The Return of Gilad Shalit: Reactions

On the subject of the Gilad Shalit prisoner exchange, I can’t put it any better than blogger Emily Hauser, who has written a number of eloquent posts on this subject over the years. Click here and here to read her latest reactions.

Also highly recommended: this recent op-ed by journalist Rachel Shabi:

But meanwhile, the terms of the Israel-Hamas brokered prisoner swap – one Israeli, whose name the world knows, for 1027 faceless Palestinians – has generated some absurd comments on the value each side places on human life. In reports of how much Israelis care about the soldier Shalit – all true – there is somehow the inference that Palestinians don’t cherish their loved ones in the same way. But it is clearly more approachable a task to keep one soldier’s name in people’s hearts and in the headlines, than it is with countless thousands of Palestinian men. And the undertaking is smoothed by a media skew on the subject: taking part in a panel discussion on reporting the conflict last year, I heard a European journalist explain that Shalit was an easier pitch because he seemed innocent and blameless, while Palestinian prisoners didn’t generate the same assumptions. Meanwhile, the cold exchange rate of a thousand prisoners to one Israeli obviously doesn’t mean that Palestinians morally agree with this equation; it just points to the brutal asymmetry of forces and capacity in this struggle.

There is, however, one setting in which the two sides stand on level ground. When the prisoner deal was announced this week, there were jarringly rare images of both Israelis and Gaza strip Palestinians joyously celebrating the same news story. There it was, in that moment: an equality borne of shared humanity.


23 Comments on “The Return of Gilad Shalit: Reactions”

  1. Elaine Meyrial says:

    Thank you for printing Rachel Shabi’s op-ed piece. Perhaps a newspaper somewhere printed the name of a Palestinian prisoner and his story, but I didn’t see it.

    Today I was trying to remember when I was first aware of the injustice committed against the Palestinians in partitioning their homeland for the benefit of Jewish immigrants. That realization only took place because I had moved to France in 1969 and had access to newspapers that didn’t consider printing the word “Palestine” as antisemitic. Palestinians were identified as more than generic “Arabs” with a predisposition to hate Jews, and Palestine was an actual place before it was called Israel.

  2. Ken Kaufman says:

    I don’t know…On this day, a day that one of our sons returns with his life to his family and his people, you, a so called Rabbi, offer up more condemnation of Israel. I guess my sin is to be a lover of my people, Israel, and a lover of humanity. I embrace a returning son, and for humanity’s sake, I condemn the celebrators of murder. Do you share any joy with your people? And why are you so silent about those who celebrate murder? I’m sorry, but I find your blog sad and corrupt.

    • Ken,

      Here is an excerpt from an op-ed by Gideon Levy, a columnist for Ha’aretz:

      Who isn’t against terror and for Shalit’s release? But that same sobbing society did not for a moment ask itself, with honesty and with courage, why Shalit was captured. It did not for a moment say to itself, with courage and with honesty, that if it continued along the same path there will be many more Gilad Shalits, dead or captured. In successive elections it voted, again and again, for centrist and right-wing governments, the kind that guarantee that Shalit will not be the last. It tied yellow ribbons and supported all of the black flags. And no one ever told it, with courage and with honesty: Shalit is the unavoidable price of a state that chooses to live by the sword forever.

      No one ever asked it: Why is it permissible to negotiate with Hamas over the fate of a single soldier yet prohibited to do so over the fate of two bleeding peoples?

      Instead, Israeli society now wraps itself in a self-righteous cloak of self-praise: How concerned we are about the fate of a single soldier. And what about the fates of many soldiers, of an entire army, an entire people?

      These are the words of a prominent Israeli columnist who writes for a major Israeli news journal. Is he also guilty of not being a requisite “lover of his people” or “a lover of humanity?” Do you find him “sad and corrupt?”

      Like Levy, I believe that there are so many, many more dimensions to this story than simply one man who has been returned to his family. I’m sorry if you find that offensive.

      I also have to say that I am deeply troubled by your reduction of Palestinians to “celebrators of murder.” Yes, some of the Palestinians that Israel chose to release were guilty of murder. But many are individuals simply imprisoned without charge by Israeli security forces.

