In the Holy Land this Christmas Jews, Muslims and Christians are hoping for a different kind of Christmas miracle, they want their loved ones home and they want peace.
The subject on all Israeli’s minds in December 2009 is the return of Gilad Shalit. Gilad Shalit is an Israeli soldier who was kidnapped by the Hamas and taken into the Gaza Strip in June 2006 when he was 19 years old.
Gilad Shalit’s parents, Noam and Aviva, are wishing for their son’s safe return this Christmas. Since Gilad’s capture his parents have fought tooth and nail to keep their son’s plight in the forefront of Israeli media. They have been exemplary parents never giving up on their son, and going to great lengths to do whatever they can to get Gilad home.
After many failed attempts by this and the previous administration the Israeli government is once again sitting down with the Palestinian authorities to work out some kind of deal to get Gilad released and make the Shalit family’s Christmas wish come true.
The Prime Minister himself, Benjamin Netanyahu, is attending the negotiations along with other top ranking Israeli officials, and every hour the Israeli media reports on the ups and downs of the negotiations.
The Palestinians are demanding 1000 – 1150 Palestinians released from Israeli jails in exchange for Gilad Shalit. The main problem is that the prisoners they want are convicted terrorists who have murdered Israelis in terrorist attacks. Terrorists or freedom fighters, depending on your politics, these prisoners were responsible for the deaths of over 100 Israeli civilians. The families of those victims are not happy with the idea of their loved ones’ murderers being set free.
The Geneva Convention has been broken by the Palestinians in their refusal to allow the Red Cross or other neutral bodies to have any contact with Gilad. The Geneva Convention relates to prisoners of war, the question is whether he is a prisoner of war or just a prisoner.
Why is one life being exchanged for 1150 lives? Is one Israeli worth 1150 Palestinians? Is it blackmail? Perhaps the Hamas just wants to milk this deal for all it’s worth and a president has been set by other prisoner exchanges in the past. The Israeli government is under tremendous public pressure to get Gilad Shalit home. The Israeli public’s Christmas wish is to see Gilad home.
The Israeli negotiators need to also take into consideration whether the release of these Arab terrorists/freedom fighters, will endanger Israeli security. For that reason it appears that the Israelis will ask for some of the more dangerous released prisoners to not be returned to the West Bank where they would have easy access to Jerusalem and further terrorist attacks.
If the deal does not go through Gilad Shalit is most likely to be killed in captivity sooner or later. This sends a bad message to future Israeli enlisted soldiers that the promise to “never leave a soldier in the field” will not be honored. Israeli parents are not likely to send their children off to military service if they think that the 18 year old soldiers could end up spending three years in a Palestinian jail.
A successful prisoner exchange will also make the military Hamas run government look good in the eyes of the Palestinians who votes Hamas into power in 2007, ousting the more moderate Mahmoud Abbas. There are also Palestinian families praying to see their loved ones released from Israeli prisons in time for Christmas.
Elections are always just around the corner and being the administration which brings Gilad Shalit home will score points for Netanyahu’s government. When Gilad was first taken Ehud Almert was Prime Minister and he was not successful in returning Gilad, if Netanyahu succeeds it will be a major political victory and certainly make all his Christmas wishes come true!
It seems to be a matter of hours before a decision is made and the Gilad Shalit deal is either off or on. To paraphrase Gilad’s mother: ” the Israeli negotiators should remember that if they vote no to the deal they are condemning Gilad to certain death.”
To all those in the Holy Land may there be peace and understanding, and may Jews, Muslims and Christians see their loved ones safely brought home this Christmas.