In writing about this story, I find myself in a dilemma. On the one hand, I am an advocate of free speech (though not an absolutist on this as some on the left are); on the other, I want a prisoner exchange to end the Shalit imprisonment. Currently, the Israeli military censor has dictated that there be no release of the list of Palestinian prisoners to be released. Such a release would allow the Israeli right to lobby against the entire deal by profiling the bloody hands of specific terrorists to be released. The government wants no such public release until the cabinet signs an agreement approving the prisoner exchange. This would have the effect of taking the wind out of the sails of the far-right anti-exchange forces.
Interestingly, there is a High Court ruling that governs the censor and in this case the government is clearly violating that 1989 decision:
Justice Aharon Barak wrote that the military censor is authorized to prevent publication of an item only in circumstances in which “there is near certainty of actual harm to security” and in which there is no “other alternative means to prevent the risk without avoiding damaging freedom of expression.”
In the same ruling, which subsequently served as the basis for an agreement on the subject of censorship between the security authorities and the media, Barak wrote that it is precisely because of the implications the decisions involving security have on the life of the nation that “it is appropriate to open the door to an open exchange of views on security matters” in which the press “will be free to serve as a forum for the exchange of views and criticism regarding essential issues for society in general and for the individual.
There is absolutely no basis on which even the most draconian adherent of national security might argue that release of the names would harm anyone except possibly Gilad Shalit, whose freedom would be postponed. That makes the actual government argument in favor of censorship all the more ludicrous:
The state prosecutor wrote that unlike a prisoner release representing a diplomatic agreement or goodwill gesture, the current negotiations for Shalit are tantamount to “an ongoing terror attack” in which Israel is “bargaining” to reach a deal that would exact the lowest possible price.
…The state prosecutor wrote that ambiguity is essential to Israel’s very existence, and that without it, “it is impossible to hold effective negotiations and reach the goal of returning the abducted soldier to Israel.”
What he meant I think was not “ambiguity” but opacity. For opacity is what the military censor wishes in this case. And what is even more clear from this statement is that censorship is being used for a political, rather than national security purpose. Of course it’s possible to hold effective negotiations to release Shalit without ambiguity or opacity. Israel has done so before. The difference now is that Israel has a hard right government for whom democratic values are peripheral considerations.
Though I’m 100% in favor of the exchange, I think the entire process of negotiating this exchange is important, including how it is approached within Israel itself. If there is to be a debate why not have at it? Let everyone know who will be released. Let the far right do their damndest to undermine the deal. That will make the actual deal, which I have little doubt would go through anyway, all the more solid.
To negotiate a deal without such a full democratic debate undermines the validity of the enterprise itself and diminishes Shalit’s freedom when it is actually won. To me, this abuse of military censorship is of a piece with the general decline in so-called Israeli democracy. And what is so strange about this case is that I’m on the same side as some of these far-right pro-settler militants who I so despise. But of course, we are on the same side for completely different reasons which what is crucially important. For them, they’d like to wreck a prisoner exchange because essentially they’d prefer to nuke Hamas and Gaza back to the Stone Age rather than negotiate with the Islamist movement. For me, I see the prisoner exchange as a smallest chance of a fuller dialogue taking place at some later date between Hamas and Israel.
There was a Haaretz editorial published recently which asked the question, “why can we negotiate with Hamas for the release of Gilad Shalit, but not for peace?” An excellent question, indeed.
The only possible reason I can think of as to why the Israeli government is not being transparent about the negotiations is that they don’t want the Palestinian people to know which prisoners are the subjects of the exchange, and that possibly some names may be withdrawn from the discussions.
I have seen that although Barghouti is being mentioned (and will probably be freed), Israel’s media is already painting him in negativity, calling him a “Fatah strongman,” implying that he is nothing more than a thug who has no credibility and who cannot be trusted.
one day you claim that Israel wants to “prop” him and now it wants to discredit him, so which is it?
I agree with you about Israel (and Hamas, which isn’t censored by Israel) not naming names because it will cause a stir among prisoners and beyond.
the rightists are grasping at straws, the would be prisoners released are invovled in many attacks and the number of them or exact identity is not the dealbreaker – for Israelis, they just know that publicising it will harm the deal.
