< HOME  Wednesday, June 28, 2006

4,765 Palestinians for 6 Israelis - that's some exchange rate

I'm sure Palestinians are thrilled that they can save so many of their fellow lives by sparing just one Israeli life. Nevertheless, the implication of this sharp disparity in value to Israelis of Palestinian lives as compared to Israeli lives is very disturbing. Indeed, it encapsulates all that is wrong with this conflict and with Israel's position.
Israel's concern for captive soldiers has been called its greatest strength and its greatest weakness. Soldiers know they won't be left behind in the field, but on the other hand, the emotional outpouring can prompt the government to bend its principle of refusing to negotiate with kidnappers.

The results are sometimes wildly disproportionate.

In January 2004, Israel and Hezbollah guerrillas in Lebanon agreed to exchange one Israeli civilian and the bodies of three abducted soldiers for 400 Palestinians, 23 Lebanese, five Syrians, three Moroccans, three Sudanese, one Libyan and one German. Fifty-nine Lebanese and the remains of Hezbollah guerrillas were included in the deal.

Israel freed 4,765 Palestinian prisoners in 1983 in exchange for six soldiers held by the Fatah movement, then led by Yasser Arafat.

And in 1985, Israel released 1,150 Arab prisoners, almost all of them Palestinians, in exchange for three soldiers captured by Lebanese guerrillas in 1982. The deal came under harsh criticism at the time, intensifying when the freed prisoners played key roles in a Palestinian uprising that began in 1987.

* * *

"We won't hesitate to carry out extreme action to bring Gilad back to his family," Olmert said. "All the military activity that started overnight will continue in the coming days."

Palestinians said they were confused by Israel's refusal to negotiate an exchange.

Palestinian prisoners are no less "precious" than Lebanese prisoners, said Nihaya Armelad, a 31-year-old mother of five who lives in the southern town of Rafah, which would likely be the front line of any Israeli ground assault.

"They have to exchange him for (Palestinian) prisoners," Armelad said. "They haven't seen their children in years. We are (humans) just like the Israelis."

Since the abduction, prisoners' relatives have marched through Gaza's streets demanding their family members be released in exchange for his freedom.

Sanaa Hirz, 44, said she was willing to weather attacks from Israel if it would bring the release of her husband, a Fatah activist who has been in prison for 22 years.[!!!]

"Gazans are used to missiles, assassinations, artillery. Every day there is death. Death is a natural thing," she said. "Let it come ... it is better with honor."

The last time an Israeli soldier was abducted by Palestinians was 12 years ago when Hamas militants kidnapped Cpl. Nachshon Waxman and demanded a prisoner release. Waxman was killed in a botched rescue operation.

Palestinian pollster Nader Said said the current abduction has given the Palestinians a "temporary sense of self esteem" and hope. But with the Israeli incursion into Gaza, they will be faced with a new reality that will "transform any small victory into a big loss," he said.

* * *

Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert declared publicly that Israel would not negotiate or release Palestinian prisoners, rejecting demands by the Shalit's captors. But Cabinet minister Rafi Eitan, who served for decades in Israel's intelligence services, said anything is possible.

"In the Middle East you have to be able to change your skin, to go from one extreme to the other, from A to Z, within a second," he told Army Radio. "If you are able to do this, you can win. If you can't do this, you should go home."
In other words, they can be trusted about as far as they can be thrown. When was the last time you threw a nation state?


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