Sunday 27 June 2010

What Does Hamas Really Want for Shalit?

Friday 25th June 2010 marked the fourth anniversary since Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit was taken into captivity by Hamas. He was kidnapped on the Israeli side of the Gaza border and quickly smuggled into the Gaza Strip. This is where he has been held for four unrelenting years in the most evil and un-humanitarian way possible.

Even the most basic human rights required under the Geneva Convention have not been afforded to Gilad during his captivity. The International Committee of the Red Cross has made numerous requests to be given access to Gilad, all of which have been denied by Hamas. The excuse given is that such access will give the Israelis information about where he is being held, and this may result in an Israeli raid to try to free him. It is my belief that Israel knows exactly where Gilad is being held. The only thing stopping the IDF from mounting a raid to return Gilad home, is the fear that Hamas may kill Gilad if there was an attempt to free him by force. The IDF can never forget the death of kidnapped soldier Nachshon Waxman who was killed in a raid to free him in 1994.

During the past four years, the Shalit family has not left a stone unturned in their efforts on behalf of their brother, son and grandson. They have ensured that his name is on everybody's lips and in everyone's thoughts by mounting advertising campaigns, holding numerous meetings with government and holding events and activities. Gilad's grandfather recently met with Prime Minister Netanyahu to discuss the matter with him on behalf of the family. The family will leave on Sunday to walk from their home in the north of Israel to Jerusalem. They intend to set up a protest tent opposite the official residence of the prime minister, and not to leave it until Gilad is home. I have a tremendous amount of respect for the Shalit family, and their efforts under the most extreme and tragic of circumstances.

Hamas and other Palestinian groups have frequently made clear their desire and intention to kidnap Israelis, preferably IDF soldiers. We are led to understand that their objective is to use captured Israelis as tools to negotiate the release of their colleagues held in Israeli jails for terror activities. This is confirmed by previous prisoner swap deals which have been successfully negotiated, and in which hundreds of Palestinian prisoners have been set free by Israel in exchange for one Israeli, or even the remains of an Israeli. The Israeli government takes very seriously its responsibility to return home captured Israelis, or their remains, almost at any price. Still fresh in our memories is the deal done with Hezbollah to return the bodies of captured soldiers Eldad Regev z"l and Ehud Goldwasser z"l almost two years ago. We also recall the deal done to repatriate rogue Israeli businessman Elchanan Tenenbaum in 2004.

When considering the above facts, it is surprising that Shalit continues to languish in captivity in Gaza. There can be no doubt that Israel wishes to do all that it can to return him home as soon as possible. The government has appointed Hagai Hadas as its official negotiator on the case, and has enlisted the help of a German mediator with the express intention of concluding a deal to free Gilad. Hamas, on the other hand, seems not to have made any real steps in the direction of concluding a deal to free their colleagues in line with their stated intentions. Although not all the details of the negotiations have been made publicly available, judging by things that have come out in public and particularly reactions of the independent German mediator, there is evidence that Hamas has not been negotiating in good faith. There is a view that Hamas is not holding Gilad hostage for the purpose of releasing its prisoners, but rather for the purpose of holding Israel hostage. This, they are achieving very effectively.

This lack of good faith, and the tactic of holding Israel to ransom without any real intention of releasing the hostage, is consistent with much of Hamas' behaviour in its dealings with Israel. Whether it is the use of civilian neighbourhoods to wage war, the firing of missiles randomly at Israeli civilians or faking situations for the sake of international news cameras, Hamas has shown itself to be untrustworthy and unreliable in almost every respect. All the while that negotiations for the release of Shalit continue, Hamas remains in the news. The moment that the deal is done, there is a danger that they may lose the news headlines. Perhaps this is the reason why they don't intend to conclude a deal.

As time goes on and there is no evidence of any meaningful progress for the release of Gilad, I am increasingly of the view that the IDF may have no choice but to mount an operation to free him by force. While this does risk the possibility that he may be killed, it also represents a small chance that he may be freed. For now at least, this chance looks better than a possible negotiated solution.

Until then, our thoughts and prayers continue to be with Gilad. Special prayer for Gilad's safety.

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