How many dead, to arrive back at square one?

On Sunday, the State Prosecutor’s Office declared that Israel would release 980 prisoners in exchange for captive soldier Gilad Shalit. HaAretz, December 1, 2009

So, Israel has nearly completed its negotiations for the release of Staff Sergeant Gilad Shalit.

Shalit was captured, while on duty, in a cross-border raid by Palestinian militants on June 25, 2006, one day after Israel kidnapped two suspected members of Hamas from their Gaza home. It may be recalled that immediately after Shalit was taken, his captors demanded that 1,000 Palestinian prisoners be freed in exchange for his release, and the Israeli government announced unequivocally that it would hold “no negotiations over the release of prisoners.”

And so.

I have compiled a short, and certainly incomplete, timeline outlining the things Israel has done since June 25, 2006 in retaliation for the capture of its soldier, in retaliation for subsequent Hamas retaliations to Israeli attacks, and/or in the name of bringing Shalit home without negotiation:

  1. June 28, 2006 – Israel launches an assault on Gaza, dubbed “Operation Summer Rains” and said to be aimed at freeing Shalit. Great damage is done to Gaza’s infrastructure in the first days, including the destruction of several bridges and the Strip’s single power plant, leaving much of Gaza without electricity or running water.
  2. June 28, 2006 – Israeli jets fly a sortie over the home of Syrian President Bashir Assad, an act of saber-rattling directed at the government Israel accuses of being one of the main sponsors of Palestinian militant organizations. The IDF simultaneously “[raises] its alert level on the northern border, mainly for fear that Hizbullah or other groups will attempt to take advantage of the situation and cause an escalation.”
  3. June 29, 2006 – The IDF kidnaps 64 Palestinian legislators and officials from inside Gaza, including eight government ministers.
  4. October 10, 2006 – The UN reports that a total of 256 Palestinians have been killed since June 28, of whom 60 are children. 848 have been injured. Some 355 acres of agricultural land have been destroyed, and 3,000 commercial fishermen have lost their incomes because the Israeli navy will not allow them access to fishing grounds off the Gaza coast. Two Israeli soldiers have been killed and 31 Israelis injured. In response to the operation, Hamas has fired 465 Qassam rockets into Israel.
  5. November 1, 2006 – Israel launches “Operation Autumn Clouds,” focusing its attack on the Beit Hanoun neighborhood which frequently serves as a base for rocket fire into Israel. Over the course of eight days, the UN reports that at least 82 Palestinians are killed and 260 injured, and HaAretz concludes that “the IDF wreaked havoc and terror in Beit Hanoun and left behind hundreds of wounded, as well as destroyed houses, uprooted orchards and a water system that was brought to a standstill. But despite all this, the declared aim of the operation was not achieved and the firing of Qassam rockets into Israel continues.”
  6. November 14, 2006 – The UN expresses its “shock at the horror of Israeli targeting and killing of Palestinian civilians in Beit Hanoun while they were asleep and other civilians fleeing earlier Israeli bombardment.”
  7. February 27, 2007 – Israel launches Operation Warm Winter; between Feb 27 and March 4, Israeli forces kill 120 Palestinians, including 34 children, and 269 Palestinians are wounded. In the course of hostilities, 224 rockets and 49 mortars are fired into Israel; one Israeli is killed and 14 injured.
  8. December 27, 2008 – Israel launches Operation Cast Lead, now more commonly known as the Gaza War. In the first day, at least 225 Palestinians are killed and 700 wounded; B’tselem reports that in the course of the war, which lasts until January 18, 2009, Israeli forces killed 1,387 Palestinians, of whom 773 did not take part in the hostilities and 119 were under the age of 11. Three Israeli civilians were killed by Qassam rocket fire, six Israeli soldiers were killed in combat, and four were killed in a friendly fire incident. In July, the United Nations Development Program reported that it would likely take the Palestinians a year to clear the half a million tons of rubble created by Israeli bombardment and bulldozing in the course of the war. It’s widely presumed (and suggested by official Israeli statements) that the continued captivity of Gilad Shalit is at least one of the reasons for the launch of the war.


On the day that Gilad Shalit was captured (and — lest we forget — Lt. Hanan Barak and Staff-Sgt. Pavel Slutzker were killed), I wept along with most of Israel. I cannot state this firmly enough: This young man must be brought home, and the loss of his fellow soldiers is a terrible, terrible thing. The rockets that fall on Israel’s south, and the resulting death and destruction, are a horror.

But I cannot believe that Gilad Shalit is more important to me, or Israel, than the roughly 7,000 Palestinians currently held by Israel are to their families and their society. I cannot believe that the deaths of Barak, Slutzker, or the 22 Israelis killed in Palestinian rocket and mortar attacks since 2004, are any more excruciating to us, than the 1,845 deaths that I have documented here (which represent only those killed in the events listed above, not the total number of Palestinians killed by Israeli forces in the same time period) are to the Palestinians.

And those 1,845 deaths — as well as the 19 Israeli deaths listed above, not to mention the 1,256 days that Shalit himself has been away from home and in captivity — are all directly related to the Israeli decision not to negotiate the exchange of 1,000 Palestinian prisoners for Shalit’s return.

The very deal that sits on the negotiation table, near final agreement, today.

There are days when the facts — simple, spare, devoid of analysis — speak for themselves. And break the heart.



Israel/Palestine: the basics.

Israel/Palestine peace advocacy – places to start.

Israel/Palestine – a reading list.

  1. leaving much of the Strip without electricity or running water.
  2. June 29, 2006 – Israeli troops seize 64 Palestinian legislators and officials — including eight government ministers, telling Reuters that the detainees were not intended as “bargaining chips for the return of the soldier…. It was simply an operation against a terrorist organization.”
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