Let Shalit Go

Almost a thousand days have passed since the abduction of Corporal Gilad Shalit, an Israeli tank gunner, by three Palestinian militant groups. At the time Shalit was 19. He would have been at home in Mitzpe Hila this week had the negotiations between Israel and Hamas not faltered. His parents have been sitting in a tent across the street from the prime minister's residence in Jerusalem, where volunteers have succeeded in a well-organized effort to attract hordes of journalists. Activists wearing blue-and-white Gilad Shalit T-shirts stood outside the tent to encourage passersby to sign a petition urging the government "not to turn Gilad Shalit into another Ron Arad," the missing Israeli airman whose fate remains unknown more than two decades after his capture.

The story of Shalit has not only captured the Israeli public's attention but has also garnered worldwide media coverage. I first wrote about Shalit shortly after his capture. Israel had then launched an operation euphemistically dubbed "Summer Rains" in retaliation for his capture. Today, no one remembers the daily Israeli incursions into Gaza preceding his capture and the death and destruction they left behind. Everyone has forgotten the IDF's killing of a Palestinian family of seven who were enjoying a picnic on the Gaza beach just two weeks before Gilad's capture, and the saga that followed with Israel trying to convince the world that their deaths had resulted from a mine planted by Hamas. But this is history...just like the recent deaths of more than 1,300 Palestinians.

998 days after Gilad Schalit was captured by Hamas and two days after Prime Minister Ehud Olmert all but admitted that the government failed in its efforts to secure his release, the soldier's mother, Aviva, decided to write a letter to her son. She began:

I sit here in a tent on a street corner in Jerusalem. Almost a thousand days have passed without you by my side. For almost a thousand nights I have neither seen the light in your room, nor in my life.

For almost a thousand mornings I haven't seen your smile, the smile of a boy waking up to a new day. The smile of a boy who loves life. Someone who is a part of me.

Her letter is very moving. I want her to be re-united with her son just like I want to see the thousands of Palestinian mothers united with their children. 10,756 Palestinians are currently imprisoned by Israel. There are approximately 380 Palestinian children in Israeli custody, many of whom are awaiting trial or sentencing, and others who are serving lengthy periods of imprisonment for such minor offenses as stone throwing.

Shortly after Aviva Shalit finished writing her letter, reports surfaced in the Israeli media suggesting that Israeli forces killed Palestinian civilians under what may have been lax rules of engagement during the Gaza offensive. Quoting Israeli soldiers who fought in the offensive, the Haaretz newspaper reported on Thursday that soldiers had also ransacked and destroyed civilian property.

The soldiers' testimonies, made during a course at Oranim Academic College in Tivon, runs counter to the Israeli army's claims that troops observed a high level of moral behavior during the operation.

The testimonies include an infantry squad leader's description of an incident where an Israeli sharpshooter shot a Palestinian mother and her two children.

Meanwhile, I watched an interview on the Israeli Broadcast Authority (IBA) television with a representative of a group who stood few feet away from the Shalits' tent. While sympathizing with the parents of Gilad, the man said "freeing terrorists is too high a price to pay, even in exchange for a living soldier." This reminds me of what Prime Minister Ehud Olmert had to say a week after Gilad Shalit was abducted at a cabinet meeting, "I want to say something about the soldier's release: We shall not negotiate with Hamas on releasing prisoners, directly or indirectly."

Well: Israel has been negotiating with Hamas, almost a thousand days have passed, more than a thousand lives have been lost, and more than a hundred thousand lives have been ruined. Let the prisoners and Shalit go home.

Jamal Dajani produces the Mosaic Intelligence Report on Link TV.