“Of course it’s possible to hold effective negotiations to release Shalit without ambiguity or opacity. Israel has done so before”
when was such a deal public knowledge in the past? having a right wing government is not the issue, i’m afraid.
after a deal would be finalised, including the names that are not agreed to fully yet, all the details would be public record, the cabinet/government/knesset will pass it and Shalit’s freedom wouldn’t be diminshed one inch.
Israel does not want peace. They want land.
They want Barghouti as Abbas’ replacement. They are not discrediting him before the Palestinians (it is not possible), but before the world. Once again, Israel will be able to lament that they have no negotiating partner, that Barghouti is a terrorist, blah blah blah. It is a very effective tactic in thwarting any restart of the peace process.
Netanyahu, if he accomplishes this, will be able to afford to spend the small amount of political capital on his silly settlement “freeze”, and when it’s over, it’s back to business as usual. Ethnic cleansing of the Palestinians will continue.
I hope I have made myself clearer this time.
and the Palestinians? they don’t want land? they prefer peace instead? let me guess, they want Justice.
if Israel wants MB as president why is he behind bars? why would Palestinians go along with this evil plan? they don’t see what you see?
the only thing clear is your partisan, simplistic approach, you have more than one side here.
Richard Silverstein says
Actually, they only want land that has been stolen from them. Do you see Palestinians ever attempting to encroach on Israeli land as Israelis do on Palestinian land?
Pragmatic Israeli pols want Barghouti out of prison & in a leadership role because they believe he could deliver a peace deal. But many intelligence, military & political leaders fear releasing him could create a monster they will not be able to control. That is why he hasn’t been released till now. Also, Israelis were possibly continuing to hold him as a hostage in just such an eventuality when they would need to exchange him for an Israeli prisoner (such things have happened in the past).
Richard Silverstein says
Virtually all, including Sami Kuntar the most recent.
Unsurprisingly, you don’t understand how real democracy works both because you don’t live in one & you don’t appreciate democratic values. Of course, if there is no full-fledged debate about this issue then rightists will rightly point out that Shalit’s freedom was won at the expense of the memories of their loved ones killed by these very same terrorists. There is no read Shalit should have to feel any sting or blame. But if there is no debate beforehand he is more liable to these kinds of attacks. Also, the motives of the government in the midst of such secrecy will be doubted before & after the deal is sealed.
Richard, I think the government’s motives will be seen clearly and unless they are very careful, they will lose a lot of popular support. Netanyahu is a ruthless politician; I am sure he has Shalit’s interests in mind only so far as that they further his agenda. And unfortunately, I am sure Netanyahu would exploit Shalit’s death to the hilt if it should happen. Netanyahu is a thug.
Kuntar’s deal was public? hardly, maybe you mean after it was finalised? of course people knew he was to be part of the deal, possibly, just like today it is known many attackers will be freed, not the specific details.
the rightists dont even talk about their killed loved ones, just the future danger of putting murderers back in the street, nobody is stoping them of debating this, they want to harm the deal because of Hamas’s internal pressures, since when are diplomatic negotiations public? we saw how well that turned out in the Iran-U.S. talks.
an American lecture about stolen land and democratic values, good one.
Richard Silverstein says
Today’s Haaretz said that in only one earlier prisoner exchange was there ever an invocation of military censorship.
That is blatantly false. They talk about their dead loved ones all the time. But I have no problem w. that. They should. That is the issue uppermost in their mind & I would expect them to try to make it uppermost in the minds of every Israeli. What I wouldn’t expect is that every Israeli would agree that the particular concerns of terror victims should be the primary consideration for making policy. A consideration certainly, but not the primary one.
This is a JEWISH lecture about stolen land and democratic values, buddy. That’s what ticks you off. If it was only an American lecture you could blow it off. But a Jewish lecture is a bit harder to ignore.
Why do so many Israelis have amnesia? You forget whose land it was in the first place (1948 and the Nakba, which you call your “independence”). What is galling is that here it is 2009 and you are still stealing land. You know you’re doing it, but you don’t give a damn. Then you whine when the Palestinians won’t make peace with you.
with all due respect to Haaretz, i lived through that deal, and the negotiations weren’t public, with or without cesorship, there was a debate about Kuntar’s release but no list of names or specific details.
you can’t negotiate these deals in the papers, not before and not now.