Fifth Anniversary: Free Gilad Shalit
Five years ago, a French-Israeli soldier was taken hostage by the terrorist group Hamas. If peace talks are to progress, Gilad Shalit must be freed.
On this day five years ago, the Israeli-French solider Gilad Shalit was taken hostage near the Kerem Shalom crossing in Israel. He has been held hostage since then by the terrorist outfit Hamas, somewhere in the Gaza Strip.
But Shalit is not just one man, a symbol unto himself of personal strife suffering - his situation is the embodiment of a wider Israeli frustration concerning Hamas, peace negotiations and the insistence on terrorism as a means to victory for some in the Gaza Strip. We say some, because the very nature of Hamas and the PLO, there is rarely a natural agreement on policy, tactics or negotiations.
This was reflected recently when Israel offered up to one thousand detainees or prisoners in exchange for Shalit. It was reportedly approved by the political wing, though rejected by the armed wing (Izzadeen al Kassam Brigades) of Hamas. And so Shalit faces longer in captivity.
A sticking point for Hamas may be the freedom of Marwan Barghouti, a major leader in the First and Second Intifadas - a man who has been imprisoned in Israel for five life sentences for attempted murder. Barghouti has a staunch following in the Palestinian Territories, despite splits with Fatah and a likelihood of him being a galvanising candidate against Hamas, were he ever to be freed.
The response from Israel in recent weeks has been tough. Upon Hamas yet again rejecting a Red Cross visit to Shalit, Palestinian prisoners in Israel have been subject to 'tougher conditions'. Though details were thin, Netanyahu stated that prisoners would no longer be able to obtain advanced degrees in prison. "We'll have no more masters and doctors of terror," he said.
The core constituency of Hamas backers would likely flinch at the idea of releasing Shalit for anything less than hundreds of their terrorist and non-terrorist activist friends being released. But this is wholly unrealistic, even as Israeli public opinion supports a deal to ensure Shalit's freedom. They realise the implication of have hundreds of their enemies being let loose. One Gilad Shalit could turn into dozens.
The international community has made the right noises in the past few weeks regarding the release of Gilad Shalit. Across the world, leaders recognise the importance of, for once, the Palestinian negotiators making the gestures in the right direction, which for the most part has been rare and unreliable.
As Paris, Rome, New Orleans and Miami have bestowed honorary citizenships on Gilad Shalit, we must realise that Hamas is no longer holding a French-Israeli soldier. They have hostage a citizen of the world. One we don't stop thinking about. And one who we hope to see free soon.
Free Gilad Shalit.
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