      In other words, they were political prisoners just like Gilad Shalit. Surely a “lover of humanity” like you must understand that not all Palestinians are “celebrators of murder.” Surely a lover of humanity like you must empathize with the joy of Palestinian parents at the safe return of their children as well.

  3. Ken Kaufman says:

    There are many political, historical etc. arguments that we could foment about here. I choose not to. My point was on this day, of a sons return, we could celebrate that and be with the family and act like a family. It doesn’t seem to me that you could do that, and when no word of criticism, dissatisfaction, or disgust, is shared about those that do celebrate extreme examples of murder, then that is a sin against humanity and the sanctity of human life. I nowhere reduced the Palestinians as you suggest, and your assumption that I did speaks directly to my problem with your blog.

    • Ken,

      We obviously have very different experiences of this event. You are celebrating the reunion of one man with his family. My reaction is much more mixed. Let’s just leave it at that.

      I’m still struck that while you celebrate the return of your “son,” you characterize the Palestinian celebrations as “celebrations of murder.” But just as you are appalled by Palestinians’ celebration, I’m sure there are many Palestinians who are equally appalled by the Israeli celebration of a returned soldier from an army that has been brutalizing and oppressing their people. There has been great pain borne on both sides – as these respective celebrations clearly demonstrate.

  4. Jil Levin Deheeger says:

    I totally agree with you, Brant. I am very troubled by some of the Palestinian cries, asking for “another Shalit,” so that, indeed, perhaps another trade can take place. I hope these cries are reprimanded publically within Palestinian society. But in any case, this vicious and destructive cycle MUST be broken and we have to begin seeing more clearly the humanity of BOTH sides.

    • Jill,

      While I don’t condone the calls for kidnapping, I certainly understand them. I’ll quote from Shabi’s article:

      With 20 per cent of the population jailed at some point, prison is a feature of Palestinian life under occupation. From the routine night raids that drag family members away, to the opaque military trials, the detention of children (7,000 since the year 2000) and the torture reported by Amnesty to take place in Israeli prisons, it all adds up to a system of control and debilitation.

      Israel adheres to the script of countries that try to crush national struggle: criminalise protest; use widespread arrests to show who’s in charge and categorically refuse to count any prisoners as political. Those Palestinian detention figures are shockingly high – but then, the Israeli occupation has been shockingly long, and its permeation into Palestinian life just as deep.

      Israel has been locking away scores Palestinians without anything resembling due process – including many children. The world is looking away and the Palestinians have little recourse. In the meantime, the Shalit incident has yielded genuine results.

      To some, the lesson here is that Israel should never “negotiate with terrorists.” For me the lesson is very different: unless Israel abides by international law and ceases its practice of holding (and torturing) political prisoners, I fear we’ll be hearing more calls for “another Shalit.”

  5. Jordan Goodman says:

    Shalom Rav,

    You quote an article by Rachel Shabi in your response just above that cites “Amnesty” as a reporter of torture in Israeli prisons. Here’s another POV of “Amnesty,” citing their double standards and use of moral equivalency:

    http://bit.ly/qyokjn

    Hag Same’ah to all of us

    Biv’racha,
    Jordan

  6. Ross says:

    Dear Jordan,
    Omni Ceren, the author of the Commentary magazine attack on Amnesty International that you offer for our enjoyment, is the vice president of the propaganda firm Davis-Block LLC, whose clients include Friends of Israel. It is typical of the low journalistic standards of Commentary magazine that it does not mention this conflict of interest.
    http://davis-block.com/leadership/omri-ceren/
    http://davis-block.com/clients/

  7. Steve says:

    Ross – Lets’ stay away from the name calling. Calling a PR firm a propoganda firm does not advance the debate. Just because one disagrees with Commentary Magazine does not mean it has low journalistic standards. Over the course of its history it has significantly influenced the intellectual debate in the United States and is one of the few publications that publishes lengthy letters to the editor that are critical of its articles and viewpoints. We should follow its example on this blog of encouraging debate without resorting to name calling.

