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.”