The overdue Schalit bill

The attempt to pressure Hamas corrects balance.

gilad schalit 2 298.88 (photo credit: Channel 2)
gilad schalit 2 298.88
(photo credit: Channel 2)
In an attempt to put pressure on the Hamas leadership in Gaza to release Gilad Schalit, the Ministerial Committee for Legislation this week approved a bill that, if ratified, would take away some of the amenities enjoyed by Hamas terrorists currently incarcerated in Israeli prisons, including many captured by the IDF during December 2008-January 2009’s Operation Cast Lead. No longer would these inmates be allowed to enjoy the cultural edification of multi-channel cable TV. Nor would they be permitted to pursue a higher education through Israel’s Open University. Access to books and visits by relatives might be curtailed. Prolonged isolation of prisoners is also being considered.
Obviously, the Geneva Convention governing the proper treatment of prisoners would not be compromised. Prisoners would continue to have access to lawyers and medical treatment.
Until now, Israel has shrunk back from adopting more stringent prison conditions, for fear this would hurt efforts to free Schalit. This, even though sources close to the Schalit family say they have been pushing for just these measures for at least a year. For a time there was hope that Hamas would back down from at least part of its demands to free terrorists responsible for some of the bloodiest attacks ever to be mounted against Israeli civilians. But as time has gone by, it has become apparent that Hamas will not budge on an “exchange” that Israeli security experts argue would significantly compromise security. Now Israel’s official mediator in the Schalit case, Hagai Hadas, is of the opinion that a stiffening of prison terms can’t hurt.
REGARDLESS OF whether taking away their TV remote controls or their capacity to maximize their academic potential brings Schalit’s release closer, it is frankly offensive that Hamas inmates should enjoy such perks at a time when Schalit’s Hamas captors have failed for almost four years to so much as confirm his well-being, and when they continue to flout international humanitarian laws – notably by refusing to allow the Red Cross to visit him.
True to form, without allowing himself to get mixed up by the facts, a Hamas spokesman in Gaza, Sami Abu Zuhri, has had the gall to utilize the term “inhumane conduct” in reference not to his own organization’s mistreatment of Schalit, but to Israel’s treatment of Hamas inmates. Knesset member Ahmed Tibi (UAL-Ta’al), for his part, has misused the freedom of speech rightfully guaranteed him to call the proposed sanctions against Hamas prisoners “demagoguery.”
Though the double standards embraced by Abu Zuhri and Tibi are maddening, and though the ongoing outrage of Schalit’s incarceration is infuriating, Israel is right, of course, to rule out the kinds of prison sanctions that might reduce its handling of Hamas prisoners to the bankrupt moral level shown by Hamas in its abuse of Schalit.
To be told that Schalit is being treated according to Islamic standards of dealing with prisoners of war – as promised in 2007 by Abu Mujahid, a spokesman of the Popular Resistance Committees, one of three Hamas-linked groups that kidnapped him – offers little comfort. The Koran (2:191) teaches that “persecution is worse than slaughter,” and this is interpreted by some Muslim jurists to justify abandoning Islamic rules of war when fighting Israel, which purportedly persecutes through its “occupation” of lands belonging to Islam.
In contrast, the 13th article of the Geneva Convention dealing with the rights of prisoners of war, to which Israel is committed, opens with the sentence, “Prisoners of war must at all times be humanely treated.”
There are those who would argue that a democracy can never prevail against a terror state unless it suspends its freedoms. In reality, the opposite is true. A democracy’s strength derives from its insistence on those freedoms, those moralities, that are denied those who must live under the rule of the likes of Hamas.
In the case of Schalit, an attempt to apply pressure to his captors by denying Hamas inmates benefits and opportunities that Israel has no moral obligation to provide, while remaining thoroughly committed to the provisions of international law on the treatment of prisoners, represents a belated correction of balance. As Schalit nears the end of his fourth year in captivity, may this and other efforts speed his release.