    • Steve,

      It’s true that Commentary historically was considered a serious journal of ideas. Thats why it’s so sad to see what it has devolved into. In the old days it included the ideas of such intellectual giants as Irving Howe, Daniel Bell, and Nathan Glatzer. Now they run pieces on Israel by folks like Oren Ceren, the VP of a PR firm who specializes in “media influence,” “market dynamics” and “social media branding.”

      (How the mighty have fallen…)

  8. Jordan Goodman says:

    Shalom All,

    Rabbi Brant suggested that I read B’tselem’s reports about torture of prisoners by Israel. Ross pointed out conflicts of interest that the author of the post to which I linked previously, had. I’ve read the reports of B’tselem.

    The debate in here is lively and for the most part, respectful. So, here’s another POV re B’tselem and conflicts of interest. http://bit.ly/jvRIVg

    Shavu’a Tov to all of us,

    Biv’racha,
    Jordan

    • Jordan,

      According to this Commentary article, B’tselem has a “radical,” “anti-Israel” agenda. That claim alone says everything you need to know about Commentary’s journalistic standards.

      I agree with you that this is an important debate, but as I wrote earlier, the salient issue here is “does Israel torture Palestinian prisoners/detainees or not?” Your Commentary article does not address B’tselem’s findings at all – and I can’t see how its abject slamming of a highly respected Israeli human rights organization advances this debate in a helpful way.

  9. Lisa Kosowski says:

    My response to Ken Kaufman (above) can best be summed up by a quote from Uri Avnery in his article on this subject:
    “Israelis (probably like most peoples) are quite unable to put themselves into the shoes of their adversaries. This makes it practically impossible to pursue an intelligent policy, particularly on this issue.”
    You can read his entire article here: http://www.tikkun.org/nextgen/uri-avnery-on-gilad-shalit-the-real-story

    Kol HaKavod once again to Rabbi Brant for speaking the unpopular, but moral truth.

  10. Jordan Goodman says:

    Shalom All,

    The gemara (Eiruvin 13b) speaks of a protracted debate between the followers of Hillel and those of Shammai. Finally, a bat qol, a voice emerged and said “Eilu va’eilu divrei Elohim hayim, v’halakhah k’beit Hillel — these and those are the words of the Living God (or: God of Life), but the Way is like the House of Hillel”

    There are two narratives and both have their own “Torot miSinai,” complete with their own exegesis and midrashim. Perhaps these dual narratives have their origins with the differences in the telling of the story of Yitshaq and Yishma’el in the Torah and the Qur’an. The current and contemporary commentaries (please forgive the pun) for each have been brought to the discussion of this post as proof texts. Amnesty International, B’tselem, selected posts in Ha’aretz, and various blogs on one side and Commentary Magazine on the other. Other examples which would support Commentary Mag’s POV could be Camera.org, Palwatch.org, and ngo-monitor.org. Charges of “conflict of interest” have been leveled by the supporters of both narratives, thus effectively canceling each other out.

    So what now? How does one even begin to try to discern “the Way” i.e, the narrative of the House of Hillel” on all this? I know of no other way than continuing to respectfully discuss and hopefully learn from one another without smug condescension or the impugning or judging of motives.

    Let’s make it a good week for ourselves and others as well.

    Biv’racha.
    Jordan

  11. ej says:

    I have no problem with the moral issues you raised that form the background or preconditions if you will of the Shalit affair. If you wrote a post next week on the Israeli torture of Palesatinian prisoners based on information of human rights organizations I would be inclined to agree. But there is something wrong, not morally, but in terms of our natural identification with Jews everywhere, that when a joyous event occurs such as the return of Shalit, you choose precisely that moment to remind everyone how immoral are Israel’s policies. I imagine you would not celebrate Purim with Mordechai and Esther because so many non Jews were killed without proper judicial procedures. I agree with Mr. Kaufman. You would rally more people to your cause if you weren’t such a scould and party pooper.

  12. Matthew says:

    Brant,
    Speaking the truth at all times is not easy, even when you must be a party pooper? I imagine ej is just now coming down from the late night antics and revelry. Perhaps now, a few days later, he is now ready to hear the unsavory realities?

