If he is still alive, and if he is still in Gaza, Gilad Schalit has now passed five years as a captive. The lack of certainty reflects the absence of information about his existence for a year or more. His captives have never allowed a visit with an independent source, such as the International Red Cross.
The days surrounding the anniversary of his capture have seen an increase in media exposure for his family, and those protesting the lack of success in arranging a deal for his return.
There is at least a bit of politics in the events. A left leaning media has given a great deal of attention to those protesting against the government for not complying with the Gazans'' shopping list of prisoners to be released. Some of those protesting are retired senior officials of the security services, along with individuals prominent in the entertainment industry. All that I have noticed are familiar, from their involvement in other causes that I would not taint as extreme, but which have been left of center.
Prominent among the demonstrations has been the filming and screening on prime time news of well known figures spending an hour each in a mock-up of a grimy cell. Some of them have acted out a sense of rage, screaming and throwing things against the wall.
Organizers have posted a telephone number and urge individuals to send a text message reading "in favor" (of a deal). I have not heard them inviting text messages reading "opposed."
There is a counter public that is strongly opposed to freeing invidividuals "with blood on their hands," and especially those guilty of the ugliest or most costly actions. Family members of those killed are prominent among those opposed to a deal. However, some family members of victims support a deal, and say that peace will only come with reconciliation.
Military norms have played a part on both sides of the issue. In favor of a deal, or even "of paying any price," is the assertion that Israel has always done everything possible to return its soldiers to their families. Individuals have called this the unbreakable covenant between Israel, its soldiers, and their families. The term "covenant" has religious overtones, suggesting a sacred bond.
On the other hand, senior military officers have noted that soldiers are trained to do everything possible to avoid capture, and to foil attempts to capture any of their colleagues. The definition of "everything" is not spelled out publicly in a culture opposed to suicide or killing, but the IDF''s policy does challenge the claim about an unbreakable bond that is worth any price in order to maintain.
The possibility of a rescue operation has not been prominent among the topics discussed in the media. Military officers have said they have not succeeded in locating the place of his captivity. Even if that is disinformation meant to lull the enemy, the prospects of a rescue are affected by the same kind of arithmetic motivating those who oppose the release of prisoners likely to engage in further violence. How many soldiers or civilians do you risk to save how many? And what is the prospect of getting to Schalit and bringing him back to Israel while he remains alive?
Negotiations involving Schalit have been at one or another level of activity or inactivity for the whole time of his capture. Due to his French as well as Israeli citizenships, Nicolas Sarkozy has stated on several occasions that his government is doing everything it can.
Jimmy Carter played a role some time ago in trying to carry messages between Schalit and his family.
The family has come to accuse the Prime Minister of major responsibility for not agreeing to the Gazans'' demands. Schalit''s grandfather has been the most extreme, saying that Netanyahu''s obstinence will cause Gilad''s death.
As far as we can tell, the picture is more complex. Netanyahu has said that he is willing to pay a great deal. The numerical demand of 1,000 prisoners does not seem to be a stumbling block. More important are some of the individuals being demanded, and the refusal of the Israeli government to release young murderers likely to cause the deaths of more Israelis. Some individuals may be released if they are prevented from returning to the West Bank or Gaza. European countries have been approached for providing them entry and supervision. A German mediator has worked to arrange a deal, and occasionally officials from Egypt and other countries have put their hands into the pot. Gazans are widely condemned for violating international law for not permitting any visits, or assuring a minimum level of conditions for Schalit.
Here as elsewhere, international law is more often proclaimed than enforced. There is also a problem in that it is designed to operate against states, while the various groups in Gaza are not that.
The Israeli government has indicated that it will worsen the conditions of its prisoners who are affiliated with Hamas. Among the reductions mentioned: fewer visits, a canceling of academic programs that have allowed prisoners to pursue advanced degrees, and some cases of solitary confinement. This has brought a sincere sounding proclamation from Hamas that Israel is threatening to violate international law.
The variety of Gazan groups and those affiliated with them have been part of the problem in arranging a deal. While reports provided to the public may be less than complete and less than accurate, there are indications that the Israeli government and some Gazan organizations have reached draft agreements, only to be vetoed by other Gazan organizations or the "Diaspora" affiliates of the most prominent organization, Hamas.
Signs are that this will continue for some time.
Next up: A media frenzy about a flotilla that may already be heading toward Gaza.