Gilad Shalit Returns Home

Gilad Shalit, who was illegally held captive for five years by Hamas, returned to Israel today. I think the Shalit case has a good lesson for Americans.

Although a minority in Israel disagreed, the great majority of Israelis were willing to exchange more than 1,000 Palestinian prisoners, including “Hamas leaders, as well as Palestinians jailed for deadly attacks against Israelis.” Why were the Israelis willing to pay this price? The IDF is a true national army in which most young Israelis serve. The BBC, which can’t be accused of being overly sympathetic to Israel, put it well:

However Israel’s critics may try to characterise it, the IDF is seen by many Israelis as a fundamental expression of their country, as well as its guardian.

National service, always badly-paid and often tedious or hazardous, is compulsory and is one of the great bonding experiences of Jewish society in Israel.

For the Jewish community – about three-quarters of Israel’s population – the army is seen simply as the nation in uniform. As a result, it still produces a kind of emotional reaction which has been largely forgotten in countries like the UK or the US, which have salaried professional armies.

It’s pretty obvious that we in America no longer have a national army, and maybe the best evidence of that is our general apathy about Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl, an American soldier who has been illegally held captive by the Taliban since 2009. How many Taliban prisoners are we willing to exchange for his freedom?

In addition to the nationalistic element in Israel’s willingness to do a deal, there is a religious element. The notion of redemption of captives has traditionally been a central Jewish value. In the case of Shalit, Jewish Israelis put their money where their mouth is, religiously speaking. Indeed, over the past three decades, Israel has released more than 7,000 Palestinian prisoners in return for 19 IDF soldiers and the bodies of 8 others. Unfortunately, Hamas gets this:

The Popular Resistance Committees, the Hamas-dominated militant coalition that captured Sgt Maj Shalit, vowed that it would seize another Israeli soldier to force Israel to release the 6,000 Palestinian prisoners that remain in its custody.”We are going to capture another soldier and cleanse all the Israeli jails of our prisoners,” said a masked spokesman using the nom de guerre Abu Mujahid.

Hence the dilemma for Israelis. But still, this is no doubt a happy day for Israelis and should be welcomed by all.



Discuss

28 Comments . Leave a comment below.
  1. Huzzah!

    I am sad that I am alone with you TedF, both in our moderately pro-Israel sympathies on this blog and our sheer joy that this injustice has finally been corrected. I think it is because the US, particularly under the Bush years, had been operating under the presumption that “we do not negotiate with terrorists!” taken right out of a Die Hard movie. In real life though, we actually are, and instead of simply using this to enrich our puppet government and its dope dealing warlords in Afghanistan, we should use it to actually get some of our men back. Similarly this refusal kept those two innocent hikers in Iran for far too long as well. I was quite excited when this President was willing to meet with our enemies without preconditions, but in office he has probably been more hawkish on Iran than his predecessor, more hawkish on Afghanistan, and far more willing to appease the Israeli right (with little to show for it the way Bibi condescendingly treats him and cavorts with prominent Republicans).

    • "Moderately pro-Israel"

      JConway, I’ll take a mild issue with your phrase, “moderately pro-Israel.” I would describe myself as highly pro-Israel, but also as someone who doesn’t equate being “pro-Israel” with being a right-winger, being opposed to the two-state solution, etc. Language like “moderately pro-Israel” really plays into the right-wing narrative, because it implicitly assumes that it’s the right that is really pro-Israel.

  2. Huh?

    So much about this confuses me, including yes, the idea that you would trade 1000 of your enemy, many of whom really have committed violent acts, for just one of your own. I’ve never heard of Sgt. Bergdahl so it’s hard to have strong feelings about his case, but of course we’re going to say he’s held illegally, but we’re at war and sides do take prisoners. Two other assertions I’m not convinced are true are that we don’t have a national army and jconway’s claim that we aren’t pro-Israel. I for one certainly consider myself to be, though I won’t hesitate to criticize when warranted. As for a national army I’m not sure what the diarist thinks we have instead. We certainly do not have state regiments like we did during the Civil War and nothing seems to provoke patriotic feeling more than invoking the service of our men and women overseas. How often does one side of a political debate accuse the other of not supporting our troops in the hope that people will see the side so accused in a very negative light?

