Israel's Gilad Shalit Syndrome

It is not wise or fair to pressure PM Netanyahu to toughen his policy on Gaza in the name of securing the release of two IDF soldiers' missing bodies.

Defense Minister Ehud Barak, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, IDF Soldier Gilad Shalit and his father, Noam Shalit, after landing at Tel Nof Air Base, Oct. 18, 2011.
IDF Spokesman's Office

The family of Israel Defense Forces soldier Oron Shaul, who was killed during the 2014 conflict in the Gaza Strip, demanded that the Israel Prison Service prevent Palestinians jailed for security offenses from watching the recent European soccer championships.

The press embraced the story. The Shauls petitioned the High Court of Justice to keep the inmates from watching the championship finals. This breaking story was announced on radio, and the TV stations reported on the fate of the Shauls’ motion. The family also tried to block families of prisoners from visiting their relatives at Nafha prison, and threatened to block trucks from crossing into Gaza. The Ynet news website ran a great picture.

The family of Hadar Goldin, a soldier who was also killed during IDF's Operation Protective Edge in Gaza in 2014, publicly rejected the recent reconciliation agreement struck between Israel and Turkey, demanding that it be put on ice until their son’s body is returned. The media broadcast their position as though it was justified criticism.

I have no plaint against the families. None of us can put ourselves in their shoes. But I am willing to bet that, despite the fact that an absolute majority of the media people involved knew the demands were categorically unreasonable – no one dared to stand up and say: No, we will not participate in this lunacy.

The family of captive IDF soldier Gilad Shalit during a rally pressuring the Israeli government to free him, in June 2010.
Hagai Fried

What we did regarding captive IDF soldier Gilad Shalit, when we subjected the interests of an entire nation to the effort to release a single individual, important as that goal may be, was enough.

During the campaign to free Shalit, not a few leading politicians actually opposed the deal. Yet most, if not all, these figures did not have the nerve to express their opposition in public.

There were even leading personalities like Tzachi Hanegbi who undertook before the family not to air their opposition in the press, as though letting hundreds of terrorists go in order to free Gilad were a family matter between Hanegbi and the Shalits.

Tzipi Livni, Avigdor Lieberman, Moshe Ya'alon, all wannabe premiers, left expression of their opposition to private conversations; they did not fight for their opinion, but rode the populist wave.

Now it’s happening again, but it's even crazier. At least the issues related to the Shalit situation involved real values to fight about: leaving no soldier behind, undertaking mutual pledges – at least in that case, there was a live soldier to bring home. In this case, not even that exists. What value is there in releasing terrorists for bodily remains? If a crackdown on the conditions of imprisonment of security prisoners is necessary, so be it – but what do Goldin and Shaul have to do with it?

These days government ministers are now meeting with the families as if on an assembly line, spouting vacuous platitudes and murmuring meaningless promises. Not one dares stand tall at the microphone and say it aloud: What happened to the soldiers breaks our heart but it won’t help if we release dozens of terrorists, which is the price Hamas demands in exchange for the bodies.

It would have been even more inspiring if one of the ministers came out of the meeting with one of the families and declared: What I got out of that meeting is that I should do what I can in cabinet, short of starting a superfluous war and killing more people in another round of bloodshed in Gaza.

Lately cabinet ministers have been saying that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is deeply worried over the situation in Gaza. He keeps warning about its collapsing infrastructure and humanitarian crisis.

He is so worried, one cabinet member admitted, that Israel is knowingly forgoing any attempt to make sure that cement coming from the Israeli side into Gaza isn’t being used to build “terror tunnels.” In practice, Israel is perfectly aware that the cement is being used for tunnels, but somehow manages to live with that knowledge.

Netanyahu is so worried, one cabinet member suggested, that it isn’t unthinkable for him even to be receptive to the idea of building a port in Gaza. The chief opponent of such a port was Ya'alon and he’s gone; moreover, other ministers, like Yisrael Katz and Naftali Bennett, actually support the idea.

Is the prime minister really that concerned? Or was everything just a show to push through the agreement with Ankara, and for the sake of some future inquiry?

We don’t know. What’s for sure is that the public pressure on the prime minister to toughen his policy toward Gaza just because of the missing bodies is unwise – and unfair.