Hamas can turn the tables on Israel with Shalit�s release
By Linda S. Heard
Online Journal Contributing Writer

Jul 7, 2010, 00:25

Do you know who Gilad Shalit is? Of course you do, unless you�ve spent the last three years submerged in a submarine or shivering in a North Pole igloo.

This ordinary young Israeli corporal who had the misfortune of being abducted by Palestinian fighters on June 25, 2006, has been turned into an iconic figure worth untold thousands of column inches and weeks of inter-governmental negotiations.

He has had Egyptian diplomats frantically working his case. The Russian president has asked for Shalit�s �immediate release.� Jimmy Carter has been mediating away and even the Papal Nuncio to Israel, Archbishop Antonio Franco, has attempted to get the young fellow returned to the arms of his family.

Now, hands up anyone who knows the names of even one of the 8,000 Palestinians languishing in Israel�s prisons. How about the name of one of the 1,200 Gaza residents killed during Israel�s Operation Cast Lead? No? Thought not!

You have to hand it to the Israelis. They have managed to turn victimhood into an art form. With soldiers dying in Afghanistan every week, why should the world at large worry about a solitary Israeli soldier who is apparently in good health and is allowed to send the occasional video, audio tape and letter to reassure his friends and family?

Without doubt, Cpl. Shalit�s parents are desperate to have him home and it�s only natural that they are angry at their government for refusing the prisoner swap that Hamas demands. They have never ceased in their efforts to mobilise Israeli public support for their cause and, according to one poll, some 69 percent of Israelis are backing them.

That statistic is hardly surprising when you consider how this formerly unremarkable soldier, who looks more Clark Kent than Superman, has been elevated to the status of superhero -- thanks to Israel�s super-efficient propaganda machine.

You�ll have to excuse the fact that I�m not exactly oozing sympathy for Shalit. He is a grown-up soldier for heaven�s sake! He is someone who donned a military uniform and carried a gun primarily for the purpose of shooting at Palestinians. As far as I am concerned, he is lucky to be alive. Certainly, the Israelis had no such qualms when they sent a Mossad assassination squad to hunt down a Hamas commander in Dubai. He was returned to his family in a coffin.

Apparent hypocrisy

Israel regularly kidnaps children as young as 11 years old and deprives them of access to their parents for the �crime� of stone-throwing. Most of those children are locked up, terrified and traumatised. Yet, the international community that sheds crocodile tears over Shalit cares not a jot about the fate of Palestinian children.

With Israeli public sentiment running so high on the Shalit issue, why isn�t Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu rounding up a couple hundred Palestinians shortly due to be released and packing them into buses for destination Gaza?

After all, Israeli governments have swapped Palestinian prisoners for the bodies of their fallen before now. In 2008, Israel handed over five Lebanese prisoners and 200 bodies of Lebanese and Palestinian fighters for the remains of two of its solders.

So there�s a precedent. The question is why is Netanyahu stubbornly refusing to compromise when it comes to Shalit? Surely, the positive publicity that such a move would generate for Netanyahu would be priceless. A garlanded Shalit waving to legions of happy admirers from an open-topped bus cruising along Tel Aviv�s Allenby Street could be Likud�s greatest gift.

Ah, but this is Israel we�re talking about; a country that exists on publicity, public relations and propaganda. It�s clear that poor Shalit is worth more to Netanyahu in the custody of whoever is holding him than munching watermelon on his parents� porch.

As long as he is in Gaza, Netanyahu can use him as an excuse for keeping the blockade on Gaza and accentuating the intransigence of Hamas. Let�s be honest! Israel�s prime minister is walking a fine line as it is, after his commandos shot and killed nine peace activists in international waters under the pretext he had to ensure illicit goods didn�t fall into the hands of Hamas.

I suspect that the last thing Israel�s wily prime minister wants is to find a smiling Shalit strolling up to the Erez Crossing to announce, �I�m back!� That wouldn�t suit Netanyahu�s carefully contrived anti-Hamas narrative. How could he continue painting Hamas leader Esmail Haniya as heartless and barbaric were Shalit to be unconditionally released unharmed?

And that, my friends, is exactly why the Hamas leadership should seriously consider this gesture, which would give the organisation a giant public relations boost in the international arena. They should kit him out in a new T-shirt and jeans, hand him a bag of shawarma sandwiches and drive him close to the border with an army of TV cameras in tow. A few parting hugs might not be amiss, but if that�s a stretch too far, a simple �Shalom� would do.

Instead of attempting to swap Shalit for incarcerated Palestinians, which, in any case, looks like a no-go, Haniya should swap him for a win in the court of public opinion. Delivering up the world�s most famous soldier without conditions would represent a PR coup for Hamas -- and yet another nail in the coffin for Israel�s increasingly ineffectual anti-Palestinian propaganda. It�s worth a try! 

Linda S. Heard is a British specialist writer on Middle East affairs. She welcomes feedback and can be contacted by email at

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