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Tuesday, July 12, 2011

A grandfather's plea for an Israeli soldier


NEW YORK — Marking five years since the capture of Gilad Shalit, international human rights organizations continue demanding the release of the Israeli soldier.

Shalit's grandfather has joined the choir of those demanding freedom for his grandson. Zvi Shalit asked the Israeli authorities to accept Hamas' conditions for the release of his grandson, a move he says would also have a quieting influence on the life of all Israelis living near Gaza.

During a cross-border raid near Kerem Shalom, Gilad was captured June 25, 2006, by Hamas and has been held somewhere in the Gaza Strip.

Speaking recently to Jewish News in London, Zvi Shalit, 85, said, "I am convinced that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu can bring Gilad home with one move, but he doesn't want to do it."

By practically any criteria it is time to end Gilad Shalit's ordeal.

Although both sides in the conflict are to blame for the delay in the negotiations, a new Egyptian initiative should be embraced by both sides to end the punishment of the Israeli soldier and his family. Freedom for Shalit would not only be a needed humanitarian action; it would also bring some hope to the region.

Hamas' leader, Khaled Meshaal, has indicated that he expects soon to see the release of Palestinians imprisoned in Israel. This could be a roundabout acknowledgement of Hamas' willingness to reach an agreement on Shalit.

Speaking at a special Memorial Day address, Israel's prime minister said efforts — including those hidden from view — are constantly being made to return kidnapped and missing soldiers: "We will not rest until they are returned."

Netanyahu has two main objections to demands that Hamas has made in the past. One is that the most dangerous among the Palestinians should not be allowed to return to the West Bank, where they could stage attacks against Israel, but instead should go to Gaza or abroad. Yet, three former heads of Shin Bet, Israel's security service, have declared that "Israel is strong enough, from an intelligence and a military perspective to deal with murderers who return to their bad habits."

Netanyahu's second objection is that "arch-murderers" should not be released.

It is possible that Hamas may agree to the first point. As for the second point, included in those so-called arch-murderers Marwan Barghouti, who is regarded as a leader of the First and Second Intifadas.

It is difficult to imagine the Palestinians making a deal if Barghouti were not part of it. He is one of the more admired Palestinian leaders, and has been called "Palestine's Mandela" by Uri Avnery, a leading Israeli peace activist.

According to professor Uri Bar-Joseph of Haifa University, a deal on Shalit could benefit both sides. As he stated recently, "One has to remember that getting hundreds of Palestinian prisoners released back to Gaza and the West Bank will be a huge win for Hamas, and will make the group more popular."

And "Bibi (Netanyahu) knows that getting Shalit back home may give him a lot of popularity, especially from the more leftwing of the Israeli public. He will be criticized from the right, but he is strong with the rightwing, anyhow."

Writing to Netanyahu last April, Zvi Shalit stated, "A year ago a deal to secure Gilad's release was all but signed, but you thwarted it in a last minute decision. Your refusal then and today to comply with the request of former defense officials to free Gilad at the said price is tantamount to Gilad's death sentence."

Cesar Chelala, M.D., is a co-winner of the Overseas Press Club of America award.


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