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"Prisoner Dilemmas" by Daniella Cheslow, in The Jerusalem Report

"Prisoner Dilemmas" by Daniella Cheslow, in The Jerusalem Report

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Published by Daniella Cheslow
Israeli and Palestinian former captives and prisoners debate the price for releasing Gilad Shalit, kidnapped by Hamas four years ago. By Daniella Cheslow, published July 19, 2010 in The Jerusalem Report.
Israeli and Palestinian former captives and prisoners debate the price for releasing Gilad Shalit, kidnapped by Hamas four years ago. By Daniella Cheslow, published July 19, 2010 in The Jerusalem Report.

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Published by: Daniella Cheslow on Oct 19, 2010
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10/19/2010

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T
HERE ARE ONLYTWOoptions left: To abandonGilad or to bring himhome,” declared NoamShalit, father of Israelisoldier Corporal Gilad Shalit, held captive byHamas militants for four years, as he and his wife,Aviva, set out on June 27 on an 11-day trek toJerusalem to pressure Prime Minister BenjaminNetanyahu to bring their son home.Joined by more than 10,000 marchers, accord-ing to police estimates, the Shalits declared thatupon arrival in Jerusalem, they would camp outnear the Prime Minister’s residence and “wewon’t leave until we bring Gilad home.”Since his capture on June 25, 2006, GiladShalit has been held in unknown locations inGaza, without visits from the Red Cross or hisfamily. The march is part of a new, more force-ful campaign recently adopted by the Shalitsand their supporters. “After four years, thefamily decided they are not willing to waitanymore or trust the decision-makers,”Shimshom Libman, a spokesperson, tells TheJerusalem Report.“It has been four years and two prime min-isters, two defense ministers and two chiefs of staff have failed,” Shalit declared angrily at aJune 14 press conference in Tel Aviv. Usuallyquietly composed, Shalit convened the pressconference to lambast the government forinaction and to announce the cross-country trek.Recently, Noam Shalit has forcefully calledfor conditioning the easing of the blockade of Gaza on Gilad’s release. Aviva, who until recent-ly rarely spoke publicly, can be heard now fre-quently on an infomercial on the radio, her softvoice telling listeners that she has been “beenwaiting for four years for my Gilad to comehome.”And when, at the start of the trek, Noam Shalitreceived a call from Netanyahu, inviting him to ameeting when the marchers reach Jerusalem, hereplied, in front of the cameras, that he has “hadmany meetings and would now like to seeresults.”Hamas has made it clear that Gilad will bereleased only as part of a hugely-disproportionateprisoner swap with Israel, in exchange for some1,400 Palestinian prisoners held by Israel, amongthem terrorists responsible for some of the mosthorrific attacks against Israeli citizens during thesecond intifada. According to a poll published onJune 25 in Yedioth Aharonoth, Israel’s mass-circulation daily, 72 percent of Israelis supportsuch an exchange.Yet the release has failed to become an elec-toral issue. Nor is there any evidence that the pub-lic would punish Netanyahu electorally if he wereto end all negotiations for Gilad’s release. As aresult, activists accuse, Netanyahu prefers toappease the right-wing flanks of his coalition,who largely oppose the prisoner exchange deal.To date, other than repeating regularly that he andhis government “are doing everything they can”but that they will not exchange Gilad “at anyprice,” Netanyahu has declined to provide thepublic with any substantive information regard-ing the status of negotiations or the terms towhich he will, or will not, agree.
A
TTHE BEGINNING OF THEIRordeal, the Shalit family remained quietand reserved, expressing their supportfor the government’s behind-the-scenes efforts tosecure Gilad’s release. But by the 1,000th day of their son’s captivity, in 2009, Noam and AvivaShalit had raised their publicity level, participat-ing in an ongoing vigil in front of the PrimeMinister’s Residence and arranging high-profilemeetings in Israel and abroad.When Netanyahu was elected prime minister,replacing Ehud Olmert, the Shalits went homeagain, agreeing to “give the new prime minister achance.” Their patience has run out.Shalit is the only Israeli known to be held byHamas. According to the Israel Prison Service(IPS), there are some 7,000 Palestinian security
THEJERUSALEMREPORT
JULY 19, 201010
ISRAEL
Daniella Cheslow
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MARCH FOR FREEDOM:Family members of Gilad Shalit and their supporters start their 11-daymarch to Jerusalem near his home in Mitzpe Hila,in northern Israel,on June 27.Shalit wascaptured by Hamas on June 25,2006 and the march is part of a public campaign intended topressure the government to agree to Hamas’s demands to release over 1,000 Palestinianprisoners in exchange for the Israeli soldier.
Frustrated activists ask what more they can do to securethe release of Corporal Gilad Shalit
PrisonerDilemmas
 
