19.10.11

Dramatising Shalit: An Officer and the Terrorists?

Moussa was 25. Too young to die, too old to live in a student’s hostel. He did not have the luxury of patriotism. What was Palestine? Home? A country? Occupied territory? His papers said he was a Palestinian. He had never lived there. Egypt, Jordan, India, where we had met several years ago. He dragged his legs listlessly as we sat in a dark corner, away from the raucous voices. Or, perhaps to understand silence?

He, too, was a prisoner. There was nowhere he could go and feel he belonged. As a child, he had watched war films; he wanted to join the army. Which army? His father, a scientist, had decided to submerge the identity question. The world is a big place, he told his son. Education is important. At 25, Moussa was struggling with degrees, higher qualifications, rolled up papers he might have wanted to scrunch and throw away. He would never wear a beret or hold a gun and offer a stiff salute. In those days, the Palestinian army was not organised. His family had chosen the option of rootlessness.

He dragged his feet as he bid me goodbye refusing to step out into the light.

The officer - Shalit

I think of him today as I see another 25-year-old. Gilad Shalit’s homecoming is being celebrated the world over. The Israeli soldier was taken prisoner by Hamas five years ago. In a move that should shock people, he has been swapped with 1027 Palestinian prisoners.

To dismiss this as another social networking crusade would be just one part of the story. The political angle, where Benjamin Netanyahu the humanist prevails, is another shrewd one. Then there is the role of Egypt, not the Egypt of Hosni Mubarak, but of the rebel-propped rulers. This is the wonderful western touch, the preparation of a proxy.

Possibly the worst dimension is that one innocent soldier is being used as a symbol of Israeli supremacy as opposed to the 'terrorists'. This is drama of a high order where his every move has been traced, from the helicopter, to the parade in the convoy, to his interview, to the meeting with family and the outpouring of joy by his supporters. His supporters?

As a captured soldier, his bravery is by default; his rank has already been pushed up. There are assumptions about his ill-treatment. It is true that Amnesty did not have access to him. Do human rights organisations have access to the many individuals who are captured? Did they have access to the over 1000 prisoners that are being released in the ‘arrangement’? Will they criticise the slurs on those released?

True, Shalit was injured; he is a soldier. He was on duty. There are daily skirmishes going on in the territory. The Hamas took him prisoner. He might have been given the status of a prisoner of war if the war was certified and recognisable. It is not. Nobody knows when they will be attacked and by whom. It is not so surprising though that Shalit is being deified. He does not look pugnacious. Reports even quote his friends as saying, “He doesn't bother anyone, not even a fly. He just wanted to be left in peace, like his family.” One assumes the Israeli army was aware of that when he was being trained to fight the Palestinians.


This frail young man now stands alone against a bunch of lumpen elements that the honourable Israeli government has let off, but not without a warning: the fight against terrorism will continue. Responding to the celebrations in Gaza over the return of the Palestinian prisoners, he said, “Here we don't celebrate murderers and turn them into heroes. We believe in the sanctity of life.”

Getting back one soldier and holding him up to the world is not enough. The sanctity of life is not about just one side. Has there been a count of the numbers killed? Indeed, there are a few of the released prisoners who have murdered Israelis, but what about the dead Palestinians?

The groundwork for the humane coup has been laid. Shalit needs to be examined and kept a watch on for the damage the confinement might have caused him. No one is concerned about the swapped prisoners. The descriptions too are revealing. As reported in The Telegraph:

“Pandemonium as the first buses carrying the freed prisoners arrives in Gaza City's Katiba Square. People are setting off endless bangers as Hamas songs blare in the background. The prisoners get off the buses, waving solemnly to the crowds, before being led into a mosque behind the flower-strewn dais where they will eventually take their seats
Israelis release a dove as they celebrate the release of Gilad Shalit.”
The terrorists? Freed Palestinian prisoners

This horde of unruly men will go to a mosque. The dove is for the Israelis. This portion did not mention the street scenes, the flags, and the outpouring of patriotism by the Israelis.

