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Saturday, November 22, 2014

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Gilad Schalit and Israel’s moral imperative

Tags: Columnists Gerald Steinberg
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On Oct. 18, the world saw a shy and pale Israeli soldier – 19 years old when he was kidnapped by Hamas – returning to his family and country after more than five years of hell in Gaza, and miraculously maintaining his human spirit. On the other side, hundreds of Palestinian murderers were welcomed by cheering mobs as heroes after killing and maiming thousands of innocent Israelis, and then boasting of their heinous crimes.

Most viewers around the world were drawn to and identified with the Israeli captive returning home with dignity, including during a final act of mental torture at the hands of a callous Egyptian interviewer.

Looking at the other side of the frame, many were repelled by the sight of gleeful terrorists such as Ahlam Tamimi, the Palestinian woman who cold-bloodedly prepared and guided the bomber to Jerusalem’s Sbarro pizza parlour in January 2001 and waited calmly for the explosion that murdered 16 people, including many children. Tamimi is a cold-blooded mass murderer who boasted about her “accomplishments” in television interviews from an Israeli jail after she was sentenced.

One Arab commentator noted: “Outside Palestine, people see us as a primitive community and a Third World country, full of gangsters and terrorists.”

But among the dark parts of society, others – including self-proclaimed human rights activists, journalists, pundits, and academics claiming moral enlightenment – continued to turn their sympathy to the terrorists. CNN, the BBC, wire services and many newspapers ran stories focusing on the suffering of the Palestinian families while the murderers were in Israeli jails. They enjoyed regular visits, took university courses, and had Red Cross medical checks, while Schalit had none of these things. In these stories, the inhuman acts of the 1,027 released Palestinian prisoners and the stories of their victims were largely erased.

In this morally upside-down world, Israelis are automatically portrayed as evil, and Palestinians, however vile their actions, are embraced as victims. These warped images are so strongly ingrained, after decades of propaganda, that Schalit’s quiet heroism made no lasting impression.

Palestinian propaganda groups, funded by European governments, and masquerading as human rights supporters, allied with Israel-based organizations associated with the “progressive and enlightened” New Israel Fund, were particularly active in this abuse. The group Gisha repeated the immoral equation between “the Schalit family and the families of the prisoners who will be released.” Similarly, in a joint statement, Adalah and the Arab Association for Human Rights claimed that “the release of 1,027 Palestinian and Arab prisoners from Israeli prisons a positive step.” Again, the terrorism and extortion were erased.

The standard excuse for this moral meltdown is “the Israeli occupation,” as if Arab rejectionism, war and terrorism didn’t exist before the 1967 war, and as if Israel, and not Arab leaders, maintained the status quo by refusing to negotiate seriously. This false history is used to justify the most evil acts of violence, turning victims into aggressors and war criminals into resistance heroes. After hearing this version repeatedly, it’s not surprising that young Jews and even marginal Israelis subscribe to the myth that the “occupation” is the source of wars, terrorism and demonization.

This excuse was also provided by ethical “watchdogs” such as Human Rights Watch, Amnesty International and dozens of other groups. For the most part, these pseudo-human rights groups largely ignored the violation of Schalit’s rights for 1,941 days. (Four years after he was kidnapped, both Amnesty and HRW belatedly made brief statements on his behalf, but only after being named and shamed by NGO Monitor.) And after Schalit’s release, Amnesty issued another blatantly immoral and fact-free press release entitled “Israel-Hamas prisoner swap casts harsh light on detention practices of all sides.”

Schalit, the quiet hero, must be allowed to recover in peace. But the contrasting images of the young Israeli soldier returning with dignity from captivity on one side exchanged for 1,027 unrepentant Palestinian murderers on the other cannot be allowed to disappear. This juxtaposition between celebrating life and celebrating death, and between morality and immorality, must remain as the symbol of Israel’s ongoing struggle for justice in an unjust and immoral world.

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