The day the Israeli media reported on Defense Minister Ehud Barak’s controversial decision to allow a top Hamas terrorist’s daughter to leave the Gaza Strip for medical treatment was the day Hamas decided to release its new feature film.
The animated movie showing Noam Schalit wandering the streets of an Israeli city in a dream that ends with his son Gilad’s return in a coffin is a cynical attempt by Hamas to jump-start the negotiations with Israel over a prisoner swap that would culminate in Schalit’s return to Israel and the release of hundreds of Palestinian prisoners.
Israeli defense officials who watched the movie on Sunday understood it as part of a Hamas psychological warfare campaign to awake the Israeli public from its post-Independence Day and Pessah slumber and get Schalit back on the nation’s agenda.
It is no secret that since the German-brokered negotiations broke down earlier this year, the talks with Hamas have mostly been at a standstill, with neither side demonstrating a readiness to budge. The original offer had included the release of 1,000 prisoners for Schalit, including several hundred “with blood on their hands,” a code term for terrorists. In its debates over the deal, Israel wanted to transfer around 120 of the prisoners scheduled to be released to the West Bank to the Gaza Strip or even overseas. Hamas refused.
Hamas has a number of reasons for getting antsy about the deal. On the one hand, it has told its constituents that it would bring their relatives home in exchange for Schalit. Almost four years have passed and it has yet to stand by its word.
Second, the IDF’s Operation Cast Lead last year showed Hamas leaders
that holding on to Schalit does not grant them immunity and that Israel
will not hesitate to invade Gaza or assassinate Hamas leaders, even at
the risk of Schalit being harmed as a result.
Third, Hamas is looking to boost its popularity ahead of this summer’s
municipal elections in the West Bank and possible general elections in
the Palestinian Authority by the end of the year. A mass prisoner
release, which it would receive credit for, would undoubtedly help
Hamas in the polls.
While the movie is hard to watch, it does accurately show how Israeli
leaders – including former prime minister Ehud Olmert, opposition
leader Tzipi Livni and current Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu – have
promised to do all they can to secure Schalit’s release. This movie is
a reminder of that promise.