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Saving Sergeant Shalit


In 1998, Steven Spielberg produced a film entitled “Saving Soldier Ryan” which described the rescuing of a US soldier called Ryan whose 3 brothers had already died in the Omaha Beach landing during WW2. The US army thought it would be symbolically important to save the fourth brother.
So why did the Israeli PM Netanyahu agree to negotiate the release of Sergeant Gilad Shalit who had been held prisoner in Gaza for 5 years, in exchange for 1,027 Palestinians held prisoner in Israeli jails? Did that exchange of prisoners have a purely symbolic value, or were there other factors of political importance that determined the nature of the exchange, and especially its timing?
When analyzing the 1,000 to one ratio, it is important to bear in mind that there are more than 6,000 Palestinians in Israeli jails at present, most of them abducted from Palestinian territory, most of them not convicted of any offence, but in “administrative detention”. The 1,000 to one ratio is a recurrent one in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict: in 2009, when the Israeli army bombed Gaza, there were over 1,400 Palestinian casualties, most of them civilians, compared with the 13 Israelis who lost their lives.
Of the 1,027 Palestinians who will eventually be released, a significant proportion will not be allowed to return to the part of Palestine where they came from, and a number will be deported outside of Palestine to countries like Turkey, Syria, Jordan. The second batch of 550 Palestinians will be released in two months, and no doubt a large number of them will not be allowed to return to their homes, or even their country. In any case, the Palestinians who are released from Israeli jails can only look forward to living under heavy-handed Israeli military occupation.
Sergeant Gilad Shalit is being presented on the international media as a “brave hero”, as a victim of terrorism. Let us not forget that Gilad Shalit is a member of an army that has occupied Palestine for 45 years, an army that was responsible for the massacre of thousands of Palestinian refugees at the Sabra and Shatila refugee camps, an army that killed thousands of civilians in Gaza. LALIT members who have spent time in the West Bank part of Palestine, have come face to face with the gun barrels of hundreds of Gilad Shalits manning the checkpoints of humiliation within Palestinian territory; hundreds of Gilad Shalits who do not hesitate to point their heavy guns at the throats of Palestinian children and who supervise the annexation of Palestinian land for the construction of new colonies for Israelis.
So what do we make of the timing of the exchange of detainees?
Many commentators within Israel are rather mystified as to why Netanyahu is prepared to negotiate with Hamas for the release of Gilad Shalit, when he refuses to enter peace negotiations with the same Hamas, on the pretext that it is a “terrorist” organisation.
The whole political context of the Middle East has evolved radically in the past few months: the blockade of Gaza and isolation of Hamas by Israel is no longer so effective since the overthrow of the Moubarak Regime, and the partial opening of the Raffah Crossing. The assassination of 9 Turkish members of the Humanitarian flotilla and 5 Egyptian policemen by Israeli soldiers has isolated Israel in the region. The Palestinian Authority initiative at the United Nations, and the response of Israel to it, has isolated Zionist Israel on a world scale. Israel can now rely only on its few staunch allies: the USA, the UK, and Germany.
The Israeli ploy to negotiate with Hamas and to go ahead with the release of a thousand Palestinian detainees, will no doubt strengthen Hamas relative to the Fatah-dominated Palestinian Authority: Israel’s aim is to undermine the initiative at the United Nations that aims at the establishment of a sovereign Palestinian State. Right from the days of Yasser Arafat, Israel has consistently used Hamas to weaken and undermine the “authority” of the “Palestinian Authority”, already politically lacking in credibility.
Will the exchange of detainees contribute in any way towards a resolution of the Israelo-Palestinian conflict, towards finding a solution to enable Palestine to exist as a sovereign state, with total control over all its territory, with an access to the wider world?
The exchange of detainees does nothing to slow down the anschluss (annexation, land-grab) policy of Israel through the building of new colonies; the military occupation of Palestine by thousands of Gilad Shalits will continue, in spite of the changes in the geo-political situation in the region.
Only an acceleration of the “Boycott, Dis-investment, Sanctions” campaign world-wide will force Israel to abandon its cynical lies, and negotiate in good faith.

LALIT, 20 October 2011