Why I’m Not at the Gilad Shalit Demonstration

Haim Watzman

Downtown is closed off, and it looks like half the country is there. So’s my wife, Ilana, who as a soldier’s mother identifies completely with Shalit’s mother. Give Hamas whatever they want, just get the boy home.

Gilad Shalit
As much empathy as I feel for the Shalit family, I can’t agree with that call. As the father of a soldier (two, as of the end of this month), I fear that these well-meaning demonstrators are unwittingly placing my boys in danger. Caving in to Hamas’s demands will reinforce an incentive to kidnap soldiers that, following previous deals, is already too strong. The message is: got demands? Kidnap an IDF serviceman and we’ll give you whatever you want (eventually, after talking tough for a few years).

I’ve written elsewhere that, were my son a prisoner in Hamas’s clutches, I’d be demanding the same thing that Shalit’s parents are demanding. But my son isn’t a hostage, and I don’t want to see him end up as one.

I suspect that the deal will be done. This upwelling of citizen passion cannot be ignored in a democracy like ours–and thank God we live in a country where the public has power. But it’s ironic, and unfortunate, that we free prisoners only when our enemies have our hands pinned behind our backs.

I’ve long advocated freeing prisoners in the framework of confidence-building measures in a peace process–even prisoners who have murdered Israelis. Freeing prisoners in a peace process is a sign of strength–the message is “we’re strong and confident enough that we can make this gesture toward our enemies.” Freeing hundreds of prisoners, including vile murderers, in exchange for a hostage, is a sign of weakness–the message is “we can’t handle this.”

My heart goes out to the Shalit family and to every demonstrating mother, father, friend, and supporter. But, sorry, I can’t be with you.

10 thoughts on “Why I’m Not at the Gilad Shalit Demonstration

  1. Look in the Gemarah Gittin 55a. The Talmud tells us that we are not allowed to pay for captives more than their worth. They say that one of the reasons for that is because they will simply want to talk more if you pay for lives at great costs.

  2. How many Palestinians and Lebanese were and are imprisoned by Israel solely as “bargaining chips”? How many in “administrative detention” without any criminal charge, let alone conviction? It seems Israel has long answered the question if taking hostages was wrong with a resounding “no”.
    If you think, like I do, the answer should be “yes”, wouldn’t you agree those people should be released first and foremost because detaining them was wrong to begin with?
    Actually, not to release them in order not to appear weak, because an adversary wants them freed, seems the ultimate weakness to me.

  3. It seems to me that Israel has no choice but to accumulate large numbers of prisoners since the Palestinians and Lebanese feel that every Israeli soldier is worth hundreds of prisoners. It’s not weakness to arrest people who are involved in the wars against Israel, it’s prudence.

  4. This was a very reasonable article. I think there are strong arguments on both sides of this question. I don’t know if there’s even a right answer. Maybe my only answer is: do one or the other. Either refuse absolutely to bargain for prisoners, treating them as lost (if they can’t be rescued); or do whatever it takes, pay whatever price, to get them back, starting on day one of their captivity. There’s nothing to be gained from any half-ass intermediate approach.

    I agree with Haim Watzman in principle about granting concessions in times of strength rather than in weakness. These “confidence-building” gestures aren’t usually that effective in practice, but they definitely should not be seen as concessions won by the Palestinians. Contra Fiddler’s comment, this isn’t an “ultimate weakness”, it’s just common sense policy backed up by experience.

    By the way, soldiers are not “kidnapped”, they’re captured. I’m surprised to see this mistake made in a post at South Jerusalem.

  5. Aaron, I was referring to the line “we recognise X would be the right thing to do, but we can’t do it because/as long as The Enemy demands it.” It’s not only obviously hypocritical but it values imaginary over actual strength.

  6. I agree with you Haim although my opinion is not worth as much as yours in this situation. If my son were in the army, I too would not join in this march. This is citizen power, it seems , but for narrow interests.

    This game of taking prisoners and the worth of them is pretty low morally in my opinion. Gilad Shalit is probably a prisoner now precisely because of the game played by both sides. But then again he might not otherwise be alive in this situation without the game – or he might be alive and well and pursuing a career were it not for the situation..were it long ago resolved.

    My other reaction is to your “thank God we live in a country where the public has power.”

    People have power even in Iran, even in Burma, if they take it, organize and are willing to risk. I think you mean that in Israel the government allows this kind of protest when it is more risky to partake in another kind of protest. If people do show their power by organizing, then elected politicians must react or not either in their own narrower interests or in the interest of the country ( longterm interest of the country as a whole). If the people have power, as much power in Israel as you claim, then it’s fair to blame the people then for the ongoing situation- which the hostage takers ( Hamas and/or other militants, as well as Israel) do.

    Where are the marches to end the occupation? to end the conflict?

  7. From the piece:
    ——————————————-

    But it’s ironic, and unfortunate, that we free prisoners only when our enemies have our hands pinned behind our backs.

    I’ve long advocated freeing prisoners in the framework of confidence-building measures in a peace process–even prisoners who have murdered Israelis. Freeing prisoners in a peace process is a sign of strength–the message is “we’re strong and confident enough that we can make this gesture toward our enemies.” Freeing hundreds of prisoners, including vile murderers, in exchange for a hostage, is a sign of weakness–the message is “we can’t handle this.”

    —————————————

    Refusing strength, Isreal weakens. Easy to say “refuse strength,” very hard to actually have strength–especially in a Democracy. Look at how Obama is fairing–oops, shouldn’t have said that. Frankly, Israel, although by futile mind has condemned you hundreds of times by now, I know the US only had one advantage–it could get away with it.

    Lastly, I do wish people would stop using “Hamas” as a noun reflecting a single entity. I have little doubt thas some faction of Hamas kidnapped or captured that man, and that others in Hamas were at least angry that it was done outside of what they thought/hoped was the chain of command. I also suspect that the “Prime Miniser” or what not in Gaza was rather upset and terrified when Fatah was expelled; he didn’t look like a planning man at his first news conference after that conflict. By having a single Hamas we have a single enemy–and THAT limits our options. Using “our” generically here.

  8. Aaron M. – “they’re worth”? What is Shalit’s “worth”? To his parents, and as a matter of fact to me, he’s worth an infinite number of sub-humans who murder, i.e., many Pali prisoners. Although I do agree that nothing has been gained by following a half-assed approach. Therefore, let’s pay the price, get the poor guy home to his poor parents, and worry about the future starting that day: Day One.

  9. “worth an infinite number of sub-humans who murder”

    There is killing (murder) on both sides. “sub-human” does not get you to any future or “day one” you would like- certainly not one I want to see. But we may see it.

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