    • I'm not sure "national army" is the right phrase

      Although I think I understand what he meant. I’m not sure what the right phrase is.

      I think what he meant is that because Israel utilizes conscription, everyone, or nearly everyone, in Israel spends, at the very least, a significant portion of their young adulthood in the ranks of the IDF, regardless of political ideology, degree of wealth, The IDF therefore provides a common cultural reference for all. In addition, because everyone– everyone– is, has been, or has a family member who is or will soon be in the IDF ranks dealing with Hamas, everyone takes a rather strong interest in cases like Mr. Shalit’s.

      The American armed forces, by contrast, are not a common point of cultural reference at all. In the NE, service by someone with a middle class or wealthy background is rare, and doesn’t carry the prestige (especially for rank) that it does in other regions. Even those who want to notice and to have some personal or emotional investment are generally reduced to pathetic empty gestures like a “support our troops” bumper sticker, clapping insipidly at uniformed personnel trudging through an airport, or to expressing such involvement/investment in purely political abstractions (“Support our troops, bring them home”).

      In any event, by moving to an all-volunteer force, the US has lost having a force that is representative of American society. While this has its benefits, including the existence of a far more professional force, it has its costs as well. Among these is the disconnection described above, and the hyper-touchiness about “supporting the troops” resulting from that disconnection.

  3. Talk is cheap

    As for a national army I’m not sure what the diarist thinks we have instead. We certainly do not have state regiments like we did during the Civil War and nothing seems to provoke patriotic feeling more than invoking the service of our men and women overseas.

    Sure, Americans have warm and patriotic feelings for our servicemen and servicewomen. But warm and patriotic feelings are easy. The point I was making is that the great majority of us don’t serve in the military, as most Israeli Jews do, and so we are more distant from the military as an institution and more casual with our soldiers’ lives than we should be (in my view). That’s what I mean when I say we don’t have a national army in the same way that Israel does.

    I’ve never heard of Sgt. Bergdahl so it’s hard to have strong feelings about his case, but of course we’re going to say he’s held illegally, but we’re at war and sides do take prisoners.

    I don’t think there’s any question that Sgt. Bergdahl is being held illegally. As far as I know, he isn’t being given the rights of a prisoner of war.

  4. This only confirms Israeli contempt for Palestinians

    Sorry, I see this as just another confirmation of the contempt Israel demonstrates towards its neighbors. It is the same principle that Israel uses to justify killing 1,000 Palestinians for every Israeli killed.

    Further, the willingness of the Israelis to release more than a thousand Palestinians persuades me that, like many of the prisoners America illegally detained in AG and Gitmo, the Israelis knew they were being held improperly.

  5. Really?

    This comment is about as wrong as it is possible for a comment to be.

    Sorry, I see this as just another confirmation of the contempt Israel demonstrates towards its neighbors. It is the same principle that Israel uses to justify killing 1,000 Palestinians for every Israeli killed.

    Somervilletom, instead of concluding that the Israelis decidedthat one of their soldiers was worth the freedom of a thousand prisoners, you seem to want to conclude that the Israelis value each Palestinian as 1/1000th of a human. This seems a crazy reading of the situation, in light of the heavy-duty debate in Israel about whether to free the prisoners. If your view were right, there wouldn’t have been a debate–it would have been an easy decision.

    It is the same principle that Israel uses to justify killing 1,000 Palestinians for every Israeli killed.

    I think you need to re-check your figures. The true ratio of Palestinians to Israelis killed since 1987 is more like 5 to 1 or 6 to 1 than 1,000 to 1. The ratio would drop substantially if you excluded Palestinians killed in intra-Palestinian violence. Moreover, according to the UN’s Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, hardly a shill for Israel, 41% of Palestinians killed from 2000 to 2007 were combatants, while only 31% of Israelis killed in that period were combatants. Are there crazy people in Israel who hold racist attitudes towards the Palestinians? Yes, of course, as there are on the Palestinian side as well vis-a-vis the Jews. Does you “thousand to one” notion reflect the reality of what’s happening? No.

    the Israelis knew they were being held improperly

    Do you have any evidence of this? I don’t have evidence of the details of particular cases, but here are some notes about particular prisoners, as reported by Al Arabiya:

    Yehia al-Sinwar: A senior Hamas leader who co-founded the movement’s Al-Majd security services in the 1980s, and was serving four life sentences, partly for his role in the 1994 kidnap and death of Israeli soldier Nahshon Wachsman. His brother Mohammed al-Sinwar was reportedly involved in Shalit’s abduction. He will return to his home in Gaza.

