Saving Gilad Shalit
October 19, 2011 4 Comments
One has to admire the dedication among Israelis for safeguarding their people. Some people I know have balked at the numbers: over a thousand convicted enemy leaders and fighters for a single captured Israeli soldier (Islamists must surely be comforted at the thought that one of them is worth about 70 grams of a single Israeli). I expected so much. Israel has a record of lopsided prisoner exchanges: the vile Samir Kuntar and several other terrorists freed for two Israeli corpses in 2008; 5,500 Egyptian soldiers following the Sinai campaign of 1956 for the lives of the four Israeli captured Israelis; and the over 8,000 Egyptians following the 1973 Yom Kippur War given in exchange for 240 Israeli soldiers.
The policy has deep roots in Jewish history. Jewish communities were often vulnerable to bandits and governments who kidnapped for high ransom. Duty to a captured Jew always prevailed over fears of encouraging future kidnappings and the financial burden. From Israel Abraham’s classic Jewish Life in the Middle Ages:
When toward the end of the fifteenth century Alfonso V of Portugal captured the African seaports, Arzilla and Tangier, he carried off 250 Jews of both sexes and every age, and sold them as slaves throughout the kingdom. The Portuguese Jews applied to Yechiel of Pisa, financier and philanthropist, and he generously assisted his brethren. Lisbon Jews formed a representative committee of twelve members, and the famous statesman-scholar Don Isaac Abrabanel himself travelled over the whole country and redeemed the Jewish slaves, often at a high price. The ransomed Jews and Jewesses, adults and children, were clothed, lodged, and maintained until they had learned the language of the country and were able to support themselves.
Such acts are the definition of people-hood, of a nation. It is similarly good policy in a country where most of its Jewish youth must sacrifice years of their lives in its defense. I always knew Shalit would come home, no matter what the price. Gilad is everyone’s son, everyone’s brother. It was impossible not to get emotional on seeing the footage of a son embracing his father for the first time in five years.
Gilad looked gaunt. “He suffers from several light wounds that persisted as result of lacking treatment, shrapnel injuries and the implications of not being exposed to sunlight,” Noam Shalit said. “He came out of some dark pit or dark cellar and encountered such commotion out here.” The Israelis were dignified in their treatment of a young man who hadn’t even seen sunlight in several years. There was no intensive questioning, and he was quickly escorted to his home in northern Israel.
That was a great contrast to the unscrupulous Egyptian television reporters and the awful BBC (which should really adopt a more accurate name, like Palestine Update or PUTV). The Jerusalem Post reports that Gilad’s interview was used as propaganda. Behind him was an intimidating minder in a balaclava and a Qassam Brigade green headband. The journalist interviewing him sat by an Egyptian flag. He had already fainted once on his journey to Egypt. Yet he faced bizarre, intense questioning and had his answers deliberately mistranslated by both Egyptian and BBC/Palestine Update interpreters.
‘“During all that time of captivity, you did just one video to tell the world and your family that you’re alive,” she tells the soldier. “Why just once? Why didn’t it happen again?” Rather than letting him answer, however, Schalit’s Hamas minder-cum-interpreter scolds Amin for asking the same question twice (a peculiar accusation, given the footage shows the question hadn’t been asked before).
‘The resulting argument between interviewer and minder is one of the interview’s more regrettable scenes. Amin says Schalit appears unwell, and “that’s why I’m asking the question again” – as if drilling him repeatedly will have a salutary effect. The question is itself absurd, roughly tantamount to asking a hostage victim why he or she didn’t escape sooner.
‘… Amin proceeds to ask Schalit what “lessons” he learned in captivity. After asking for the question to be repeated, he says he believes a deal could have been reached sooner. Here the Hamas minder renders his response as praise for reaching a deal “in such short time”- a mistranslation repeated by the BBC’s own interpreter.
‘”Gilad, you know what it’s like to be in captivity,” Amin continues as the painful charade drags on. “There are more than 4,000 Palestinians still languishing in Israeli jails. Will you help campaign for their release?”
‘Schalit’s answer, after a few seconds’ stunned silence, is superior: “I’d be very happy if they were released,””he says, then adds the caveat, “provided they don’t return to fighting Israel.”’
‘Again, the Egyptian interpreter fails to translate the sentence’s second clause, and again the omission is repeated by the BBC’s translator, though he too was apparently translating from Hebrew in real-time. ‘I will be very happy for the prisoners to go free, so that they can be able to go back to their families, loved ones and territory. It will give me great happiness if this happens,’ the BBC’s interpreter relays.’
The bias of the BBC/Palestine Update was just as evident when Jon Donnison interviewed one of the freed Hamas terrorists, Ahmad Abu Taha, and says to him:
You are 31 years old, ten years in prison, serving a life sentence for being a member of Hamas. I mean, how do you feel today?
Well, Abu Taha was in fact involved in preparing explosives for Hamas terrorists in Ramallah, including the car bomb that exploded in Giva’at Ze’ev in Jerusalem on 29 July 2001. A member of the Ibrahim Abu Rub and Ballal Baraguti organizations, he transported the suicide bomber Ra’ad Baraguti from Ramallah to Jerusalem, where he exploded on Hanevi’im Street on 4 September 2001 and injured 14 people. Yet on the planet of the BBC/Palestine Update he was arrested just for ‘being a member of Hamas’.
Still, it has been an inspiring couple of days. Gilad, I wish you well and I am delighted you have slept in your own home for the first time in almost 2000 days. Congratulations are also due to all those who played a part in Gilad’s release, and to the Israeli people, who never abandoned him.