From darkness into light
Is it possible that Gilad Shalit is still in captivity and the Qassam fire is continuing not because there is no one to talk to, but because we don't want to hear what the Palestinian leaders have to say?
Again we celebrated the holiday of freedom while Gilad Shalit remained in captivity. We spoke of going from darkness into a great light, but left the talks about releasing the abducted soldiers in the dark. We have become accustomed to let our future depend on Shin Bet people who negotiate covertly, and we have stopped asking what we could do to release the abducted soldiers.
Why not talk with all our neighbors, Hamas, Fatah and Hezbollah, the presidents of Syria and Egypt and the Arab states, about releasing the abducted soldiers, about stopping the Qassam fire, about reconciliation?
We boast of Israel's democracy and freedom of information, but let the Shin Bet security service direct our reality, although they act in darkness. We have no idea what our future map is, but we have been asked for years not to ask too many questions.
Since 1967, Israel has imprisoned more than 700,000 Palestinians, about one-fifth of the Palestinian population. According to the last United Nations report, Israel is holding behind bars more than 11,000 Palestinian prisoners, including 118 women and 376 children, who are incarcerated - in violation of international law - outside the occupied territories. The Shin Bet decides which prisoners are to receive visits and which family members will be barred from entering Israel.
We could release first, as a goodwill gesture, some 800 "administrative" Palestinian prisoners, who have been jailed in Israel for months with no trial. These prisoners, who have not been charged and do not know why they are being jailed for months (sometimes years) with no trial, must be released as the first stage of releasing the political abductees and prisoners. Releasing prisoners can be the first step of a reconciliation process, as it has been in many countries worldwide.
Reconciliation processes everywhere in the world are not conducted in the dark but in a bright light. They include a public debate on victims' testimonies and public recognition of the pain, rights and compromises made by all the parties concerned. Some 22,000 people testified before the Truth and Reconciliation Commission in South Africa, and millions heard and watched their testimonies on television. Testifying before the committees made it possible for the victims to tell their story and win recognition, enabled many South Africans to hear for the first time about the extent of the apartheid regime's oppression and gave society a chance to deal with the pain of the past in order to build a more just future.
In Israel the authorities prefer to conduct secret talks and not to hear the Palestinian story. We keep telling the story of our renewed return to the land of our fathers. What is the story of the Palestinians who have lived here, whom this country also belongs to? Why don't we want to hear their story, about the deportation of hundreds of thousands from their homes in 1948, destroying their villages and looting their property? Why shouldn't we hear of their dream to return to their homes in Jaffa and Ramle and Lod? About their life under occupation, when their universities were closed for years at the military governor's order? Why don't we hear about children growing up in crowded homes during months of curfew, about roadblocks and fences and family members being beaten, humiliated and arrested, and life without rights?
It is time to talk with the Palestinians about the way we will live here together. Is there really nobody to talk to? Why aren't we willing to talk with everyone about everything, about the past, present and future?
Is it possible that Gilad Shalit is still in captivity and the Qassam fire is continuing not because there is no one to talk to, but because we don't want to hear what the Palestinian leaders have to say? We must speak out loudly and openly with everyone - about the past, present and future, about a life of fair, decent neighborly relations. Without red and green lines and with no prior conditions. Only about how we will live here together and separately, Jews and Arabs, in reconciliation.
The writer teaches on human rights at the Hebrew University's Law School.