As I am beginning this note, it is 6 AM and the radio is reporting the many details of the transfer of prisoners toward their exchange for Gilad Shalit.
It is not the excitement that put me to work this early. Generally my old bones achieve the rest they need earlier than in years past, and I get to my desk about this time.
Israel media has been at this level of detail for the whole week since the announcement of the deal. It has moved from speculation about the process to the greater certainty of official reports, to this moment of actual description. Along the way reporters indicated that they were not getting the whole story, and were not expecting the whole story from those in charge. The concern has been to mask the actual moves and timetable in order to frustrate Israelis and Palestinians who might be inclined to interfere: Israelis who object to the freedom granted to murderers, and Palestinians who object to relatives who are not on the list of those to be exchanged.
Israeli media deserves some of the credit for the exchange. For much of the five years since Shalit''s capture, the major networks have emphasized his imprisonment, and the suffering of his family. One looking for another approach should tune in to the right wing pirate radio networks that serve the religious communities.
The front page of Ha''aretz is featuring a large cartoon that captures the hysteria. It shows the Prime Minister in a helicopter over the Shalit family home, taking credit for what he has produced. This is Succoth, and generally is a time for Israeli families to visit the Galilee. The Shalit home has been a target of pilgrimage. Nightly news has shown families gathering around the building, pushing their children forward, and occasionally expressing their enthusiasm to one of another family member who ventured outside.
Part of the ritual observed in the most recent week is the airing of objections. While surveys have indicated upwards of 60 percent in favor of the deal, we have heard from the families of those killed by prisoners.
A member of the family that lost several members at the bombing of the Sbarro restaurant in central Jerusalem during 2001 was arrested for defiling the memorial at the site of Yitzhak Rabin''s assassination. While some political activists called that a crime against the nation, the perpetrator was released from custody pending a judicial hearing.
Some security commentators have expressed their reservations, even while the theme from the pinnacle of the military and other security services is support for the exchange.
Political commentators have said that Prime Minister Netanyahu will benefit in the short run, but will be the first to be blamed when the inevitable happens and one or more of the released prisoners returns to violence and commits the first deadly act traceable to the exchange.
We have heard that one of the prisoners being exchanged said that he does not regret his previous actions. He has dedicated his life to killing Jews, and he looks forward to returning to that activity. A number of prisoners initially refused to sign the commitment not to engage in violence as a condition of their release. That news was part of last evening''s coverage. Reporters suggested that it might affect the exchange. A few minutes later, however, something had caused those prisoners to change their mind and sign the document. One can guess as to whether that was the result of a spiritual experience or a response to pressures of the moment that might not influence whatever happens once the shackles have been removed.
At least one of the prisoners to be released comes from Isaweea, the not so friendly neighborhood across a meadow. We''ll have to see how this affects our usual evening walk around French Hill. Currently there is a police helicopter circling overhead.
The routine applicable to such a process provides a period of 48 hours to inspect the list of prisoners about to be released, and to submit objections to the Supreme Court. Yesterday the Court heard testimony from mid-morning into the evening, and the judges chosen for the task announced their decision after I went to bed. As expected, and has occurred in previous occasions, they indicated that they would not interfere in a decision that was essentially political.
Other objections focused on the pardons signed by President Peres. A legal scholar criticized the mass nature of the signing, which differs from the deliberate and individual process of reviewing the crimes of those asking a pardon, along with testimony about the individual''s intentions and professional assessments by psychologists and penal officials. Despite some kind words directed at the families of those killed, and a statement saying that he did not forgive and would not forget their crimes, the President put his name on the documents necessary to free some 450 individuals at this phase of the exchange.
The code name given to the operation is שואבה (vacuum cleaner). That can mean getting the problem of Gilad Shalit off the agenda, as well as sweeping more than 1,000 individuals out of Israeli prisons.
My own view is that five years of deliberation and negotiations most likely achieved the best deal that Israel can expect. Palestinians did not get all of the prisoners they wanted. Israel did not keep all the most objectionable off the list. Chances are that some will return to violence. Those enthusiastic about the exchange and those intense in their opposition will then have an opportunity to express themselves. One can hope for an end to this and similar processes, but one should not expect that to occur.
Optimists are talking about a new perspective in the Middle East. Hamas is up, Fatah down. Israel and Hamas have shown that they can deal with one another.
Is this the first stage toward mutual recognition. There are contrary reports about the imminent easing of the blockade on Gaza. What about those factions even more dedicated than Hamas to attacking Israelis at all opportunity, and the continued movement of weapons from Libya and elsewhere via Sinai to Gaza?
Gilad Shalit is not the Messiah, and does not assure Salvation.