    Rawhi al-Mushtaha: A senior Hamas leader who co-founded Al-Majd with Sinwar and is considered one of the most important Hamas figures in the prisoner exchange. He received four life sentences and is to be released to his home in Gaza.

    Jihad Yaghmur: Another leading Hamas official, convicted of involvement in Wachsman’s kidnap and murder. An east Jerusalem resident, he is to be exiled overseas.

    Mohammed al-Sharataha: A member of Hamas’s armed wing and reported partner of Mahmud al-Mabhuh, the Hamas commander assassinated in a Dubai hotel in 2010. Sharataha was convicted of heading a cell that kidnapped and killed two Israeli soldiers in 1989. He received three life sentences and is to be released to his home in Gaza.

    Walid Anjas: Sentenced to 36 life sentences for involvement in the 2002 attack on Moment Cafe in Jerusalem, which killed 11 Israelis. He will be exiled overseas.

    Nasr Yateyma: Convicted of planning the 2002 Park Hotel bombing which targeted a Passover meal, killing 29 Israelis. He was accused of transferring the explosive belt used in the attack and sentenced to 29 life sentences. He will be exiled abroad.

    Chris al-Bandak: A Christian member of the military wing of Fatah, he was sentenced to four life sentences for shooting attacks that killed several Israelis in 2002. He will be exiled to the Gaza Strip.

    Abdul Aziz Salha: Convicted of participating in the lynching of two Israeli soldiers who mistakenly drove into Ramallah in October 2000. Salha was infamously photographed displaying his bloody hands to a crowd, and was sentenced to life behind bars. He will be released to Gaza.

    My favorite is Amna Munna, about whom Al Arabiya had this to say:

    Muna was jailed for life in 2003 for luring the 16-year-old Israeli, Ofir Rahum, from the Israeli city of Ashkelon into Ramallah, where was shot dead by Palestinian militants.

    Muna had engaged Rahum on the internet, posing as a Jewish girl from Morocco named Sali.
    * * *
    Israeli media say [Munna], who reportedly abused inmates, refuse[s] to be deported to Gaza because [she is] afraid of reprisals by families of other prisoners in Gaza.

    • Whatever

      I see. A six-to-one kill rate is oh-so-much more humane than my overly rhetorical 1,000-1. I’m perfectly willing to stipulate that the actual kill-ratio is closer to 5:1 than 1000:1. It doesn’t change the fundamental dehumanization that BOTH sides perpetuate in this continuing war — nor does it change the reality that religion (of both sides) is helping worsen, rather then stop, the relentless bloodshed.

      The Israelis released more than 1,000 prisoners. You’ve cherry-picked nine that sound truly evil.

      How many of the prisoners who were released were told of their accused crimes? How many received any kind of legal aid? How many had
      even the most remote semblance of due process?

      My perhaps inaccurate impression is that once again a group of people is imprisoned arbitrarily, held for an arbitrary length of time, and then released arbitrarily — all at the political or religious whim of their captors. My view is that it is wrong when America does it, it’s wrong when Iran does it, and it’s wrong when Israel does it.

      I’m glad that Mr. Shalit was returned safe and sound. I’m glad that more than a thousand political prisoners were released.

      I’m not sure what “good lesson for Americans” you intend for us to draw.

      To me, the episode reinforces my feeling that no sovereign nation defined by any religion is sustainable today.

      • Prisoners

        The Israelis released more than 1,000 prisoners. You’ve cherry-picked nine that sound truly evil.

