Gilad Schalit hugs father Noam, PM in background 311 .
(photo credit: GPO)
Gilad Schalit, an Israeli soldier kidnapped by Hamas extremists, was released
last week after being held captive for five years. In exchange, Israel released
1,027 out of the 5,554 Palestinians held in Israeli prisons.
sources say that most of these individuals have been tried and sentenced, but
Palestinian and human rights groups say the deliberations are often sham trials
that sometimes last as little as seven minutes. Immediately, Palestinians and
Israelis began attacking each other.Israelis argued that Schalit was being
traded for 1,027 terrorists.
Hamas declared that although they were
releasing Schalit, they would grab another Israeli soldier as soon as they
Palestinians were outspoken in defending some of the most
notorious prisoners who were released, including two women who were involved in
assisting the suicide bomber who massacred civilians at the Sbarro Pizza
restaurant in Jerusalem and one who lured an Israeli boy on the Internet to a
But I was most impressed with Schalit, who upon leaving his
captivity, said that he hoped the prisoner exchange would kick-start the Middle
East peace process. He also said he hoped all of the Palestinian prisoners would
soon be released, too, on the condition that they didn’t return to
Some Israelis argued that Schalit was merely speaking out of
the trauma of his experience, something that many hostages often do, expressing
sympathy with their captors.To them, the newlyreleased hostage was reminiscent
of Patti Hearst, the daughter of American newspaper baron William Randolph
Hearst who was taken hostage in 1974 by a handful of crackpots called the
Symbionese Liberation Army. Held captive for only a few weeks in isolation and
assaulted with constant propaganda and brainwashing, she ended up carrying a
weapon to help the extremists rob a bank. Eventually, she came out of her
I’m not saying that Schalit is anything like Hearst.
Schalit was in prison for more than five years.
Hearst was held captive
for a few months. In captivity for so long, I would think that despite being
held hostage, he might come to understand the softer side of his
According to Hamas, Schalit was not tortured. In contrast,
Palestinians complain of torture all the time. Few, if any, of the terrorists
convicted of mass murder have ever expressed remorse for their actions, whereas
some Israeli soldiers have expressed remorse for their actions after completing
their military service.
Yet in all of this back and forth blame game –
the game we usually always play when anything happens, are we missing an
opportunity? Maybe Schalit is doing what we should all do. Not just Israelis but
Palestinians, too. Maybe we should express compassion for the other
Israelis who say that all of those in prison are terrorists are
surely exaggerating and expressing feelings of anger rather than
Critics say many of the prisonsers are civilians who were grabbed
simply because they were dissidents.
Israelis hate it when I refer to the
Israeli prison system as a “gulag” because, like the word “apartheid,” it
exaggerates the reality of the Israeli prison system. Israeli prisons are not
comparable to the Soviet gulag where dissidents were sent and murdered, just as
the Israeli reality for Palestinians is far less oppressive than anything black
South Africans experienced under Afrikaner rule.
But those words are
thrown at Israel often. What’s the point? To hurt Israelis. It might have worked
decades ago. But today, it only feeds the growing extremism and hardening of the
Israeli public’s views.
Israelis do the same when they say Palestinians
hate Israelis and want to destroy Israel.
Is it really that simple? Could
the reality possibly be just a bit more complex, and that we simply lack
courageous leaders who can help us see through the fog of our cumulative
societal angers? What I saw in the Schalit-Palestinian prisoner exchange,
however, was one little glimmer of light breaking through the dark clouds that
have embraced Israelis and Palestinians now for more than a decade since the
collapse of the Declaration of Principles that were a sound basis for a genuine
peace laid out between Israeli prime minister Yitzhak Rabin and then-PLO
chairman Yasser Arafat.
For the briefest of moments last Tuesday, I saw a
moment of unity.
Palestinians celebrating the return of their people and
Israelis celebrating the return of one of their soldiers.For the first time, I
saw both sides celebrating simultaneously, instead of assaulting each other
verbally and/or physically.
The real fight in Israel and Palestine is
between extremists and moderates. I know the majority of Palestinians and
Israelis are moderates.
We just need to remind ourselves of that fact. If
you, for even one brief moment, felt any optimism at all from the prisoner
exchange, then the pilot light exists that can reignite the peace
That’s one celebration I hope to experience again.The
writer is an award winning Palestinian columnist. He can be reached at