The Hamas has already said that they will take more soldiers prisoners. The BBC has a pat analysis:

“Palestinian politics is a zero-sum game. For now, Hamas will bask in the glow of having got more than 1,000 Palestinian prisoners in exchange for one man. Mr. Abbas, while publicly welcoming the exchange, woke up this morning a politically weakened figure. But when the jail doors open - probably next Tuesday - and people begin going home to their families, it will be clearer that key political Palestinian militants, seen as heroes by many people in the occupied territories, will still be behind bars. Hamas has just played their only trump card. It has unquestionably won the round. But will it be enough to win them the game?”

This question should be posed to Mr. Netanyahu. He has for the moment successfully played Hamas against Fatah. Besides, there is no way to gauge which prisoners are more dangerous because it is not about the number of people killed. If that were the case, then Israel would not bet on one soldier, would it?

Daniel Taub, the Israel's UK ambassador, believes:

“At its root, the decision to make the deal was not won by pragmatic arguments or realpolitik. We are bringing Gilad home, and paying the painful price, not because we know that this is the correct strategic decision, but because of our profound conviction that it ought to be. The bittersweet joy of the moment presents a challenge to us all. If this indeed is not a world in which placing supreme value on a single human life is the best course of action, then let us work to make it one.”

History is full of instances where “a single life” was employed for strategic victories. People identify with an individual trauma, rather than a group. It is humanised, and naturally so. One can fully comprehend a father’s emotions, but when Shalit reportedly told an Egyptian television channel that he would like peace between Israel and Palestine, there was anger, they said he was misunderstood. In the next few days, he will have to tell stories of his imprisonment. There is no other option.

He has not been bartered for peace, but for war. Shalit will have to show the scars that are there. And some that are not.

(c) Farzana Versey
- - -

Published in Counterpunch and Srilanka Guardian

10 comments:

  1. I have a hunch that Israel will hunt down and kill each one of those 1027 terrorists.

    We in sekulaar India should be proud that we are assiduously looking after the human rights of Ajmal Kasab and Afzal Guru!

    Garv Se kaho hum Indian hai..!

    ReplyDelete
  2. Netanyahu the humanist ... is laughable, as laughable as Sheron the Nobel laureate, which would be comical, if it weren't also a tragic truth. For some Israelis, this deal is a disaster, "they will go back to murdering" ... "they pose an existential threat to Israel", but then every living Palestinian poses an existential threat to Israel, that's why they'd rather be dead? That's why you are armed to the hilt and that's why you showered Gaza City with white phosphorus whose only use is to burn human flesh. But the lopsided swap is a commentary on the asymmetry of the suffering and the humiliation that one side has subjected on to the other. It is arrogance at its worst, Natenhayu's bid for the Nobel at it's best.

    ReplyDelete
  3. F&F:

    Israel may do that, or find another 1000. But by saying "Garv se kaho hum Indian hai" wrt to our treatment of Kasab-Afzal, am I to understand you appreciate it?

    Btw, it is not human rights that is the concern, but political expediency. I thought you;d have a hunch about that.

    Anon:

    I agree with you and I though the 'Netanyahu the humane' bit of sarcasm would be clear, given the tenor of the whole article.

    The Nobel has been a great source of whitewashing/co-opting, so nobody cares.

    ReplyDelete
  4. "Here we don't celebrate murderers and turn them into heroes. We believe in the sanctity of life."

    How they lie!

    http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/1524552/Israel-celebrates-Irgun-hotel-bombers.html

    http://www.mod.gov.il/pages/heritage/sherut.asp
    Translate it from the Hebrew.

    It should probably have read "Here, we celebrate Jewish murderers and turn them into heroes."