        I haven’t cherry-picked–I just cited examples from news reports I’ve read. I didn’t think it necessary to give all of the bad actors I found as examples–I left out Wafa al-Biss, for example:

        Biss was traveling to Beersheba’s Soroka hospital for medical treatment in 2005 when Israeli soldiers at the Erez border crossing noticed she was walking strangely. They found 10 kgs (22 lbs) of explosives had been sewn into her underwear

        Biss’s message to schoolchildren upon her release: “I hope you will walk the same path we took and God willing, we will see some of you as martyrs.” Yikes!

        Maybe there are some prisoners who should not have been imprisoned. This is a blog, so you could post about them, you know!

        How many of the prisoners who were released were told of their accused crimes? How many received any kind of legal aid? How many had even the most remote semblance of due process?

        How many rhetorical questions does one need to ask before the assertion they imply becomes a fact?

        nor does it change the reality that religion (of both sides) is helping worsen, rather then stop, the relentless bloodshed.

        The bloodshed was “relentless”, maybe, in years past (in 2009, for example, more than 1,000 Palestinians were killed, either by Israel or in inter-Palestinian violence, according to the Wikipedia page I cited earlier). But there have been very few deaths on either side more recently. So far in 2011, for example, 20 Palestinians and 16 Israelis have been killed in the conflict. (That’s a ratio of 1.25 to 1, if you’re counting!)

        I’m not sure what “good lesson for Americans” you intend for us to draw.

        The “good lesson” I have in mind is that we should take as good care of our soldiers as Israel takes of its soldiers.

        My perhaps inaccurate impression is that once again a group of people is imprisoned arbitrarily, held for an arbitrary length of time, and then released arbitrarily

        Based on the examples I’ve given, I think it is fair to say that your impression is indeed inaccurate, at least in part. As I say, perhaps there are examples of wrongfully imprisoned Palestinians out there.

        • Not rhetorical, do your own homework

          You wrote “Maybe there are some prisoners who should not have been imprisoned. This is a blog, so you could post about them, you know!”, followed up with “How many rhetorical questions does one need to ask before the assertion they imply becomes a fact?”

          I entered the following search terms into Google: “israel palestinian prisoners due process”. Here are first four reports from the second of four million hits:

          Summary: Utterly Forbidden: The Torture And Ill-Treatment Of Palestinian Detainees:

          In recent years, Israel has openly admitted that ISA (formerly the General Security Service) interrogators employ “exceptional” interrogation methods and “physical pressure” against Palestinian detainees in situations labeled “ticking bombs”. B’Tselem and HaMoked – Center for the Defence of the Individual have examined these interrogation methods and the frequency with which they are used, as well as other harmful practices. The report’s findings are based on the testimonies of 73 Palestinian residents of the West Bank who were arrested between July 2005 and January 2006 and interrogated by the ISA. Although it is not a representative sample, it does provide a valid indication of the frequency of the reported phenomena.

          Palestinian Children Do Not Have the Right to a Fair Trial Under the Israeli Military Court System

          In the 40th year of Israel’s military occupation of the Palestinian territories, Tuesday 17 April 2007 marked Palestinian Prisoner’s Day.

          Currently there are approximately 380 Palestinian children in Israeli custody, many of whom are awaiting trial or sentence, and others who are serving lengthy periods of imprisonment for such minor offences as stone throwing.

          Israel’s Attorney General receives 40 torture complaints in past year, investigates none

          Twenty-four hours before the abduction of Corporal Gilad Shalit, Israel Defense Forces soldiers broke into the home of Mustafa Abu Ma’amar in Rafah. Special forces soldiers arrested him and his brother in their respective homes.

          A few weeks later, Abu Ma’amar told an attorney for the Public Committee Against Torture: “One or two days later (I discovered afterward that it was the same morning the soldier had been kidnapped), three interrogators came to where I was held at 6 A.M. [approx. one hour after the abduction - N.H.]. They didn’t ask me anything, just started kicking and hitting me while an interrogator named Moti grabbed me by the neck and throttled me until I thought I was going to die. The other two grabbed me and forcibly removed me.”

          http://www.ifamericaknew.org/stats/paralyzed.html

          Every Palestinian detainee has his own story of the horrors of being held in Israeli detention facilities, but in the case of detainee Luay Al Ashqar, 28, from Saida village, near Tulkarem (in the northern part of the West Bank), the result and the outcome are clearly apparent on his body, which has been paralyzed due to Israeli torture. Al Ashqar is currently in Majeddo prison after the Israeli Salim military court sentenced him for 26 months.

