July 4 has very different significance for Americans and Israelis. But both, in
their own way, reflect independence. While the United States was busy
celebrating its bi-centennial on July 4, 1976, this date went down in history for
another reason. It was the day that Israeli forces pulled off the most daring
counterterror operation ever: freeing the hostages hijacked aboard an Air France
flight and held, until the dramatic rescue, at Uganda’s Entebbe
No wonder movies were made about it. Some 100 hostages were set
free by IDF commandos who had traveled 4,000 km. to reach them rather than
negotiate with terrorists. Three hostages were killed in the raid and another, a
woman who had been hospitalized, was later murdered.
The only fatality
among the rescuers was the raid’s commander, Yoni Netanyahu. It was current
Defense Minister Ehud Barak, as the commanding officer of the elite Sayeret
Matkal unit, who chose Bibi Netanyahu over his brother for the rescue mission of
a hijacked Sabena plane in 1972.
Barak once told me how he “consoled”
Yoni, telling him there would be future operations in which he would take
One assumes that the price of rescue operations remains at the back
of the minds of both Prime Minister Netanyahu and Defense Minister
Ditto, the price of terror. Not so far at the back of their minds,
Which is why the “Free Gilad Schalit” march – full of the best
intentions – seems to be heading in the wrong direction.
Who can blame
the Schalit family, four years after their son was abducted, for setting out on
an all-or-nothing campaign for his release? But the fact that their 11-day march
will take them from their Galilee home to the Prime Minister’s Residence in
Jerusalem shows they might be sadly off course.
Netanyahu, and his
immediate predecessors, might have missed opportunities to obtain Schalit’s
freedom – and certainly there are those who feel that Barak as prime minister
squandered chances to discover the fate of Israeli POWs missing since the First
Lebanon War in June 1982 – but ultimately one thing needs to be kept in mind:
Netanyahu is not the one holding Schalit.
Whatever you think of his
politics and character, he is not the bad guy in this case. Hamas is holding
Damascus-based Hamas chief Khaled Mashaal just last week said
the organization would abduct more IDF soldiers if Israel didn’t meet all its
demands and set free every last prisoner on the list it had drawn up.
trouble is, I suspect Hamas will carry on trying to abduct soldiers – and maybe
civilians – even if Israel does give in and meet its demands.
The day in
February 2004 that Hizbullah returned the remains of abducted soldiers St.-Sgts.
Benny Avraham, Adi Avitan and Omar Sawayid and kidnapped alleged criminal
Elhanan Tenenbaum – in return for 400 terrorists – a suicide bomber blew up a
Jerusalem bus close to the Prime Minister’s Residence, killing 10 people and
Government figures released last week, in an obvious
attempt to counteract the effect of the Schalits’ media-event march, show that
52 percent of those released in the deal that day have returned to terrorism,
killing another 27 Israelis.
ON JULY 4, 2006, a few days after Schalit’s
abduction, a rocket launched from Gaza landed – for the first time – in the
center of Ashkelon, in a school playground, sending “what-if” type shock waves
around the country. By the end of the month, much of the North was under attack
in what was to become the Second Lebanon War.
Since then, we have also
had what amounts to a war in Gaza.
Hamas to the south, Hizbullah to the
north – and their sponsors in Damascus and Teheran – all watch how Jerusalem
responds to attacks and determine their actions accordingly. They also monitor
how the world reacts, and at the moment they have more reason to feel encouraged
than Israelis do.
Israel wants to demonstrate to the Palestinians in
general, and Hamas and Hizbullah in particular, that kidnapping does not pay.
But it is in a trap.
While Hamas continues to blame Netanyahu for
Schalit’s plight – without a trace of irony or shame – it is clear that a mass
prisoner release in return for Schalit will not only strengthen Hamas by
numbers, it will send out a message to Palestinian Authority head Mahmoud Abbas.
Abbas, who has been unsuccessful in negotiating a mass release of Fatah
prisoners in Israeli jails, will hear the following: There is no point in
negotiating with the Zionists.
Force, Hamas-style, is the only language
There will be others in the Arab and Islamist world
receiving the same signal and it does not bode well.
As a Post editorial
pointed out last week, Hamas has not even bothered to answer Israel’s offer,
made six months ago, to release 1,000 terrorists, including 450 Hamas
operatives, 100 of whom are murderers responsible for the deaths of about 600
Israelis, and an additional 550 Fatah prisoners.
Netanyahu has (so far)
rejected Hamas’s demands to include “mega terrorists” like those responsible for
the 2001 suicide bombing in Jerusalem’s Sbarro restaurant that killed 15; the
2001 bombing of Tel Aviv’s Dolphinarium that killed 21; the 2002 Rishon Lezion
attack in which 16 were killed; the Moment Café where 11 were killed in 2002 – a
few meters from the Prime Minister’s Residence; and the infamous Netanya Park
Hotel massacre in 2002 when 30 people were killed for the crime of gathering for
a Seder night meal.
MY HEART goes out to the Schalits. My mind says they
are heading in the wrong direction – they should be heading for the border with
Gaza for a mammoth media event. The Prime Minister’s Residence in Jerusalem is
the wrong address. They not only run the risk of raising the price for their own
son, but if they can show Hamas that Netanyahu can’t withstand the pressure,
they are raising the inevitable price that will be paid by others later on. And
although we assume Schalit is still alive – partly because he is still worth
more alive than dead to Hamas – without a visit by the Red Cross we cannot
Sadly, by focusing on Netanyahu, the family and supporters
are also creating a divide along political lines in one of the few issues on
which the country is united, that Gilad Schalit should be home.
tragedy, in fact, has drawn people together well beyond Israel’s
borders. As his
parents prepared to start their march from their Galilee home, vigils
rallies were held in places ranging from Paris and Rome to Los Angeles,
and New York.
On June 24, the “True Freedom Flotilla” sailed from Pier 40
on Manhattan’s West Side to the United Nations building on the East Side
peaceful but demonstrative show of support for a real humanitarian
More is at stake than the fate of Schalit. The entire country is
being held hostage. Now is not the time for division. Whatever the
Schalit’s terrible ordeal, the life-anddeath implications of the
now will continue to affect all of us well into the future.The writer is
the editor of The International Jerusalem Post.[email protected]