The untried face of nineteen year old Gilad Shalit stares out from the front pages: a face as yet unmarked by violence or hatred. Shalit, the Israeli Defence Force soldier kidnapped in a border raid by Hamas, has been held prisoner for the last five years as a bargaining chip for Palestinian prisoners in Israeli jails. It was Shalit’s bad luck to be kidnapped, but his considerably worse luck that the former Israeli prime minister Ariel Sharon was no longer in power in June 2006. Sharon may have been a butcher who liked blood (motto: ‘’always escalate’’ ) but he knew the score on negotiation. He would have released the requisite number of prisoners, acknowledging that such swaps are the stuff of warfare. Instead the jumpy Olmert, as feeble in his lack of military experience as our own UK government, refused to deal.
But now Shalit and 1,000 plus Palestinian prisoners, including women and minors, are returning home to their rejoicing families. Never mind how the deal was done or why now. Let’s hear the conventional pieties from the pro-Israeli media and Friends. The terms of Shalit’s imprisonment ‘contravened international law’. Oh dear.
True, Shalit was held without visits from his family or the Red Cross. However, it is likely that any hint of his whereabouts would have led to a rescue attempt which would almost certainly have resulted in his death.
Shalit was valuable. It is unlikely he will have experienced the brutality of the some 700 Palestinian children who are arrested every year and prosecuted in Israeli courts. They too are kidnapped, seized in the middle of the night, with no reason given for their arrest. Most are blindfolded, painfully shackled, and physically assaulted until they sign confessions, frequently putting their name to a Hebrew text they cannot read. They are not allowed access to lawyers. Families are not told where their children are taken and cannot visit them. Children as young as twelve appear in court wearing leg irons, a fact the Jerusalem Post refused to believe until they saw the evidence.
Shalit was in uniform and part of an illegal occupying force. Since the beginning of Israel’s occupation in 1967, 20 per cent of the total Palestinian population has been imprisoned. Illegal administrative detention has been widespread. At least 202 prisoners have died in Israeli jails due to torture, deprivation of health treatment and deliberate killing. Israel’s response to an election result they did not like in Gaza, was to kidnap and imprison 64 cabinet members and Parliamentarians from the Hamas political wing.