          The mistreatment and abuse of Palestinian prisoners by Israel is well-documented and easy to learn about for anyone with eyes to see and ears to hear.
          You wrote:

          The “good lesson” I have in mind is that we should take as good care of our soldiers as Israel takes of its soldiers.

          Oh, you propose to kill Afghanis, Iraqis, or Libyans at a 5-1 ratio for every American military combat death? Do you propose to imprison hostages at a rate of more than a thousand per American prisoner captured so that we can then release them in exchange for the return of captured American soldiers?

          Where does the American use of “private contractors” (paid mercenaries, more accurately) fit into your schema?

          You wrote:

          Based on the examples I’ve given, I think it is fair to say that your impression is indeed inaccurate, at least in part. As I say, perhaps there are examples of wrongfully imprisoned Palestinians out there.

          I think you have an excessively rosy view of Israeli practices, past and and present. I fear that it leads you to dangerously naive conclusions and recommendations about future US behavior.

          • I guess the question...

            … is whether any of these people are among the 1,000 who were released, which is the point I thought we were debating. Maybe so, maybe not, but unless I’m missing something, you haven’t provided any evidence one way or the other.

            Oh, you propose to kill Afghanis, Iraqis, or Libyans at a 5-1 ratio for every American military combat death? Do you propose to imprison hostages at a rate of more than a thousand per American prisoner captured so that we can then release them in exchange for the return of captured American soldiers?

            Again with the rhetorical questions! No, I don’t propose to kill Afghanis, Iraqis, or Libyans, let alone to kill them in any particular ratio. Nor do I propose to imprison “hostages” so that we can exchange them. What I do propose is that we do everything we can to bring captured US soldiers home, which I should have thought would be non-controversial. Nor do I think it is fair to blithely characterize the Palestinian prisoners as “hostages” given the citations I’ve given to crimes committed and your lack of a substantive response on that point.

            Where does the American use of “private contractors” (paid mercenaries, more accurately) fit into your schema?

            I’m not sure what this has to do with anything, but for what it is worth, I am not in favor of the use of private contractors in combat roles.

            • Again, not rhetorical

              When the Israelis selected the prisoners to release, do you think they:

              a) Selected them without regard to their alleged offense,
              b) Selected the prisoners against which they had the strongest evidence, or
              c) Selected the prisoners against which they had the weakest evidence

              I think the likeliest answer is (c) — surely they would resist releasing provably dangerous criminals.

              Since neither of us has the ability to research each of the more than 1,000 releases, we are forced to either make blanket assumptions like the above, wait for someone to do and publish the research, or just ignore the question. I think the Israelis likely released the prisoners who they either had weak evidence about or who they knew had committed minor (in comparison to the others) offenses.

              Again, my questions about your proposed actions were not rhetorical. You proposed that we emulate Israeli behavior towards their soldiers, specifically referencing this exchange. The only way we could possibly do so is to have the thousands of prisoners ready to swap. Hence my questions. My question about killing our opposition is similarly rooted in your suggestion that we emulate Israeli practices.

              I brought up private contractors because they significantly muddy the waters of your proposed stance towards our military. Although we apparently agree that America should not use them, nevertheless we have and do — the accusations against BlackWater were rampant and well-documented, and these mercenaries were used extensively in combat roles in Iraq. Hence my question: do you view a private contractor as part of the group you would have us treat as the Israeli’s treat their soldiers?

              • Given the length of the negotiation

                It sure sounds like they

                (d) released the prisoners that Hamas agreed the release of which would result in the release of Shalit, without regard to evidence.

                That negotiation wasn’t a prisoner-to-be-named-later deal.

                • Nevertheless ...

                  The Israelis knew who they had and what evidence they had against them.

                  It seems to me that either the Israelis released truly dangerous criminals against whom they had strong evidence, or they were holding individuals who were either not so dangerous or against whom they had weak evidence (or both).