    And not just heroes, but Prime Ministers. Begin, Shamir, Eshkol, Ben-Gurion, Rabin...the Israelis are, as ever, the biggest hypocrites in town.

    ReplyDelete
  5. "There are assumptions about his ill-treatment. It is true that Amnesty did not have access to him. Do human rights organisations have access to the many individuals who are captured? Did they have access to the over 1000 prisoners that are being released in the ‘arrangement’? Will they criticise the slurs on those released?"

    To the author:

    - The above is a scandalously disingenious part of your article- why do need to do this when your cause is just?
    - Should it not be enough to stick to facts?

    - 1) the prisoners in Israel have all Red Cross visits and contact with their families that international law, and regulations for war prisoners allow. if HRW wants access, it can get it after a regulated procedure.
    - 2) Shalit, on the other hand, had no access whatsoever to neither regulated treatment, red cross visits, nor contact with his family.

    this is beside the very differnt circumstances in which the prisoners and shalit were held. As by what we know from other hostage accounts , (and these were not even Israeli, as not many Israelis survive being taken hostage) they mostly spend time with a hood over the head and chained to something. Shalit must have spent years in similar fashion, in solitary confinement for 5 years.
    There is a very big difference here, and it is not honorable to the palestinians.

    - Whatever PR the Israelis earn here, the Palestinians ar "handing" them this on a silver platter! And not to worry, the Israelis , with much reason, dont get much good press, not even from this. It is your own morals that leave a lot to be desired with this kind of article.

    ReplyDelete
  6. to anonymous: good point on the irgun bombers, there is some moral ambiguity there, especially on the early irgun and stern gang terrorism.

    but why call sharon a nobel laureate? only sadat and begin got the nobel peace price, for the sole reason of having signed a peace deal. why on earth would Sharon have gotten the Nobel price??

    why is the propalestinian press so full of disinformation? Don't Palestinians have it bad enough? it is sad to see all the hate mongering you guys do- why reinforce the myths the other side has about you? I am with the Israeli left, we hate what the present government stands for and feel we have a common heritage with the Palestinians, closest to us among all peoples now disenfranchised the way our own parents and grand parents were.
    - But reading all these post, siding with you guys seems totally suicidal

    ReplyDelete
  7. grshn:

    What 'moral' position are you speaking from to question my morals wrt to this issue?

    Indeed, you might have a closer affiliation personally, but that does not make it more ethical (I dislike the term moral). Being with the "Israeli left", as you say you are, does not as a matter of course put you in a position to dole out honours about the level of honourability.

    If it is just facts you want, then there are newspaper reports - which might leave you rolling your eyes about the number of facts about the same thing. I wrote an opinion piece based on the basic facts. Shalit's release and the euphoria in comparison with the response to the Palestinian prisoners. And the reference to access of the HR people was about them.

    If we take into account how one person was treated, then it makes it incumbent to consider the rest.

    The Palestinians have not done good in this case, true, but if it is PR we are talking about then you might consider how much the Israelis manage to co-opt the mainstream media.

    Could you point out misinformation in this article?

    Re. your response to anonymous, Sharon was not a Nobel laureate, but he was nominated. And since facts are so precious, then besides the Begin-Sadat one, it was also jointly awarded to Rabin, Peres and Arafat.

    But reading all these post, siding with you guys seems totally suicidal

    Perhaps you'd like to reconsider. And if you have the time or inclination - and a survival instinct - do read this:

    http://farzana-versey.blogspot.com/2006/07/what-is-rotten-about-state-of-israel.html

    Thanks for stopping by, anyway.

    ReplyDelete
  8. FV,

    I am amused to see you throwing the "What right do you have to question me?" argument at a dissenter. I am sure you will be more gracious in accepting it when it is offered to you on other - more contentious - subjects. After all, you DO believe in having the same standards for yourself and others, don't you!

