Something awful has happened to the campaign to free Gilad Shalit, the Israeli soldier kidnapped more than five years ago.
The liberal Israeli media has transformed what began as a non-partisan consensus effort into a political confrontation. The media goal, alongside the rescue of Gilad, is to achieve the mass release of Palestinian terrorists.
The catch phrase “we must free Shalit at any cost" has come to mean at any cost that involves the release of Palestinian murderers from Israeli prisons. As if no other cost is a valid option.
It is striking that Israel’s mass media, ostensibly bolstering the Shalit family, has not lent support to the family’s recent attempts to save Gilad by the following means: stemming the cash flow from Israel to the Palestinian Authority; canceling Israeli prison perks for Palestinian prisoners; interrupting services (gas, water, electricity) to Gazan residents; and pressuring the United States and Europe to halt their financial assistance to Hamas.
Columnist Alon Idan conceded this politicization in the pages of Haaretz last week when he wrote: "The left is in favor of releasing Shalit, the right is against it and the center says it’s in favor but acts against it."
He ignored the fact that the largely liberal media itself is a prime culprit. Its decision to support one exclusive means to rescue Shalit, in exchange for the mass release of prisoners, has profoundly affected the situation.
Any time that the Shalit family has embraced alternative tactics, the media has ignored them. Only the prisoner “swap”, as the lopsided proposed exchange is called, has garnered supportive articles.
The press has presented myriad arguments to boost its position. A favorite has been to ridicule, as Idan does, the “mumbles of objection.” He posits that “the tumult” surrounding this issue is just a way of “dealing with the need to keep prisoners with ‘blood on their hands’ where they belong.”
As if this "need" were some irrational, infantile whim.
Another Haaretz columnist mocked this concern when he wrote that Netanyahu, upon becoming prime minister, “began discussing one of his favorite topics – terror and its danger,” insinuating that this is just one of his childish pastimes.
Denying the existence of a terror threat is behind the consistent use of the euphemism " blood on their hands” when referring to some of those to be released in a Shalit deal. Journalists prefer it to the charged but accurate “murderers,” a word that might deter the public.
No less disingenuous has been the repeated mention of six former Israeli defense officials who favor the swap. During a press conference in March, the group urged Israel to accede to all of Hamas’ demands. Former Shin Bet Chief Yaakov Peri argued that“ Israel is “strong enough… to deal with these murderers with blood on their hands in case they revert to their evil ways.” He conceded that “there’s a risk involved, but we’ve taken larger risks in the past.”
Other security experts have expressed the opposite view but the media shows no interest in them. Former IDF chief of staff, and current Deputy Prime Minister, Moshe Yaalon, for instance, was interviewed in March, but his thoughts about Shalit’s captivity went unreported in any of the major Israeli news services.
"We are stuck,” Yaalon said then. “Hamas insists on 1,000, but in our experience this will bring the murder of more Israelis. Do we release prisoners knowing hundreds of Israelis will be murdered? There is [also] concern over encouraging more kidnapping…. This is not a simple issue that we are debating but we have a clear policy on the matter. The Prime Minister set conditions and Hamas rejected them."
When asked whether Israel will create a more austere environment for terror prisoners held in Israeli jails due to Hamas´ refusal to allow the Red Cross to verify Shalit´s status, Yaalon said, "we are doing so, but some things are better left unsaid”.
Yaalon’s warning about public discussion of the Shalit matter is one that eludes activists and the media. Otherwise they would long ago have stopped doing Hamas’ dirty work for them. Maligning the Israeli government for its handling of this affair has clearly emboldened Hamas.
We Israelis owe Gilad Shalit every reasonable effort to bring him home. We owe all of our soldiers the promise that we would do the same for them. But we also owe them the assurance that when they risk or sacrifice their lives to bring terrorists to justice they will not have done so in vain. We owe them the assurance that those terrorists will not be freed soon after they are caught.
I fervently hope this government withstands the relentless media pressure to trivialize the threat and horror of terrorism.
Perhaps the words of one particularly evil terrorist will strengthen its resolve. Ahlam Tamimi was convicted of murdering 15 men, women and children in the 2001 bombing of Jerusalem’s Sbarro restaurant, among them my own daughter, Malki. Widely reported to be on the Shalit-deal list of prisoners to be released, Tamimi said: "I’m not sorry for what I did. We’ll become free from the occupation and then I will be free from prison."
Shalit must be brought home without fulfilling the prophecy of this monster.
Frimet Roth is a freelance writer in Jerusalem. Her daughter Malki was murdered at the age of 15 in the Sbarro restaurant bombing in August 2001. Roth and her husband founded the Malki Foundation [www.kerenmalki.org], which provides support for Israeli families of all faiths who care at home for a special-needs child.