Five notes on the Schalit deal

Why did Noam and Aviva Schalit not turn to the Red Cross, Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch, Brussels, Washington, London to help free their son?

President Shimon Peres with Aviva and Noam Schalit (photo credit: REUTERS)
President Shimon Peres with Aviva and Noam Schalit
(photo credit: REUTERS)
•Now that Gilad Schalit has returned safely, all we can do is share in the Schalit family’s unbridled joy. But it also worthwhile to consider the family’s campaign to win their son’s release, and to compare it to other hostage situations.
From the beginning of the crisis, Noam and Aviva Schalit focused their campaign on the Israeli government, demanding the government bow to Hamas’s demands, rather than demanding on the international stage that their son be afforded the basic human rights afforded all other prisoners-of-war.
The unhappy reality is that as an IDF soldier, and especially as one serving in a combat unit on the border of enemy territory, Gilad Schalit undertook his duties with the full knowledge that he could be killed or taken captive in the line of duty.
Sadly, that happened.
But instead of enlisting the international community to demand Geneva Convention rights like Red Cross visits and a sign of life from the hostage, the Schalits demanded that Israel release terrorists. Instead of demanding that organizations like Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch throw the full weight of their influence behind Gilad’s case, the Schalits demonized successive Israeli governments for “failing” to secure a deal.
Compare the Schalits’ campaign to that of Avital Sharansky, who pounded Western capitals for nine years to win the freedom of her husband, Natan, from the Soviet Union, but would never have even raised the spectre of a 1,027-to-one deal with president Ronald Reagan or British prime minister Margaret Thatcher.
In the current instance, one would have expected Noam and Aviva Schalit to have made themselves frequent visitors to Washington, London and Brussels, and especially to Ankara and Oslo, both of which maintain close ties with Hamas and consider the Islamist organization a legitimate player in the Middle East political game, in order to win Gilad’s release.
Yes, all responsible parents would have raised hell in order to save their hostage son, but unfortunately the Schalit family directed their campaign in the direction of the one party that should not have been asked to pay for Gilad’s release – Israeli society.
• THE TIME is now to initiate a full public discussion into Israel’s policy of terrorists-for-hostages swaps, and to publish the 2009 Shamgar commission findings and to legislate a clear policy to guide future hostage crises.
One can certainly not fault the Schalit family for demanding the release of terrorists in light of Israel’s long history of making similar deals, nor the four-fifths of Israeli adults who supported the deal. But by nature, hostage crises require nerves of steel and a keen eye on the future.
Decisions, especially in situations of life-and-death, must be made as the result of cold, calculated reasoning.
Allowing emotions to overtake rational thinking is a recipe for disaster.
Now that the Schalit hostage crisis is over, the Shamgar Commission should release its findings immediately and the issue should be dealt with publicly. Most importantly, the Israeli public should be given the opportunity to participate in clarifying negotiating principles, because ultimately it is Israeli society that will be asked to pay the price of future prisoner swaps.
• IN THE absence of a clear policy for the future, I cannot understand why Israel only released 1,027 prisoners.
With thousands more still in Israeli jails and clear evidence that kidnapping Israelis is an effective – and acceptable to Israel – form of lobbying for their release, the clock is ticking on the next hostage situation.
There is no reason to expect that Palestinian groups would end kidnapping operations and terror attacks were Israel to grant an across-the-board pardon to all Palestinian prisoners, but releasing them would at least remove one oft-mentioned Palestinian justification for kidnapping IDF soldiers.
Having ceded the moral justification of keeping murderers behind bars, and agreed to sacrifice civilians in future in exchange for Schalit, it is hard to justify keeping some killers in jail while others have been released.
• THERE IS no proof to support the claim made by supporters of lopsided hostage deals that motivation to serve in IDF goes down when soldiers are held captive because soldiers fear the country could abandon them, too, on the battlefield.
But there is anecdotal evidence that combat soldiers now question the wisdom of putting their lives on the line in order to arrest suspects in hornet nests like Jenin and Hebron. As one current IDF infantry soldier said to me, “Why should we put our lives in danger when the suspects we’re going to arrest will only be released?
• SUPPORTERS OF the deal, beginning with the Schalit family, have praised Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu for his “brave leadership” by agreeing to violate his stated principles in order to conclude the deal.
But the opposite would seem to be the correct analysis of the prime minister’s behavior. As a young man, prepolitics, and later as a member of the opposition, Netanyahu spelled out clear stances about prisoner swaps, the peace process, a Palestinian state and more. As prime minister, he has about-faced on all these issues. As the prime minister prepares for re-election no later than mid-2013, the gap between his rhetoric and performance will play a role for many of his core supporters.
The writer is opinion editor of The Jerusalem Post.