                  Each alternative suggests to me that the act is far less noble than is being presented.

                  • Damned if they do and demned if they don't

                    I’m not sure who, other than you, has presented this affair as “noble.” It seems rather that it is acknowledged as, at best, a least-bad option, a necessary compromise with evil people. That is more tragic than noble.

                    • Well, I used the term ironically, but ...

                      The thread starter opens with (emphasis mine):

                      Gilad Shalit, who was illegally held captive for five years by Hamas, returned to Israel today. I think the Shalit case has a good lesson for Americans.

                      and closes with (again, emphasis mine):

                      Hence the dilemma for Israelis. But still, this is no doubt a happy day for Israelis and should be welcomed by all.

                      I agree with you that “tragic” is as appropriate, or more so, than “noble”.

                      To me, the return of Mr. Shalit is “welcomed” in the same way that the first cigarette after a smoker’s failed attempt to quit is “welcomed”. Satisfying in the short-term, yes. But tragic in the long-term.

                      This is an unsustainable situation.

              • What CMD said

                I would add that the Israelis also had some prisoners that they refused to release for political reasons, mostly political leaders like Marwan Barghouti.

          • Also

            May I comment on your references to the If America Knew website? The website, which I haven’t seen before, appears to be an unsavory advocacy site rather than a news site–see its’ Mission Statement, for example. That’s not to say that what it’s reported is not so, but I think readers should know the source from which you’re taking your information.

            The site’s mission is to ensure that Americans receive the news undistorted “by pressures exerted by powerful special interest groups.” It also contains an article on the Israel lobby that I encourage readers to take in:

            Like many American policies, U.S. Middle East policies are driven by a special interest lobby. However, the Israel Lobby, as it is called today in the U.S.[i], consists of vastly more than what most people envision by the word “lobby.”

            It is considerably more powerful, far more pervasive, and consistently more deceptive than any other. And even though the movement for Israel has been operating in the U.S. for over a hundred years, most Americans are completely unaware of this movement and its attendant ideology – a measure of its unique power over public knowledge.

            * * *

            What is less widely known is how profoundly damaging this movement has been to the United States itself. It has targeted every sector of American society for manipulation; worked to involve Americans in tragic, unnecessary, and almost catastrophically costly wars; dominated Congress for decades; determined which candidates may be contenders for the U.S. presidency; promoted bigotry toward an entire population, religion and culture; caused Americans to be exposed to escalating risk; and then exaggerated this danger (while disguising its cause) to foment irrational fears that are enabling the dismemberment of some of our nation’s most fundamental freedoms and cherished principles.

            The article goes on to suggest that our alliance with the United Kingdom in WWI was a result of “the influence of Brandeis and other Zionists in the U.S.” I could go on and on with blurbs from this one page about the insidious Zionist influence in US and world affairs through the 20th century, contrary to US national interests, etc., but you get the point. Just a few more:

            Just as Zionists had succeeded in pushing U.S. support of the partition strategy over the objections of US experts, they managed to push it through the UN using an orchestrated campaign of bribes and threats.

            As historian Richard Stevens notes, Zionists early on learned to exploit the essential nature of the American political system: that policies can be made and un-made through force of public opinion and pressure. Procuring influence in the media, both paid and unpaid, has been a key component of their success.

            Gildersleeve, who had been instrumental in drafting the Preamble to the U.N. Charter and had taken a leading role in creating the U.N. Human Rights Commission, later devoted herself to working for human rights in the Middle East. She testified before Congressional committees and lobbied President Truman, to no avail. In her memoir, she attributed such failures to “the Zionist control of the media of communication.”

            Just by way of comparison, my citations relied on Al Arabiya, a “Pan-Arabist Saudi-owned Arabic-language television news channel,” a Wikipedia article that took its data from B’Tselem, a left-wing Israeli group often accused in right-wing circles of anti-Israel bias, and MSNBC. So I believe that my sources are more credible from the perspective of bias than your source, unless of course the Zionists have now infiltrated a Pan-Arabist Saudi-owned Arabic-language news station. Given what “If American Knew” has to say, I wouldn’t put it past them!

