It is horrific to contemplate what Gilad Shalit and his family have been subjected to for over three years. Not only has he been imprisoned but the ups and downs of the prisoner exchange negotiations must be torture for his family (and for Gilad himself if he knows what has been going on).
But most maddening is, in my opinion, the racial implications of the Shalit saga. It does not matter that Israelis and Palestinians are racially indistinguishable. The fact is that the Israelis are "white" in terms of their status in Israel-Palestine and the Palestinians are not.
The Shalit story is reminiscent of the way Americans become obsessed with crimes committed against whites while generally indifferent to identical crimes committed against people of color. The media will devote endless hours and days of coverage to the tragedy of a white woman gone missing while ignoring similar disappearances of black women. The same applies to stories of child kidnappings and other crimes of violence.
We tend only to care if the victim is white.
And Israel is no different (it is, in fact, worse). It cares about "Jewish suffering" but is indifferent, at best, to the suffering it inflicts on the non-Jews with whom it shares the land.
The country is obsessed with Shalit's imprisonment. It is beside itself with rage, sorrow, and fury. It is so upset that the government is on the verge of approving a massive prisoner trade with the hated Hamas to get Shalit released.
At the same time, Israel is perfectly content with holding thousands of Palestinians in their prisons. In the words of Daoud Kuttab in today's New York Times:
Israel is holding more than 10,000 Palestinians, some without charge or trial. Almost all of these prisoners are being held in contradiction to various international laws and treaties, particularly the Geneva Conventions, which regulate the actions of a prolonged occupying power. These prisoners are routinely denied basic rights, including the right of family visitations because of the inaccessibility of Israeli prisons to more than 90 percent of Palestinians living in the occupied territories. (Only families living in East Jerusalem or those who have managed to get permits through the Red Cross can visit their imprisoned loved ones.)
Shalit was kidnapped (although "captured" is the usual term applied to soldiers). But in 2006, Israeli authorities kidnapped 46 members of the Palestinian parliament in response to Shalit's abduction. Fifteen are still in prison.
And who cares? Certainly not the Israeli population which seems to believe that any jailed Palestinian must have done "something." No matter that so many are held without being charged, or that so many are adolescents who don't even know what they are accused of doing.
These prisoners will sit and rot in jail until released as part of a deal to free some Israeli who shouldn't have been kidnapped either.
One can take this argument even further. The entire Gaza Strip is an Israeli prison if one uses the most common definition of a prison. It is sealed and its people are locked in. Its million residents cannot leave. Even youngsters accepted at American or European universities are refused exit permits. Add to that the Israeli blockade that keeps Gazans on what are essentially prison rations, struggling without jobs in a ruined economy and living in a bombed out hell, and the analogy becomes even more apt.
Of course, in one key way, a prison is better. Prisoners are safe from being bombed from the air.
The hypocrisy is almost too much to take.
It speaks well of Israel that it cares so much about one imprisoned soldier.
On the other hand, its sympathy for its own stands in stark contrast with its lack of empathy for Palestinians. It tolerates the killing of kids in Gaza, only becoming exercised when a United Nations committee rightly calls it a war crime. It supports the blockade of Gaza. It continues to throw people out of their homes to make way for religious extremists who insist on living on land where their ancestors walked thousands of years ago.
In short, Israelis today -- with the exception of Israel's courageous left -- operates without pity. Except for its own.
Crossposted in Palestine Note, the best source for news on Israel/Palestine
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