The committee coordinating the struggle to free Gilad Shalit went all the way to Auschwitz where, it is reported, its members distributed 888 yellow flowers. That was in October, and we can only hope that this media gimmick will not be repeated, either because an agreement will be reached in the near future or because the organizers will understand how lacking in taste that move was.
The committee is continuing to put non-stop pressure on the government despite warnings that this is hampering the negotiations. In this way, the organizers and participants are showing a healthy lack of faith in the politicians’ promises. But the lack of faith stops when we talk about the policy of repression employed by Israel against the Palestinian population in the Gaza Strip. Here the organizers (including the kibbutz movement’s missions branch) accept the government’s approach and merely demand "more!" — more blockading of food, medicine, fuel and cash; more destruction of industry and agriculture; more homes without water. That is the logic behind the demonstrative obstruction of the border crossings initiated by the organizing committee in October. Now the committee is aiming its arrows at the families of the Palestinian prisoners. It tried to stop family visits at the Ashkelon prison and pledges to do so at other jails.
There is no doubt about it, Shalit’s confinement is cruel — the lack of certainty, lack of information and lack of continuous contact, as well as the fact that there is no external body that can visit him and inspect the conditions of his captivity. The committee is demanding "mutuality," but it seems more like revenge. And in our naivete we thought they wanted to see Shalit freed. To that end, the committee should have done its homework, and not with Defense Minister Ehud Barak as teacher.
If it is a lack of legality we are referring to, the committee could have reminded itself and the government that it is forbidden for an occupying power to imprison in its sovereign territory people from an occupied territory. The committee heads could have checked and known that the right to regular prison visits is being withheld from tens of thousands of Palestinians (including some 1,000 Gaza families). A perusal of the information which the (Israeli) Association for the Palestinian Prisoners has would reveal to the committee’s activists that the Palestinian security prisoners do not have the right to speak regularly on the telephone with their families, even when they do not visit them for months or years.
Is this what the committee’s members think — that a little more cruelty is needed so the population of prisoners and their families will enlist in the struggle to free Gilad Shalit? Instead of that, why not listen to the Palestinians?
For the Palestinians, Shalit is not a boy who wrote a touching story. For them he is a soldier in the Armored Corps, and he and his colleagues were partners to the shelling of the civilian population. For the Palestinians, Shalit and the 11,000 Palestinian prisoners have the same status — prisoners of war.
Instead of going to Poland and Ashkelon, the heads of the committee can go to Lod and meet with Leila Bourghal, the mother of Mukhlas, one of the prisoners. His mother is almost 80 and can teach them a lot about what life is like when your rights have been constantly denied. They can learn from her about courage and maintaining human dignity and hope, even though no one in the world knows about her son.
Instead of demanding that the prison service stop visits to the jail, they can ask for a meeting with Walid Daqqa, who was born in Baqa al-Gharbiyah and is being held in the Gilboa prison. And as preparation for the visit, they are invited to read his impressions which he has put down on paper in recent years. If they are loath to try the adventure of driving to the village of Qalandiyah (behind the Qalandiyah checkpoint but inside territory annexed to Jerusalem) they can meet outside the checkpoint with the parents of the prisoner Ahmed Amira. If these people had been Jews, they would all have been released a long time ago, even if their indictments were much more serious. But because they are Arab citizens and residents of Israel, the authorities adamantly refuse to discuss releasing them, not even in exchange for Shalit. Instead of demanding more cruelty, why do you not demand that the state lift its opposition to freeing them?
Instead of treating them and their families like enemies, it would be worth the while of the committee organizers who want to free Shalit to meet with the families and consult with them on how to act logically and justly to free both Shalit and the Palestinian prisoners, all prisoners of war.
This article was published in Haaretz, Dec. 11, 2008.