, seeing so many Israelis coming from all over the country to mark the occassion. The Shalit family had organised coaches from just about every city in Israel. Attendance was easily in the thousands.
To tell you the truth though, I’m not really a supporter of the campaign. That sounds like an awful thing to say, and makes me look like a hypocrite, since I did go to the rally last night. I went for the experience, which was a wonderful one: everyone singing Hatikvah together, everyone coming out to support our soldiers.
But at the same time, I find it difficult to believe that Gilad’s continuing captivity is the Prime Minister’s fault. In truth, last night wasn’t just a rally- it was a protest. All the speeches were addressed to the Prime Minister, and all of them made a point of saying that he should be doing more. But in actual fact, Bibi Netanyahu isn’t the one holding Gilad Shalit – Hamas is. And every time a new campaign is launched to bring Gilad home, every time Israelis turn out to put pressure on the Government to do more, Hamas looks on with glee – and raises the price of his release. To put pressure on Bibi is to play directly into the hands of the Hamas terrorists. This is just what they want.
And what happens if we do make a deal now? 800 terrorists for Gilad? 1,000 terrorists for Gilad? I’m not saying he wouldn’t be worth it - the life of a human being is priceless – but there are two issues with this. Firstly, how would the release of 1,000 terrorists make the families of those killed in terrorist attacks feel? And how can we justify putting 1,000 more terrorists on the streets to their next victims?
And secondly – and this, I feel, is the biggest issue – what kind of precedent would it set? If Hamas et al see that their lawless and merciless strategy of kidnapping innocent Israelis works, and leads to their terrorists being freed from Israeli jails, then what is holding them back from kidnapping another handful of border patrol soldiers? It was easy enough for them last time, so what’s stopping them from doing it again?
But take note, I certainly do not mean to say we should leave Gilad Shalit to rot in the hands of his cruel abductors. That is not the Jewish way, not the Israeli way, and not the human way. There is an alternative. Gilad is in captivity and we’re angry about it. But we’re complaining to the wrong people. As I’ve already said, he’s not being held by Bibi Netanyahu; he’s being held by Hamas. This has to be Hamas’s problem, not Israel’s. So let’s make it their problem.
One of the main criticisms aimed at Israel is at its record on human rights. Now, those who do criticise Israel’s human rights are clearly misinformed, misguided, willful manipulators, or all three. We’re talking about ‘pro-Palestinian’ campaigners, Guardian readers/writers, Amnesty International and the like. The Stop the War Coalition, Socialist Workers’ Party… the list goes on. So this should be our strategy: every time we’re criticised on the grounds of human rights, we say, “I can’t even have this conversation with you whilst Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit is held in captivity in an undisclosed location, with no contact from the outside world or even the Red Cross. Every Palestinian prisoner in Israeli prisons is granted those basic human rights, as well as the right to a fair trial and even legal representation, all of which Gilad Shalit is denied.
“He hasn’t been allowed to have so much as a conversation with anyone other than his captors for more than four years. You talk about human rights? This is an abomination. Once Gilad Shalit is freed, only then can we start to question Israel’s treatment of Palestinians, which may not be faultless but is miles away from that afforded to Shalit.”
The Gilad Shalit issue should be their problem. It should be a burden not just for Hamas and its cronies but for Israel’s critics everywhere. They have to know that they cannot be criticising Israel’s record on human rights whilst their own is far, far worse. They should be made to feel bad that their side is so clearly in the wrong.
And the second part of our strategy should be pressure, not on Israel, but on Hamas, via the international community. I’m not talking about making measly statements such as the British Foreign Office issued yesterday; that potentially worsens the problem by, again, allowing Hamas to raise the price. No, we need to be more decisive than that. Every year, the US and the UN – and no doubt, the UK too – jointly give millions of pounds to Gaza in aid. Why aren’t they considering the option of making that aid dependent on Shalit’s release? The US and UN know as well as we do that Gilad Shalit’s continuing captivity is a stain on the face of the Middle East peace process. Let’s make this issue a real problem for Hamas. Their choice, effectively, will be either to free Shalit or for Gaza to be financially crippled.
So let’s make it clear. The Shalit issue is a big problem. But by making it Bibi Netanyahu’s problem, the dillemma is only augmented. By making it the problem of Hamas and Israel’s critics, we may actually get somewhere and, with God’s help, Gilad might finally be allowed home.