Gilad Shalit prisoner exchange – intial reactions.

Gilad Shalit speaking to the Israeli public from captivity in 2009. Israel released 20 prisoners to get this tape.

Please note update below, regarding Palestinian prisoners held by Israel.

News has broken of an apparent prisoner exchange deal between Israel and Hamas — Gilad Shalit will be swapped for what’s being called “1000 Palestinian prisoners,” including some Israel has said it would never release. In these cases, a perfectly round number is best seen as a metaphor for “somewhere in the vicinity of” but of course I could be wrong. And, of course, we’ve been here before. So, I’ll believe it when I see it.

I’m genuinely thrilled that Shalit might finally be going home — but I can’t help but feel equally genuine rage over the lies Israel has told and the blood it’s spilled during the 64 months of his captivity, most of it in the name of refusing to negotiate the very deal it now says it’s closed.

The day before Shalit was captured, Israel kidnapped two Palestinian men, suspected Hamas members, from their Gaza homes. It actually matters that Shalit was in uniform and on duty when he was captured, whereas the two Palestinians in question were kidnapped from their homes. No one ever talks about the Israeli kidnapping — all Israel has to say is “suspected Hamas members” for the world to stop caring — but for Israel to act as if Hamas engaged in some horrific, inhuman act against The Middle East’s Only Democracy ™ while it was, I don’t know, out picking daisies — makes me want to put my head through a wall.

And the simple truth is that in refusing to negotiate for X amount of time, Israel extended Shalit’s captivity. I don’t know by how much, but if they were so anxious to get him home, you would think they would have acted to bring him home. Instead, they engaged in constant, brutal violence against the people of Gaza.

In engaging in constant, brutal violence against the people of Gaza, Israel further extended Shalit’s captivity. Because people tend to balk at having polite conversation with their enemies while their enemies are shattering their cities (in July 2009, for instance, the United Nations Development Program reported that Israeli bombardment and bulldozing created half a million tons of rubble during the Gaza War).

The hundreds upon hundreds of Palestinians killed in Israel’s mindless, immoral, and frankly counter-intuitive efforts to bring Shalit home without negotiations, will never come home. Hundreds and hundreds and hundreds of children will never again receive their father’s kiss or be held in their mothers arms because either their parents were killed, or they were. My country has the blood of hundreds upon hundreds of children on its hands, all so that we could teach Hamas a lesson.

Following is a short list of just some of what Israel has done since June 2006 in an effort to not strike the deal it’s just announced:

  1. June 28, 2006 – Israel launches an assault on Gaza, said to be aimed at freeing Shalit. Damage done to Gaza’s infrastructure in the first few days includes the destruction of several bridges and the Strip’s single power plant, leaving much of Gaza without electricity or running water.
  2. June 29, 2006 – The IDF kidnaps 64 Palestinian legislators and officials from inside Gaza, including eight government ministers.
  3. 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. Two Israeli soldiers have been killed and 31 Israelis injured. In response to the operation, Hamas has fired 465 Qassam rockets into Israel.
  4. 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. At least 82 Palestinians are killed and 260 injured, and HaAretz concludes that “the IDF wreaked havoc and terror… but despite all this, the declared aim of the operation was not achieved and the firing of Qassam rockets into Israel continues.” In November, 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.”
  5. 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.
  6. December 27, 2008 – Israel launches Operation Cast Lead (the Gaza War). In the first day, at least 225 Palestinians are killed and 700 wounded; Israeli human rights monitor B’tselem reports that between December 27 and January 18, 2009, Israeli forces kill 1,387 Palestinians, of whom 773 weren’t involved in hostilities; 119 were under the age of 11. Three Israeli civilians are killed by Qassam rocket fire, six Israeli soldiers are killed in combat, and four by friendly fire.

I’m Israeli, and I love my home and my people. When Shalit was captured, I was glued to the news, and I wept with each new scrap of information, about him, and about the two soldiers killed in the same attack, Lt. Hanan Barak and Staff-Sgt. Pavel Slutzker.

But my country should neither celebrate, nor pat itself on the back today. There is nothing but shame in this deal. Shame, and rivers of blood, and Shalit’s own extended suffering. We should welcome him home with gentle, loving arms, and sue for peace.