    ReplyDelete
  9. Faranza,

    What did you mean when you wrote about Hamas, But will it be enough for them to win the game?" Isn't the end-game for Hamas the destruction of Israel? Is that what you were referring to? Or were you referring to Hamas' twin goal of creating a totalitarian Islamic state in Palestine despite t he overwhelming wishes of a freedom-loving and basically secular Palestinian people?

    Do you not believe that Gilad Shalit desires peace between Israel and Palestine despite the ordeal he endured at the ands of his Hamas kidnappers? Doesn't this show great dignity and wisdom almost beyond his years? There are also a great many Palestinians who desire peace and reconciliation between Israel and Palestine in a mutually negotiated, just and secure final settlement to the horrible conflict so that both peoples can finally lead normal lives.

    But you, like so many with axes to grin from the outside, seem to indulge in body counts as if this would end the conflict instead of fueling it even further.

    You say Gilad was released not for peace but for war. Your blog certainly will serve to only exacerbate the conflict. What are you doing for peace?

    ReplyDelete
  10. David:

    The quote you refer to was from the BBC. In the piece online, due to lack of formatting, the close quotes were inadvertently dropped. I said that it was a pat analysis.

    Now, your queries:

    Isn't the end-game for Hamas the destruction of Israel? Is that what you were referring to? Or were you referring to Hamas' twin goal of creating a totalitarian Islamic state in Palestine despite t he overwhelming wishes of a freedom-loving and basically secular Palestinian people?

    Although I was not referring to it, Hamas, like many such organisations, exists because the ‘ruling’ group proves to be inadequate to voice certain concerns. I am amazed how the Palestinians transform into freedom-loving secular souls only when they become fractured. During Arafat’s time, Fatah was reviled. (You might already know that, but should you be interested in an ‘outsider’ viewpoint, I have posted a link in an earlier comment.) Is Israel helping these freedom-loving Palestinians in any manner? It has reneged on its promises. If Palestinians need to be secular, then how secular is the Israel administration?

    Do you not believe that Gilad Shalit desires peace between Israel and Palestine despite the ordeal he endured at the ands of his Hamas kidnappers? Doesn't this show great dignity and wisdom almost beyond his years?

    Where did I say I did not? In fact, I mentioned that he said so in his interview and it was the Israelis who reacted angrily. It was Netanyahu, an insider, who instead of applauding the wisdom and dignity of this young man, sent out warning signals. Would you like to say anything about his attitude? Or even those who gave Shalit a hero’s welcome because he was captured while on the job by Hamas. What does this say? Were they acting out a peace accord and Hamas decided to take him prisoner?

    But you, like so many with axes to grin from the outside, seem to indulge in body counts as if this would end the conflict instead of fueling it even further.

    You say Gilad was released not for peace but for war. Your blog certainly will serve to only exacerbate the conflict. What are you doing for peace?


    1. You give too much credit to this blog. Besides, I reckon you read the piece on an online radical website and I am not the only one holding such views. If I am among the few who have indeed discussed the Shalit release at length, then I am happy to have done so.
    2. I have no axe to grind from outside or from anywhere. Perhaps you’d like to address it to those who do from inside. And most certainly corner the BBC of the once great British Empire, the one that pushed for the Balfour Declaration.
    3. The body count becomes a prickly issue when an Israeli talks about peace. It does not when Palestinians do so, when Arafat went with an olive branch? If you believe that Shalit was released for peace then what is the latest on the peace moves? What are they doing for peace? And the body count was also about one Israeli soldier=1027 Palestinians, who were all damned as terrorists.

    If this is peace, then I have certainly missed the point.

    As regards what I am doing, as an outsider I ask the questions about how the peace venture is exactly being executed. In this you are right. I sometimes do use an axe, but as it is a small one (voice) it merely tries to cut through the swathe.

    I repeat what I said to the other commentator: You probably know more. So, instead of merely wondering about my motives, why not educate us?

    Thanks.

    ReplyDelete

Note: only a member of this blog may post a comment.