    Jordan, you seem to lob some fairly inflammatory material, i.e. the Commentary material, but when taken to task over it, you seem to retreat, and wish good weeks upon us all. To suggest that “Commentary Mag’s POV, Camera.org, Palwatch.org, and ngo-monitor.org” are one side of the story and “Amnesty International, B’tselem, Ha’aretz” are the other side of the story seems a bit far fetched. These are clearly not comparable entities for a myriad of reasons which I won’t expound on, but if you actually believe these entities are equivalent, only two sides of the coin, then it seems there is no point in having any debate with you, especially a respectful one.

    Matthew

  13. Miryam says:

    ej,
    What rallies so many people to Brant is his humanity and his courage in challenging power and privilege. It is always the right time for that approach and perspective because the situation in Israel/Palestine is that urgent.

    The excerpt Brant quotes from Rachel Shabi’s op-ed is right: “There is…one setting in which the two sides stand on level ground…there were jarringly rare images of both Israelis and Gaza strip Palestinians joyously celebrating the same news story. There it was, in that moment: an equality borne of shared humanity.” And I completely agree. I also agree (you can call me a party pooper too!) that the “two sides” do not stand on level ground and it was important to provide some historical and political context to the prisoner exchange. Especially given how the media was generally humanizing only one side.

  14. Maha Jarad says:

    Thank you Rabbi Rosen for commenting on the prisoner exchange. So many of us Palestinian and non-Palestinian are so happy for the children in Palestine who waited patiently to be reunited with their fathers, mothers, sisters, and all their loved ones who languished year after year in the miserable conditions of Israel’s dungeons. Our hearts go out to the thousands of Palestinian political prisoners who remain in these wretched prisons and to their families who will continue to endure more misery until they are released and safely return home. We also feel with the mothers and parents of the children who were not released in this exchange but remain in Israel’s prisons. Below is an article about that for anyone who is interested.

    http://electronicintifada.net/content/more-160-palestinian-children-remain-behind-israeli-bars/10508#.TqYSBJynCAc

    Peace,

    Maha

  15. Cotton Fite says:

    I think the reality many of us are missing – or forgetting – is that for the Palestinian people, there are very few who have not had someone in their family “detained” or charged and imprisoned for months and for many of those, for years. The detention of Gilad Shalit was obviously painful – agonizing – for his family and for the Israeli people … “they have one of ours”. But there is hardly a Palestinian family who cannot say “they have one of ours and have now for —- years.” Their suffering is no different than that of the Shalit family; the assumptions are, however, very different. He was an “innocent”; “they” are murderers. And, undoubtedly, some are. But there are so many whose crime was to resist an occupier, resist a dehumanization that is experienced by Palestinian people most every day.
    Why is it so hard to understand that this occupation serves no one? Some, Palestinians, some Israelis, succeed in not allowing it to shred their humanity. Regrettably, it has done just that to many. Cotton

  16. ej says:

    Miryam…our disagreement centers on your assertion that “It is always the right time for that approach and perspective because the situation in Israel/Palestine is that urgent.” I do not feel the situation is that urgent that there is no other topic when discussing Israel other than the Palestinians and their woes. We talk all the time about everything under the sun, we make jokes and fool around, play and enjoy life, though there are wars in many parts of the world, millions dying from hunger and disease, no end to the world’s troubles. At weddings we break a glass to remind us that the world is not whole. We need not go on to speak then and there of Israel’s and America’s crimes against humanity.How to advocate democracy and human rights in Israel while “being with” our fellow Jews is difficult enough without also requiring moral condemnations of Israel each and every time the country is in the news.

  17. Miryam says:

    ej,
    I think it was pretty clear (unsaid and assumed) that when I said “it’s always the right time for that approach and perspective” in responding to a blog post about a what is so clearly a political issue, I was not talking about weddings and the tons of things we do everyday when we’re just enjoying life. We were all directly responding to a blog post about a prisoner exchange and political and historical analyses of that event. But actually, we could all benefit generally from the approach and perspective that I think Brant brings so uniquely to these discussions: humanity and courage in challenging power and privilege.


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