            • He, I don't doubt that the sources I cited are biased

              Look, I’m crowbarring this exchange into a workday. I described my methodology, and you are as capable of understanding the veracity of these reports as I am.

              There were FOUR MILLION HITS. I cited the examples I chose because they seem to be well-enough reported that anybody who chooses can locate independent confirmation. As we discussed above, it seems to me that the questions remain who these released prisoners are, why were they captured, how were they treated in captivity, and on what basis were they chosen for release.

              Since you are making the various claims about these prisoners, it seems to me that the onus is on you to support those claims.

              I have more non-rhetorical questions. How many Palestinians does Israel now hold, after releasing this large group? Was this 90%, 50%, or 10% of the Palestinians held by Israel? How many US soldiers are in captivity, and how many prisoners would America have to take in order to trade them on a 1000-to-1 basis for captured American soldiers?

              • Now, now

                Since you are making the various claims about these prisoners, it seems to me that the onus is on you to support those claims.

                Now, SomervilleTom, let’s remember who’s making what assertions in this conversation so as not to confuse the burden of persuasion. My post said, more or less, “Isn’t it great what the Israelis are willing to do for their soldiers in harm’s way?” Your first response was, more or less, “Bah! Israel shouldn’t have been holding these prisoners anyway.” Or more precisely,

                Further, the willingness of the Israelis to release more than a thousand Palestinians persuades me that, like many of the prisoners America illegally detained in AG and Gitmo, the Israelis knew they were being held improperly.

                You are the one who made the initial assertion about these prisoners. I said I didn’t have details on all of them, but I gave the stories of some of them, which you seem to agree show that they were properly held, and I challenged you to give the story of any of them that suggest that they were not properly held, a challenge you still haven’t met. As I said, maybe you can and maybe you can’t (it wouldn’t shock me if there were wrongfully detained people among the 1,000 released in the Shalit exchange), but you are the one who made the blanket assertion, not me.

                On your non-rhetorical questions:

                1. According to your admittedly biased website, Israel held approximately 5,500 Palestinian prisoners before the swap, which would mean, I suppose, that it holds about 4,500 after the swap, but I couldn’t vouch for those figures. If the figures are right, then Israel swapped about 20% of its Palestinian prisoners.

                2. Regarding US soldiers in captivity, I don’t know the figures. I think you may have missed my point. I’m not suggesting that we go out and capture a bunch of Taliban to trade them for our missing soldier. I was simply applauding Israel’s commitment to its soldier. We could make efforts (and maybe the government is making efforts) to recover our soldier by, for example, negotiating with the Taliban, or undertaking a rescue, or whatever. The point I was making was to contrast the strong support Israeli society gave to the effort to recover Shalit to our apparently lackluster effort to recover Bergdahl.

            • The first of my cites is from B'Tselem, by the way

              Just to be more specific, the first piece I cited (“Summary: Utterly Forbidden: The Torture and Ill-Treatment of Palestinian Detainees”), is based on a report from B’Tselem — the Full Report link is at the top of the piece.

              From page five of the full report:

              Does the State of Israel respect the absolute prohibition against torture and ill-treatment? The answer to this question would seem to be no. In recent years, Israel has officially admitted several times that in “ticking-bomb” cases, the interrogators of the Israel Security Agency (ISA, formerly referred to as the GSS – General Security Service) employ “exceptional” methods of questioning, including “physical pressure.” The interrogees in these cases are invariably Arabs. Moreover, Israeli law-enforcement officials have openly admitted that these methods are customarily approved retroactively. Accordingly, this report focuses mainly on an examination of the ways and frequency in which Israel violates the right of Palestinian detainees suspected of terrorist activity to be free from torture and ill-treatment.

              This piece is from the same source (B’Tselem) that you referenced.

              Perhaps it would be more constructive to address the substance of these reports, rather than pursuing the pedigree of their authorship.

  6. Ratios

    “Oh, you propose to kill Afghanis, Iraqis, or Libyans at a 5-1 ratio for every American military combat death?”

    We are well above that ratio, now. Estimates vary widely and 100% accurate data on civilian deaths is impossible to gather but:

    In Afghanistan, approximately 17,000 Afghanis have been killed in about 10 years of War. Compared to about 1,700 U.S. troops. About a 10-1 ratio.

