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Red Rag column: The march for Gilad Shalit
Gideon Spiro

Red Rag, Weekly Column, 1 July 2010

(English translation posted 9 July)

The march for Gilad Shalit

We have recently marked 4 years since the capture of the soldier Gilad Shalit by Hamas in Gaza. Israel’s intelligence services, which take pride in their ability to penetrate into Palestinian society and organizations and to recruit collaborators, remain in the dark in everything related to the place where Gilad Shalit is being held. The military branch of the Hamas movement that holds Gilad Shalit has managed to maintain an impressive level of secrecy, and Israel’s security agencies have failed to penetrate into the small circle of his captors.

When I visited Gaza as a participant in an international delegation of humanitarian aid that succeeded in breaking the blockade in October 2008, I looked into the possibility of meeting with Gilad Shalit. I thought that it was important that Gilad hear from an Israeli the reason for his protracted captivity: instead of exchanging Shalit in a prisoner exchange as the government of Israel owes its soldiers, he became a “price tag,” and the government thereby adopted the settlers` “price-tag” [1] policy.

In order to prevent the leakage of any information on the place where he is being held I proposed that I be taken to the place of his detention with my eyes covered by a blindfold. Representatives of the administration in Gaza explained to me that that would not be a problem. Israel is observing Gaza from the air, the sea and land, and the taking of any person to visit Shalit would probably be observed by one of the branches of Israeli intelligence, and then Israel would initiate a military operation, and Shalit would share the fate of Nahshon Waksman, who was killed by Israeli soldiers in a rescue operation. That is why they do not permit any person to go to the place of his captivity, including any representative of the Red Cross. In other words, the Hamas people are preventing any meeting with Shalit in order to protect his life. I am not so naive as to think that this stems from the lofty principle of the sanctity of human life that is guiding the Hamas government in Gaza or its emissaries in Damascus; it comes from a cold calculation that because Gilad Shalit is alive there is a chance for a future agreement on exchange of prisoners.

If I met with Shalit I would tell him about the Israeli government’s cynical campaign of brainwashing on the subject of `blood on their hands.` They are not willing to release Palestinian prisoners who have killed a two-digit number of people, that is from ten and up, but they are willing to release in the framework of such a deal those who have the blood of a single-digit number of people on their hands. He, Shalit, is not worth the release of `two-digit` prisoners.

I would tell him that Israeli prisons hold 11 thousand Palestinians, the overwhelming majority of them as a result of their resistance to the Israeli Occupation, resistance that is justified by definition, for no people has achieved liberation from racist colonial regimes without struggle and resistance - sometimes even armed. The Occupation is the lynchpin of this whole business about “blood on their hands.” The moment the Occupation ends the prisons will be emptied of their Palestinian inmates.

I would then tell him that when it comes to bloody hands, the Palestinians are modest compared to the Israelis. The quantity civilian blood – including women, children and old people – on Israeli hands is vast and growing. With the primitive means at their disposal, no person active in the Palestinian resistance can match The killing that one warplane can do in just a minute. This is not to minimize the cruelty of suicide bombers who blow themselves up in a bus, but let us always remember that the settlements and the cruel every day oppression that have been going on for 43 years are the fuel that feeds the resistance.

The difference between the Palestinians and the Israelis is that those in Israel who have blood on their hands are sitting in the halls of power, and so it is they at this stage who are deciding the fate of the Palestinians who have blood on their hands.

As these lines are being written, the march initiated by the family of Gilad Shalit, from their home in Mitzpe Hila in the Galilee to Jerusalem, with the intention of remaining in a protest camp next to the Prime Minister’s residence until Gilad is freed, is at its height. I take note parenthetically of the fact that Mitzpe Hila was founded in the context of the racist policy of “Judaization of the Galilee,” the objective of which is to prevent an Arab majority in the Galilee. The settlements established as a result of that policy are characterized by high quality of life, a house with a plot of land for every resident, and no Arabs in sight. That fact also explains, at least in part, the family’s protest style.

