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 prisoners’families 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.”
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.”
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,
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DA NI E L L A CHE S L OW
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.