    Just saying.

  7. A few points

    To Christopher-

    I think SomervilleTom and others like him (Cos, Ryepower, Sabutai, etc.) have a tendency to ramble on and on about how evil Israel is without accepting the responsibility that comes with supporting the alternative. Namely, anti-woman, anti-gay, theocratic Hamas, or the corrupt mildly theocratic Fatah. There are a host of ways in which Israel misbehaves or behaves undemocratically in a way unbecoming a Western democracy. But I would argue this particular instance is not one of them, again as TedF was trying to point out it shows how communitarian this society is that it would risk so much to save the life of just one soldier. The funny thing about US military service is that it is not full of the young, black, Hispanic, and poor, but actually full of a lot of college educated upper middle class recruits. I know several from that bracket who enlisted out of U Chicago, and most from my high school came from similar backgrounds or military households. But it definitely is a subset of our society and not the bedrock it once was and could be again. I oppose conscription except in times of grave danger, but a more generic national service program would be wonderful, and welcomed by most people my age right now who would rather be drafted into community service than unemployed and unemployable.

    Back to the conflict at hand, I think the trade made sense, it seems that a good chunk of prisoners will be extradited to other countries or exiled from Israel and the territories, and only the least dangerous will actually go free. No question though that a decent minority probably did not deserve to be there. Collective punishment is one of the many areas where I disagree with Israel, and rounding up suspected terrorists simply by arresting all the young males in a village is terrible human rights and an even dumber counter terrorism policy. My friends grandfather was an IRA commander during the troubles and he was illegally jailed along with his brothers simply for being Catholic and in the wrong area. It was only after he was jailed that he became radicalized and was recruited. I am sure this happens in Palestinian jails all the time. In the long run, their side needs a Gerry Adams and Israel needs a Douglas Trumball and Tony Blair. Good luck finding these figures;

    • False dichotomy

      I “rambled on and on” about Israel because the thread is about Israel. There is no necessity to support an “alternative”. You have not and will not see me defending abuses of the Palestinians.

      My standard is that I will support no government that abuses, tortures, and murders its prisoners. I will support no government that arbitrarily removes whomever it chooses from society and, without due process or any sort of external restraint, locks them up for however long it chooses and then releases them whenever it chooses. I don’t support America doing it. I don’t support Israel doing it. I don’t support Hamas or Fatah doing it.

      I suggest that Israel continues to perpetuate these outrageous policies in part because America, as their largest military ally and perhaps their largest economic ally (when private contributions are included), enables their criminal acts by refusing to demand that they stop.

      If I knew of an “alternative” that actually worked, I would have a Nobel Prize. I don’t. I do know, however, that what we are doing is not working, and we should stop. I suggest, again, that what we are doing is unsustainable. If Israel will be seriously harmed by our drawing a line in the sand and saying “NO”, then that harm will occur anyway — and we do nothing but harm more innocents by delaying the inevitable.

      One observation I will make, however, is that life for Israel (and America’s blind support for Israel) will become far more difficult as the Arab Spring movement matures into democratic governance. A visceral hatred of Israel is one of the very few unifying cultural certainties of the entire Middle East region — the suppression of that universal popular dislike was one of the prime motivators of American support for the dictatorial regimes unseated by the Arab Spring movement.

      As much as America welcomes the emergence of truly democratic governments in the ME, are we willing to celebrate the dramatic change in the region’s treatment of Israel that follows that emergence as night follows day?

  8. point taken but

    You seem far more outraged by Israels abuses, some clearly unwarranted for sure, than Palestinian terrorism which is never warranted. Israel goes out of its way to avoid collateral damage while the other side courts it including to its own people. Bibi is a moron alonside the rest of the right for refusing to cooperate with America and biting the hand that feeds them. Demographics alone will force them to settle soon or else sacrifice their democratic tradition and become a garrison state. That said you can complain about abuses without proposing an alternative, it is easy to criticize from Somerville but I doubt you would if you we’re a reisdent of Haifa or Jerusalem where theory gos out the window to the day to day struggle for existence.

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Tue 21 Oct 7:56 PM