prisoners being held within Israel. But a RedCross official has told the Israeli press the IPSfigures do not include 2,401 prisoners who havebeen tried and sentenced, 218 prisoners in admin-istrative detention, and 1,100 security prisoners inthe West Bank, which would put the total numberof prisoners at over 10,000.In September 2009, Israel swapped 20 femaleprisoners for a video of Shalit. Hamas has alsohanded over three letters and an audio tape fromthe captured soldier. But round after round of negotiations between Israel and Hamas havefailed to seal an exchange that will bring himhome, despite mediation attempts by Germanofficials and, it has been reported, Egyptian offi-cials as well. The Israeli government has balked atreleasing some of the prisoners demanded byHamas, afraid of the precedent it would set andthe potential security dangers that these prisonerspose to Israel if released.According to government figures, 42 percentof the 1,150 prisoners released for three IDF sol-diers in 1985 returned to terrorism and, accordingto Israeli assessments, many were leaders of thesecond intifada. The number is even higheramong Hamas members, of whom 63 percentreturn to terrorism, and the Islamic Jihad, forwhich the number rises to 67 percent, the govern-ment says.Israel and Hamas blame each other for thebreakdown of prisoner swap negotiations. But thereasons don’t matter to the tireless, bespectacled,soft-spoken elder Shalit. He fears that his son willdisappear like the fighter pilot Ron Arad, capturedby the Islamic militia Amal in Lebanon, in 1986.For two years, Israel and Amal haggled unsuc-cessfully over a prisoner exchange. Except for apiece of a dog tag, an alleged letter and a fewother purported signs of life, Arad has not beenheard from since.Shalit’s vocal supporters, who view Gilad as asymbol of a breakdown in the social covenantbetween Israel and its citizens, have been lessreserved than the family. They have demonstratedin front of prisons where Israel holds Palestinians,appealing to the prisonersfamilies to considerGilad’s plight. In early June, they appealed to theactivists and militants on the Mavi Marmaraflotilla to Gaza, but were rebuffed and refused.They threatened to organize their own flotilla, butwere dissuaded by government officials. Theyhave also called for tightening the blockade of Gaza, for punitive measures against Palestinianprisoners, and for a host of other ideas.But some contend that these public campaignsare counterproductive because they portrayIsraelis as emotionally weak, which temptsHamas into raising its price and hardening itsstance. And while saying he understood the fam-ily’s feelings, Finance Minister Yuval Steinitz,who is closely politically allied with Netanyahu,argued on Israeli Radio that “freeing hundreds of terrorists with blood on their hands…would havedire consequences for Israel’s ability to deal withterrorism.”
I
N LATE JUNE, THE SHALITS SPOKEat the founding meeting of a Knesset caucusestablished to lobby for the release of theirson, founded by Shaul Mofaz (Kadima), MiriRegev (Likud) and Eitan Cabel (Labor).After the raid on the flotilla in late May, Israelloosened its embargo against Gaza. Libman seesthis as proof that Netanyahu’s hand could beforced in Shalit’s case, too. “We say, Bibi, just asyou open the Gaza borders because of interna-tional pressure, do the same thing for us. Say, ‘Ihave no choice but to release prisoners forShalit.’”“We hear over and over that the State of Israelcan’t go down on its knees, but we see that some-times, it loses its deterrent power when it encoun-ters a few Turks and Malaysians with clubs andknives,” Noam Shalit declared at the Knesset,referring to the IDF flotilla raid on May 31.According to press reports, Netanyahu hasdemanded that his ministers remain “steadfast”and not speak out on the Shalit issue. But there aresigns that the coalition is responding to the publicgroundswell. Regev tells The Report that eventhough her party is in Netanyahu’s governingcoalition, she is putting pressure on him to closethe deal. “The prime minister has to do more,” shesays. “When he goes to a meeting with [USPresident Barak] Obama, Gilad Shalit’s releasehas to be on the table in a very clear way.”And at least three cabinet ministers – EliYishai and Yaakov Margi (both from Shas) andMichael Eitan (Likud) – have announced thatthey will join the march.Internationally, the Shalits have capturedsome public sympathy, especially among Jewishcommunities. The US House of Representativeshas passed a resolution calling for his release andFrench President Nicolas Sarkozy wrote theShalits that he is “indignant that a man could bedeprived of freedom in such a way.” (Gilad holdsdual French-Israeli citizenship.)But it would appear that other, geopolitical,forces may be pitted against Gilad. Hamas, whichviolently took over the Gaza Strip in 2007, andthe more liberal Fatah, the movement of Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbasand the reigning party in the West Bank, are bitterrivals. Aprisoner exchange would show Hamas’spower at the negotiating table with Israel, height-ening its prestige over Fatah. Abbas is rumored tosupport Israel’s ongoing blockade of Gaza as ameans to shore up Fatah’s status.There are indications that the US may also beexerting pressure on Israel not to sign an agree-ment. Aformer Israeli government official, whoasked to remain anonymous, tells The Report thatwhile the United States would like to sign a dealto take attention away from Hamas, Washingtonalso balks at the prospect of strengthening theIslamic faction’s hand.“The Americans feel that to give that manyprisoners, including those with blood on theirhands, in exchange for one soldier creates a dan-gerous precedent not only for Israel but also inIraq and Afghanistan,” the official says. “It couldencourage other radicals to abduct American citi-zens and soldiers.”
I
SRAELI FORMER PRISONER OF WARHezi Shay, 55, believes that he knows whatcan be done to bring Gilad back: Shay andhis supporters say harsher conditions forPalestinian prisoners will encourage their familiesto pressure Hamas into releasing Gilad.Shay was captured and held in Syria for threeyears, following one of the most grueling battlesin Israeli military history, in the village of SultanYaqub in southern Lebanon, in 1982. Eighteensoldiers were killed and five, including Shay,were listed as missing.Assumed dead, Shay was actually held in iso-lation for three years in Syria. He had no contactwith his wife, who was pregnant with their firstchild at the time of his capture. He never saw thesun, and his meals consisted of humus, sardines,halva, cheese and pita. In 1985, Shay’s captors,
THEJERUSALEMREPORT
JULY 19, 201011
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THE PRICE OF THE DEAL:Noah Salameh,58,was arrested in 1970 and released fifteenyears later as part of a prisoner exchange.Now a peace activist,Salameh says thatlimiting Palestinians prisoners’conditions willnot help to bring Gilad Shalit home.

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