As I write this, Israeli media ( Al Jazeera and the Guardian too) are offering wall to wall coverage of the release of Gilad Shalit from captivity. Of course this is a wonderful day for his family and for all Israelis who hoped for this day to arrive for the past five years. It is also a day that many Palestinian families awaiting their imprisoned loved one have hoped for, some for decades. I imagine that many Israelis feel ambivalent about today’s proceedings, because while Shalit has been freed, over one thousand Palestinian prisoners who shed Israeli blood will also be released. Who cannot be shocked to see once again, the heinous image of a Palestinian raising his blood-soaked hands which have just murdered an Israeli reserve soldier. This man will be freed too, though if I were him I’d watch my back, as Israel’s former IDF chief rabbi has virtually encouraged the families of terror victims to take personal revenge It also seems possible if not likely that the IDF or Shabak would take revenge as well on those guilty of the most heinous crimes.
But what’s missing from this picture? The fact that Israel, thanks to its superior military power, can apprehend those who kill its soldiers and civilians, throw them in jail and then release them if it chooses. Palestine has no such power to arrest Israeli settlers and soldiers who’ve killed Palestinian civilians. And until now, no international tribunal has been willing to do this either. There are as many or more Israelis with Palestinian blood on their hands as there are Palestinians with Israeli blood. The former, however, are not held accountable.
I’m also struck by the coverage offered of the Shalit exchange and the proposed exchange for Israeli-American Ilan Grapel, which I reported here a week ago and Ethan Bronner has just now decided is newsworthy. The western media spills hundreds of gallons of ink on two Israeli prisoners, while offering scant if any coverage of the Palestinian or Egyptian prisoners for whom they will be exchanged. Not to mention that many of the 4,000 Palestinian prisoners who will not be freed are in the 22nd day of a hunger strike in Israeli prisons to protest the horrific conditions under which they are held. The hard-line Likud right tightened already-stringent living conditions for these prisoners using the rationale that if Gilad Shalit was suffering so would they. Now that Shalit is freed do you think Israel will relax these draconian measures? Not likely.
UPDATE: The hunger strike ended tonight. Arab media reports that as part of the Shalit deal Israel agreed to upgrade living conditions for the prisoners.
The obsession with two Israeli prisoners to the exclusion of all else further displays the ethnocentrism of the world media. We care about Israelis facing such predicaments. Arabs, not so much. We care about Israeli victims of Palestinian terror. Palestinian victims of Israeli terror, not so much. If we care about terror and its victims, as we should, we must care about victims on both sides.
Why the reams of interviews with Shalit’s father, mother, grandfather, and every other Israeli Tom, Dick, and Harry, but hardly a word about the families of Palestinian victims? A double standard perhaps?
All of the above question of course begs the real question, which is how to stop the endless cycle of kidnapping/captures and prisoner releases. The answer of course is for both sides to work out their differences and negotiate an end to the conflict. Until that happens, anyone who kids themselves that they can figure out how to govern this process fairly with rules, or prevent it from happening in future by arguing IDF soldiers should detonate hand grenades to kill themselves and their captors is delusional.
Sidebar: interesting that Turkey has announced it will accept some of the deported Palestinian prisoners.
Silverstein has published Tikun Olam since 2003, It exposes the secrets of the Israeli national security state. He lives in Seattle, but his heart is in the east. He publishes regularly at Middle East Eye, the New Arab, and Jacobin Magazine. His work has also appeared in Al Jazeera English, The Nation, Truthout and other outlets.