The captured Israeli soldier

At Haaretz, you can see the video Hamas released of Gilad Shalit. It’s hard not to be upset watching the video. Obviously, I do not know Shalit, what he normally looks or sounds like. He looks thin, and sounds distressed. There are no physical signs that I could see of any injuries. In some ways the video is revelation: prior to it, I felt it very likely that Shalit was dead. In a tactical sense, this action by Hamas was unwise. Firstly, if they capture soldiers in future, they will be made to make similar gestures on the subject of whether or not their captive is alive. If they do not do so, it will be assumed the captive is dead. Hence, they will have lost bargaining power in future. Secondly, the video is a propaganda gift for Israel. The Israeli soldier naturally inspires sympathy and concern. This is not to say that the sympathy and concern is unwarranted. It is to say that Hamas is completely inept in its struggle for Palestinian rights. The fact is that thousands of Palestinians have been subject to treatment as bad, if not worse, than the captured Israeli soldier, but whereas Israeli propaganda makes much of his suffering, Hamas is unable to counter claims that it simply wants to free terrorists (though its call for the release of 20 women is comparatively impressive by its standards).

Israel has a list, and says most of the women released tried to kill Israelis. The fact is, military justice is to justice what military parades are to music (Groucho Marx?). The list does not mention how long they’ve been in trial, whether or not they’ve been tortured (extremely likely) and so on.

Why doesn’t Hamas make any Palestinian prisoners human? Why does it talk about Gilad Shalit, and the amorphous prisoners? It should be able to couch its struggle in terms that can appeal beyond the narrow corridors of chauvinistic revanchism, calling for making the enemy suffer like “we” suffer. Whilst Israel begs for Red Cross visitation rights for its soldier, Hamas doesn’t do so for Camp 1391, leaving it to NGOs to do so. Why don’t they say they would release video of Shalit, in return for guarantees by international bodies that Israel would stop torturing Palestinian prisoners? This would, of course, be symmetrical, and based around a concern for human rights rather than spectacular achievements that can demonstrate how effective Hamas is.  Instead, Hamas takes its “victory” to show how effective armed struggle is.

“”We will continue our efforts to kidnap soldiers in order to free every one of our prisoners in Israel,” Hamas leader Khaled Meshal said in Damascus.”

Well, Hamas has captured one Israeli soldier in 3 years. Israel kidnaps Palestinian civilians on a far more regular basis, and when it releases prisoners, why shouldn’t we expect it to kidnap more? I think Hamas is probably right that this is the only way it can get Palestinian prisoners, who are subject to military law, when they are not held “administratively” – that is, without trial – who are also routinely tortured. This poses a very real problem for those who support Palestinian rights, in that if we are to condemn the capture of Israeli soldiers and the holding of them as bargaining chips for years, we can only do so if we can provide an alternative means of protecting Palestinian rights. To our shame, I cannot think of another means of doing so. This should not detract from our denunciation of Israeli crimes: it was openly reported in Haaretz that Israel captured Hamas parliamentarians for years as bargaining chips, to secure the release of Shalit. It has been reported that the Gaza Strip faced closures and various other measures, simply as revenge for Shalit. It all recalls Olmert’s claim, that the lives of Sderot residents were more important to him than the lives of Gazans.

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