But that’s not going to happen, is it.


UPDATE: To learn more about the Palestinian prisoners held by Israel, click here for the fact sheet produced by the Institute for Middle East Understanding. A few highlights:

  1. Since 1967, “Israel has imprisoned upwards of 700,000 Palestinians, or about 20% of the population.”
  2. There are currently somewhere between 5,200 and over 6,000 Palestinians held in Israeli prisons.
  3. Amnesty reports “consistent allegations of torture and other ill-treatment, including of children.”
  4. More than 7000 Palestinian children have been arrested and imprisoned since September 2000, 87% of whom report being subject to physical violence while in custody.

Crossposted at Angry Black Lady Chronicles.


  1. dmf

     /  October 11, 2011

  2. Thank you for making this post; I’ve been idly feeling as though I ought to write something about this, but I’m more than a little bit wiped-out from my first yamim nora’im as a pulpit rabbi, and I haven’t had the mental/emotional energy to research or write the post.

    I hope to God that Gilad Shalit is alive and well — or as well as he can possibly be given these years of captivity. I rejoice to think that his family will see him again. But I’m still horrified and saddened and sickened by the violence which has been carried out, in part, in the name of demanding his return.

  3. Nora

     /  October 12, 2011

    As an Egyptian, I wish more Israelis like you and Rabbi Rachel would speak up. Hats off to the two of you!

  4. Anon

     /  October 18, 2011

    Just wanted to say that I really enjoy reading your perspective on these things. There was one thing I was wondering about: here in the Netherlands, the right wing is trying to spin this by saying that the 1000 or so Palestinians who got released as a part of this deal are “all terrorists”. Actually, it’s not even just the right wing, it’s a relatively mainstream perception. Could you write something about the overall validity of these arrests, and how many of them actually get convicted, and if those convictions have any legitimacy?

    • I can write something broad, but for details, you might want to start with the fact sheet I link to in the update, and then follow those links.

      Are some of those being released terrorists? Certainly. Possibly even most of them, particularly if you allow “terrorist” to mean everything from “threw rocks” to “was caught with bomb-building materials in his car” to “planted a bomb/attacked a crowd of people with a knife.” Which is to say: Did many, possibly most of the people held by Israel take some violent action against Israel and/or Israelis? Yes.

      But a) we don’t really know about a lot of them because the trial process is hardly fair; b) many people are picked up on suspicion and simply not let go for years, such as many of the 7000 minors arrested by Israel since 2000 (including, just this month, an 11 year old boy in Jerusalem); and c) I am of the opinion that this is a war, and while terrorism is despicable and inexcusable, it is an act of war not entirely unlike invading a residential neighborhood and bombing apartment buildings. It’s true that in one case, civilians are the intentional target and in the other, they are theoretically “collateral damage,” but at a certain point, if you kill nearly 800 civilians in the course of one brief war (the 08/09 Gaza War), you no longer get to hide behind “we didn’t mean to.”

      So, sure, there are a bunch of terrorists in the lot. But by no means all. And when Palestinians look at Israeli soldiers (such as Gilad Shalit), they see agents of death just as readily as we do when we look at those Palestinians who have blood on their hands — so in an odd way, I’m not even all that exercised about it. As your own Prime Minister said after the attack on Utoeya Island, the only response to terrorism is not less democracy, but more democracy. If my fellow Israelis really want to put an end to terrorism, we have to not lock up everyone who frightens us, but rather create more democracy.

      • Anon

         /  October 18, 2011

        Thank you for that elaborate response. I’ll check out the links you provided. It’s a very important point you raise: the question of how you define the notion that someone has “blood on his or her hands”. There’s also an important question as to the fairness of the trails and the fact that many arrested civilians never really got tried, such as the imprisoned minors you mention.

        Just a minor note, but I’m actually from the Netherlands, not Norway. Jens Stoltenberg, the Norwegian prime minister, was absolutely right when he said those words. This prisoner exchange is a good example of why sitting back and refusing to talk to one another is tantamount to sabotaging your own road to peace.

        • I’m sorry, yes, of course! I was confusing my N countries — very Ugly American of me! I apologize, quite profusely. Sheesh. It’s been a long day, is all I can say in my defense. Very sorry!

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