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Thursday, October 20, 2011

In Israel, Joy — Israeli Soldier Freed

The recent announcements by Israel and Hamas of the deal to free Sergeant Gilad Shalit — and his release on Tuesday — have been met by mostly joy in Israel, and by reasonable people of all faiths and nationalities all over the world, but also with trepidation about the repercussions of releasing so many murderers in exchange for Shalit.

Hamas and Israel have long been bitter enemies. Hamas’ fundamental denial of Israel’s existence, indeed of even its right to exist, has been a major obstacle to the negotiation of a meaningful and enduring peace between Israel and the Palestinians.

Hamas has demanded that Israel release many hundreds of convicted Palestinian terrorists who have been involved with the murder of innocent Israeli citizens. And while the Israelis have been reluctant for more than five years to release Palestinian prisoners guilty of murdering Israelis by terrorist attacks, Hamas has continued to violate the basic human rights of Shalit ever since his abduction. Hamas has refused to grant visitation rights to Israeli officials and to the international Red Cross, and has even refused to provide proof of his still being alive and healthy. This further underscores and exposes the central Hamas doctrine of terror and murder and the striking lack of respect by Hamas for any meaningful and moral peace process with Israel.

The exchange of Shalit for more than 1,000 convicted Palestinian prisoners serving sentences in Israeli prisons is no victory for peace. While this deal is being greeted with joy by Israelis, they also reserve their celebrations knowing that many of those to be released are Palestinian terrorists who will probably return to their previous groups and continue terrorism. Israeli media have reported that many families of Israeli victims are devastated by the release of these murderers. CNN reports that an Israeli association of terror victims quote that 180 Israelis were killed by terrorists who had been freed in a previous deal in 2000. They also quote that of 238 terrorists freed in a 1985 deal, 48 per cent returned to terrorism and were recaptured by Israeli forces.

Indeed, this has been a most difficult moral dilemma for the Israeli government to confront. Israeli governments have had to struggle with this dilemma since Shalit was kidnapped by Hamas. For several years successive governments have been reluctant to release terrorists in exchange for Shalit, but Israelis place high value on the lives of each of its citizens. And because of this code, they now have agreed to release many of the most notorious of the Palestinian terrorists to gain release of their young innocent soldier.

In contrast, Syrian-based Hamas leader Khaled Mashaal was reported by the CBC to have pledged “that those released will return to … the national struggle,” confirming for many seeking peace that Hamas views this deal as nothing more than renewal of its brand of terror and murder. The CBC also quoted Mashaal to have said that the released prisoners would include 315 who have been serving life sentences, suggesting they were convicted of attacks that were directly responsible for the deaths of Israelis. 

Mashaal went on to note that “This is a national achievement for the whole Palestinian people.” And yet, despite Hamas’ assertion that terrorists released from Israeli prisons will be welcomed as heroes and return to the national struggle, but makes no mention of peace, Israel has demonstrated its value for human life. They offered over a thousand convicted Palestinians in exchange for the life of one Israeli soldier, who was kidnapped at the age of 19 from Israeli territory by Hamas.

True political leadership measures its success by seizing opportunities to make the world a better place; by replacing terror with hope and fear with vision. Hamas has an extraordinary opportunity to convert this deal to a gesture of peace, but instead seems to be choosing endorsement of its brand of terror. It’s not hard to understand why Israel, which continues to be ready to sit and negotiate a two-state solution with the Palestinians, is so torn about trusting whom they might be negotiating with.

Former Israeli prime minister Golda Meir famously stated “We can forgive the Arabs for killing our children. We cannot forgive them for forcing us to kill their children. We will only have peace with the Arabs when they love their children more than they hate us.”

Friday, October 14, 2011

US sends 100 military advisors to Uganda

The Obama administration announced plans on Friday to send about 100 U.S. forces to Uganda to act as military advisers to Ugandan and African Union forces fighting the Lords' Resistance Army (LRA). The U.S. special forces will provide information and training to assist Ugandan forces trying to apprehend the LRA's top commanders and bring them to justice, and to bring about an end the guerrilla group's two-decade campaign of atrocities, plunder and destabilization of the region, the administration said. 

President Obama announced the decision in an official notification letter to Congress Friday. In the letter, Obama said that he had sent the initial team of armed U.S. combat troops to Uganda on Oct. 12. He explained that the rest of the roughly 100 military advisers would be deployed over the next month to Uganda--as well as to the neighboring countries of South Sudan, Democratic Republic of Congo, and the Central African Republic, if they permit.
He also said that while U.S. troops would be authorized to use force for self defense they will not be engaging in direct combat themselves.

"For more than two decades, the Lord's Resistance Army (LRA) has murdered, raped, and kidnapped tens of thousands of men, women, and children in central Africa," Obama said in the letter. "In furtherance of the Congress's stated policy, I have authorized a small number of combat-equipped U.S. forces to deploy to central Africa to provide assistance to regional forces that are working toward the removal of [LRA commander] Joseph Kony from the battlefield."

"On October 12, the initial team of U.S. military personnel with appropriate combat equipment deployed to Uganda," the letter explained. "During the next month, additional forces will deploy, including a second combat-equipped team and associated headquarters, communications, and logistics personnel. The total number of U.S. military personnel deploying for this mission is approximately 100."

The Lords' Resistance Army is accused of killings, plunder and widespread atrocities, including the abduction of an estimated 3,000 children, in its two decades of guerrilla warfare across central Africa.

The LRA's commander Joseph Kony "is the leader of this small band of of guerrillas who have been raging through ungoverned spaces between the DRC, Central African Republic, south Sudan and committing the most awful atrocities," Human Rights Watch's Tom Malinowski told the Envoy Friday.

Malinowski was among several human rights and NGO officials briefed on the decision at the National Security Council Friday. He strongly welcomed the Obama administration's decision to provide special forces to apprehend the LRA's top commanders.

The Ugandan military "has been most dedicated to going after him," Malinowski said, but he has been hard to find."We don't know where he is at any given time.... It's very difficult ... how to find 100 guys in a vast jungle area with very poor communications."

LRA commander Kony "styles himself as a prophet and spirit medium and practices a blend of mysticism and apocalyptic Protestant Christianity," the Washington Post's William Branigin wrote Friday. "He formed his Lord's Resistance Army from the remnants of the Holy Spirit Movement, an armed group led by his aunt that fought the Ugandan government in the late 1980s."

Kony and four deputies are the subjects of arrest warrants issued by the International Criminal Court in the Hague in 2005.