Gilad Shalit and 5,383 Palestinians

I’m not sure what I’ll be doing next in the blogosphere (and in meat world I happen to be in Israel) so in the meantime I’m running some old posts — today I’m running an updated version of a piece I ran a year ago today. It never fails to stun me how much sturm und drang there always is in Israel/Palestine without anything ever actually getting any better….

Today is the fifth anniversary of the capture of Gilad Shalit. Shalit was serving at an Israeli military post on the border with Gaza when he and his unit were attacked by Palestinian militants. Two other Israeli soldiers were killed; Shalit was taken into Gaza.

This event came a day after Israeli forces went into the homes of two suspected Hamas members in Gaza and kidnapped them, taking them to jail in Israel. According to Israeli human rights group B’tselem, working from figures provided by the Israeli government, Israel currently holds 5,383 Palestinians in its civilian and military detention systems. Also according to B’tselem, and other Israeli human rights organizations, Palestinian prisoners are “routinely tortured” in Israeli jails.

In a joint statement released yesterday, B’tselem along with several Israeli, Palestinian, and international human rights groups called for Shalit’s immediate release:

Human beings are not bargaining chips

Marking five years since the capture of Gilad Shalit, Israeli, Palestinian and international human rights organizations state:

Hamas must immediately end inhumane and illegal treatment of Gilad Shalit

Staff Sergeant Gilad Shalit has been in captivity for five years. Those holding him have refused to allow him to communicate with his family, nor have they provided information on his well-being and the conditions in which he is being held. The organizations stress that this conduct is inhumane and a violation of international humanitarian law.

Hamas authorities in Gaza must immediately end the cruel and inhuman treatment of Gilad Shalit. Until he is released, they must enable him to communicate with his family and should grant him access to the International Committee of the Red Cross.

Truth be told, I wept when Shalit was taken, as I wept over the loss of the soldiers he served with, Lt. Hanan Barak and Staff-Sgt. Pavel Slutzker. I spent hours before the computer, listening, reading, willing the facts to not be facts. These are my people, and as I read the stories of these young men’s lives, I felt I knew them. I cannot imagine the torment their families have lived through in the past  nearly 2,000 days

But I likewise call on Israel to recognize that the political prisoners it holds are just that.

I would call on Israel and my fellow Israelis to think of the families on the other side of the fences and walls. I would call on Israel, and my fellow Israelis, and the world at large to remember all of the many, many God-awful mistakes that Israel has made (including a series of military attacks in which hundreds upon hundreds of Palestinians were killed) in trying to force Hamas to free Shalit — to absolutely no avail.

There are two sides here, and much as I mourn my own people’s losses and pray for Shalit’s safe return home, I cannot forget the suffering that my people, in turn, have caused.

The only way to end the madness is to end it. The only way to end the madness is to build a just peace.


In December, 2010 it looked as if a deal might have been struck to swap Shalit for nearly 1,000 Palestinian prisoners held by Israel. I wrote about it at the time, but as we all know, nothing came of those negotiations. I want to quote some of the facts and figures from that post here; to read the whole thing, click here.

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 sortieover 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 kidnaps64 Palestinian legislators and officials from inside Gaza, including eight government ministers.
  4. October 10, 2006 – The UN reportsthat 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 concludesthat “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 expressesits “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 kill120 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.


  1. Mary

     /  June 25, 2011

    A prayer for the safety of Mr. Shalet and to his safe return to his family.

    A prayer also for all Palestinian who have suffered unjust imprisonment, may they likewise be restored to their loved ones.

    And one more audacious prayer.. may those spending forced time with the opposing side be shown mercy and gain some understanding of the humanity of their captors so that when freedom comes, they are able to take home and share understanding rather than resentment.

    Yes, not very likely.. but no one can deny me the right to pray for it.

  2. Dear Emily,
    I am doing critical discourse analysis for the Arab and Israeli media about the Shalit Swap deal. When I was looking for articles from both sides, I came across your articles. For most articles, when I read the first two paragraphs, I feel bored and I scan the text for other interesting parts. Yet, there is something about your pieces that makes me reading it to the last word. I also admire the moderate tone I hear in your articles, which is rare for most Israeli writers.

    For sure, I am going to quote some of your words in my research paper.

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