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Shedding new light on Shalit: a different perspective on the prisoner exchange

Published: October 21, 2011
Section: Opinions


The “Shalit Deal” with Hamas is not something the average Brandeis student has managed to avoid. According to the deal, Gilad Shalit was released in exchange for 1,027 Palestinian prisoners from the West Bank, Gaza Strip and Israel, some of whom returned to their homes while some were deported. The popular media in Israel continuously and systematically referred to these 1,027 as “terrorists.”

I have personally noticed many students discussing this deal in reality but mostly in the “statusphere,” on Facebook and Twitter. To me, as a (Palestinian) Israeli, this seems perfectly natural, since I have noticed the close relationship between hot topics in Israel and at Brandeis.

It is obvious that this deal would be heavily discussed in a university with such a large and diverse Zionist community. The deal is in fact a historic, defining moment in the history of Israel and the conflict, and in the Middle East in general. I feel confused, however, when thinking of the emotional responses of Brandeisians to this deal, reflecting exactly the sentiments and emotions in the Israeli streets with regard to the long-term benefits and detriments of the deal, reciting precisely what the Israeli media is feeding to the Israeli public.

According to what I have seen and read, we can divide the popular reaction in Israeli media into two parts: First, there was an unprecedented national support for the deal. This is very important to emphasize, since one should be surprised to find such sweeping support for a prisoner deal with Hamas. It is even more surprising when you look at the sheer number of prisoners being released.

The second part of the media’s reaction is precisely this: Is it worth it? Is it reasonable to release 1,027 “terrorists” in exchange for “our boy”? Is it worth risking Israel’s national security for Gilad’s sake?

No one spoke about the Palestinian response to the deal in Israeli media. They focused on the dangerous individuals being released and ignored the mass celebrations in the streets of Gaza (which had more than 200,000 participants). For them, 1,027 “Gilad Shalits” will be released. I invite all of you (who are at least somewhat proficient in Hebrew) to visit the Israeli Prison Service website, which has a list of the 477 Palestinian prisoners already released. Note how many of them are actually the dangerous individuals the Israeli media mentions and how many of them are unaffiliated with any organizations and have no information regarding the crime they supposedly committed. Remember, in the Occupied Territories 16 year olds are treated as adults and can be imprisoned and, most importantly, there is no distinction between assaulting IDF soldiers (armed resistance) and civilians (criminal offense). I also invite you to read David Grossman’s “The Yellow Wind,” in which he visits the courts and prisons of the West Bank and details how minors are being sent to jail and how some have been kidnapped and jailed for years without a trial, often times simply for being affiliated with a certain group and without having violated any law.

This is the problem. The Palestinian Average Joe is extremely happy about the deal: For them, it is a huge tactical win, as opposed to how it is for the Israelis, for whom this is merely a happy moment. For Hamas this is a tactical win because now they can confidently say their method works; they can confidently tell their people that they can bring their loved ones back to their homes. Already people are calling for the second Gilad Shalit.

No one mentions that the Palestinians released into the West Band the Gaza Strip are still serving a life sentence: Their prison, however, is their home. Their prison is the illegal ongoing occupation of Palestinian territories and the non-existence of a future that they can look forward to. On Oct. 18, I was happy. I was happy for the Shalit family and for the families of the 1,027. But I was also ashamed to be a Palestinian and an Israeli, for we are now further away from a reasonable solution to the conflict. Israel will now be more inclined to tighten the blockade of Gaza since those “dangerous” individuals are now back, and the occupation will continue. This, in turn, will only enrage the Palestinians, contributing to the endless circle of hate in the Middle East.

The illegal occupation must end; the illegal blockade of Gaza must end; a Palestinian state must be instated based on the 1967 borders; freedom of movement for Palestinians in the West Bank must be assured; the illegal separation wall must be torn down; and the illegal settlement in the West Bank must cease. Those are preconditions for negotiations since negotiations can be held only if both sides are equal.