For four years the Shalit family has meticulously avoided transgressing the boundaries of the consensus. Their campaign is supported by famous public figures, including high-ranking retired army officers, as long as it is conducted within accepted limits. The result: unconditional public support on the one hand, and the ability of the government to avoid making fundamental decisions on the other. Those who pay the price are Gilad Shalit in Palestinian captivity and the Palestinians in Israeli captivity.

The maximum that the Shalit family is willing to do is to challenge the government from the Right. To attack it for easing the blockade on Gaza, or the release from prison of Hamas ministers (after they had been arrested by the government of Israel for no reason except sheer reprisal).

The Shalit family has evidently adopted the official Israeli position according to which the worse conditions are for the million and a half Palestinians who live in Gaza, the more likely Gilad is to be released. That position has been proven to be a resounding failure, one that was to be expected by all who had not fallen into the trap of official propaganda.

In a conversation I had one time with a person close to the Shalit family, I suggested a polar change in the campaign: to encourage all graduates of grade 12 to refuse to enlist in the army until there is an exchange of prisoners. The idea is clear: they will not join the army if the government does not make a full commitment to a soldier who fell into captivity. That is a challenge that will provoke the anger of the regime but broadcast a message that there is a price to be paid for abandoning a soldier.

I explained to that person that, although I support military refusal regardless of the Shalit issue, because of my opposition to the Occupation, in this case we are talking about refusal for a different reason, and if it inspires young people to think beyond the Shalit issue, of course I would not object to that. There is no doubt that if during the four years of Shalit’s captivity, entire conscription cohorts, numbering in the thousands of people, refused to enlist, Gilad Shalit would have been with us long ago. My suggestion was rejected, and the end of Gilad’s captivity is nowhere on the horizon. Israel is waiting apparently for some intelligence information that will make possible a military operation that will return Shalit in a coffin. The Israeli cult of death is made for such scenarios.

”Arab-lover”

“Why don’t you go live in Syria?” – is repeatedly flung at me by talkbackers in whose eyes I am tagged as an “Arab-lover” and a “defender of Islam.” It is a subject that must be re-examined to from time to time.

Indeed, we are perceived that way by our adversaries because we often agree on certain subjects with positions of states or organizations that are on the polar opposite side of the Left. This is a problem and so I would like once again to clarify the issue.

I give a number of examples from my own opinions, in order not to implicate friends of mine who perhaps disagree with me:


• I oppose the siege of Gaza – does that mean I agree with Hamas?

• I opposed the American invasion of Iraq – does that mean that I agree with Saddam Hussein?

• I opposed the regime of the dictator Augusto Pinochet in Chile. So did the USSR, back in the day. Does that mean agreement with the Communist regime?

• I supported the position of the government of Israel when the latter decided to negotiate with the PLO – does that mean sweeping support for the policies of the government?

• I supported with all my heart the election of Barak Obama to the Presidency of the United States – does that mean that from now on I will agree with all his policies on all issues, for example the war in Afghanistan, or his failure to fulfill his commitment to close the prison facility in Guantanamo within a year of taking office?

• I opposed the barbaric Israeli navy raid on the Turkish ship the Mavi Marmara, which was on its way to the port of Gaza to deliver humanitarian aid. Does that mean that I agree with the policies of Turkish Prime Minister Erdogan on the suppression of the Kurdish rebellion, or his denial of the Armenian Holocaust?

• I agree with the Syrian position that peace with Israel requires the return of the Golan Heights to Syria. Does that mean that I agree with the only remaining Baath regime or the arrest of intellectuals who disagree with the regime?

• I oppose Gush Emunim and the settlements. Does that mean opposition to everyone who wears a knitted kippa? [1]

• I support the right of the believers in of all faiths to freedom of religion. Does that mean that I have ceased to be a secular person?

A few examples, taken from a much longer list.

The answer to all those questions is clear: No with a capital N. Because all my positions are derived from the same source: universal human rights.

Translator’s notes

1. In a campaign called “price-tag”, Jewish settlers in the West Bank have been exacting a “price” for the Israeli government’s demolition of settlement outposts by attacking Palestinian communities and damaging or destroying property.

2. Headgear that is worn by virtually all male members and supporters of the Israeli settlement organization Gush Emunim, and also by many other religious Jewish men.

Translated from Hebrew for Occupation Magazine by George Malent

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