An Israeli reader wrote me, “I wanted to ask what you think about Shalit deal. I don’t understand much in politics, but after reading and listening on TV to people, it seems a huge mistake. I am glad for Shalit and his relatives, but such decisions are about a whole country, not a single family. Do you understand Hebrew? (I read a good article that wanted to link). Can you write a post about it, please?”
In phonetic Hebrew, Clavim medibrim Ivrit yoter tov mimeni. Gam korim.
Then, in further correspondence, my reader wrote, “I would be interested what you think should be done in case of future Israeli captives. The one thing I don’t understand is the position of people, who were for Shalit deal, while saying that in case of future captives Israel should behave differently. Why not start this different behavior now, then? Is his blood redder than of future soldiers? And I am unfortunately 100% sure there will be future captives since the war won’t stop anytime soon.”
My initial—and lasting reaction—to the exchange for Shalit was, the price paid was too high. However, over the years, Israel has traded 13,509 prisoners for 16 soldiers. (As irrational as these one-sided prisoner exchanges are, they are preferable to the IDF’s obsession with recovering the bodies of dead soldiers, to the point of endangering living soldiers.)
However, listening to the Hamas entity (in Arabic) saying that they would take more Israelis captive to win the release of their fellow terrorists, I had a different reaction, along the following lines, which is not of course anything close to a policy statement.
You want the Palestinian prisoners? They’re yours, every single last one of them except for those who reject repatriation. We will not forcibly repatriate prisoners. But those whom we release are liable to be summarily executed should they come again to the attention of our security services. Nor in the future will we negotiate for our hostages. We should have taken Gaza apart seeking Sergeant Shalit during Operation Cast Lead, and in the future, that will be our response to such behavior. And we will do it again and again until you get tired of this nonsense.
We give you a choice. You, Hamas, can pick up the phone and recognize Israel and start dismantling your arsenal. We will lift the blockade as Egypt also recently did, and we can trade and you can get down to the business of making something of Gaza. Frankly, we would be delighted to help.
As for the West Bank, we will make the same deal. You want a Palestinian state? You’ve got it. We’ll do everything we can in our power to help you make something of it because frankly, we know what it is to be refugees. It is a simple fact that the Arab world would be delighted to see you continue to be refugees. We, on the other hand, are sick of it. But if you start a war or harbor those who do, we will annex parts of the West Bank and expel those who live there. And then who will take you in? The Jordanians did, and you gave them cause to regret it. Lebanon did, and you helped create a hideous civil war. Gaza? How many of you want to live under Hamas?
We Jews have learned to be builders. We would like you Palestinians to build, too. You need to make something of your lives. But if you want war instead, or simply to feel yourselves victims while victimizing others until it becomes another war—you can have that too. Whichever decision you make, we will honor it.
In the meantime, we’re returning some 6,000 prisoners to you between now and Passover. Figure out what to do with them and how to reintegrate them into society.
We have nothing more to say on the subject.
One of the things I realized, reading Begin’s The Revolt, is that part of the reason for the lasting Israeli Arab/Palestinian bitterness is not that there is no Arab state of Palestine, for there never was (unless you count Jordan, which is reasonable but that’s another story), but that the Jews did what they set out to do in those years of the first Aliyah. In the last years of the Mandate after World War Two, the Jews made the British give up and go away. The Arabs did not. I can’t think of any successful Arab anti-colonial movement with the possible exception of the Free Officers movement in Egypt. Certainly, they did not in Palestine: Begin writes of Arabs gathering around the detritus of Irgun and Haganah actions and thoughtfully considering the situation but doing little else. And then, having let the Israeli Jews drive out the British, the Israeli Arabs expected the other Arabs to do their fighting for them. In fact, during the War of Independence, the Arab armies encouraged Israeli Arabs to flee even from areas where there was no fighting and despite the fact that there was remarkably little Jewish pressure on them to leave. Very likely had the Arabs won the War of Independence, people like Mahmoud Abbas’ father would have returned to their pleasant homes (his was not a poor family) to hear something along the lines of, “an Arab Legion colonel lives here now.”