Encountering peace: Terrible times

It reminds me of the very long and sad years that Gilad Schalit was in captivity. The media had to say something.

Youtube satire of kidnapped teens (photo credit: YOUTUBE SCREENSHOT)
Youtube satire of kidnapped teens
(photo credit: YOUTUBE SCREENSHOT)
These are terrible times. There is a great sense of helplessness in having to sit and wait for some good news about the three abducted Israeli teens. It is a devastating situation that once again confronts the whole country. The news is empty and repetitive. There is nothing to report, and the popular anger toward the Palestinians enables baseless accusations to be interpreted as fact.
I couldn’t sit and watch all of the talking heads on all of the television stations broadcasting all day long. All of the former generals and retired Shin Bet (Israel Security Agency) experts talking as if they actually knew something. I received at least 50 calls to be one of those talking heads.
I refused. The stations need to fill airtime, and I would only critique what I believe was the wrong approach of the search from the beginning, as well as the assumption that Hamas was behind the kidnapping, which did not make any sense to me. It still doesn’t.
It seems to me that fixation on Hamas has perhaps led to the overlooking of other potential suspects. However, the search is in any case being conducted among the thousands of wells, holes, cisterns, caves and cracks in the earth all over the Hebron hills where it is most likely the three boys are being held.
I don’t believe much of what is said in the news. The journalists, with all due respect, don’t have any real information.
It reminds me of the very long and sad years that Gilad Schalit was in captivity. The media had to say something.
They didn’t have real information, so they made it up. I also don’t believe all of the reports of 70 previous attempts of kidnapping over the past three years. Sorry, I don’t buy it. No evidence has been presented – no names of accused kidnappers and no details. Statements like this are easy to make and the public is more than prepared to accept them without question. Every arrested Palestinian seeking to be a hero in their own community can also easily say that he was trying to kidnap a soldier.
Kidnapping our children is not such a complicated mission.
They wander all over the country, day and night, hitch-hiking or just waiting at empty bus stops. It is no real challenge to force them into a car and drive away. It is not rocket science to plan and to execute the kidnapping of three teens. Buying a stolen Israeli car in the Hebron area is no challenge; it’s not even very expensive. Setting up a hiding place with supplies for several weeks is not too difficult. The last place the kidnappers would chose to hide is in a city or town – there are too many collaborators with Israeli security and too many people could find them. But in the hills or the desert areas they could hide for weeks without having to go out or to make contact with others. They don’t need a big organization or a lot of money.
If they are interested in negotiating for a prisoner release, it will get very complicated, in fact almost impossible, for them to remain hidden. They will have to communicate with someone on the outside. That would be their first mistake – operationally – and would probably get them caught. They will eventually need supplies, and that could also easily expose them.
I hope the captors are planning a negotiation; it is the one way to ensure that the kidnapped boys remain alive.
If the kidnappers are not interested in negotiating, the teens may not be alive, and their bodies may never be found. I am sorry to be so blunt. The entire country is engaged in this tragic event and we must also be prepared for the worst.
This tragic event has also brought great suffering to thousands of Palestinians, who are guilty of no wrongdoing but are caught up events beyond their control. Most Palestinians I have spoken with don’t even believe that there was a kidnapping. From their view point the whole affair was fabricated to force Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas to abandon the reconciliation with Hamas. This is absolutely ridiculous, but from where they sit it is not an unreasonable conclusion.
No evidence has been presented to back up the claim of the prime minister that without a doubt Hamas is behind the abduction. Hundreds of Palestinians have been rounded up and arrested. Hundreds of homes have been broken into and totally messed up in the middle of the night. Anyone connected to Hamas in any way has been arrested.
Many of those prisoners released in the Schalit exchange have been re-arrested as well. Many of them were bad people who did very bad things, but the charge that tens of them had returned to terror is false. I don’t believe it.
Some of them violated the terms of their parole and some of them had already been re-arrested – and many of them re-released – before the kidnapping. No evidence has been presented and now, as the state prosecutors will have to prove to the courts that they had returned to terror, I am quite sure that the numbers of those re-incarcerated for returning to violence will diminish significantly.
I am also quite sure we will not hear about this in the news. Rather, the public will remember well that tens of the released prisoners returned to terror.
The deal to release Schalit was a bad one. There is no argument about that – 1,027 prisoners for one soldier. In the first wave of release – 450 plus 27 additional women prisoners, over 400 had blood on their hands – including the blood of my wife’s cousin. It was a terrible deal. Most of those 400 were deported and sent to Gaza. There was much justified anger in Israel about the prisoner releases in the context of the Kerry initiative, with the result that the government used this opportunity to put them back in prison. There are now about 6,000 Palestinians in Israeli prisons.
There is no doubt that the best situation for Israel would be a military rescue of the boys, as it would have been for Gilad Schalit. But we all remember Nachshon Wachsman, who was killed in the raid to save him together with the commando commander Nir Poraz. Nine other soldiers were wounded in the raid. Had Schalit remained in captivity another month, he would have died. This the public does not know. He was suffering from acute malnutrition and he could not hold his food down. He had not eaten for weeks prior to his release.
It is true that Schalit was a soldier, sent to defend his country, and soldiers fall in the line of duty. But Schalit was alive, as we hope the three teens are. Gilad as a soldier compelled Israeli society to live up to its own values and the unwritten covenant between the state and the army which enables Israel to have a people’s army. It enables us to send ourselves and our children to the army.
We expect the state to do the same for those three missing teens, Gilad, Eyal and Naftali. We have the same feeling that we did toward Schalit – they are our children and they must be brought home. For the sake of us all, Israelis and Palestinians, I hope that they are safe and are reunited with their families quickly. I hope that we won’t be faced with the need to negotiate their release. I fear the worst, for the boys, their families, for Israel and for Palestine too.
The author is co-chairman of IPCRI, the Israel Palestine Creative Regional Initiatives, a columnist for The Jerusalem Post and the initiator and negotiator of the secret back channel for the release of Gilad Schalit. His new book Freeing Gilad: the Secret Back Channel has been published by Kinneret Zmora Bitan in Hebrew and The Negotiator: Freeing Gilad Schalit from Hamas from The Toby Press.