Soldier Released from Gaza After Five Years of Captivity

By Leah Soffer '14, Contributing Writer

Hamas took control of the Gaza in 2006. In its charter, Hamas refers to “the Nazism of the Jews.” It also states: “The time will not come until Muslims will fight the Jews (and kill them)” and that “Israel will rise and will remain erect until Islam eliminates it as it had eliminated its predecessors.” Hamas’s charter further states that “Israel, by virtue of its being Jewish and of having a Jewish population, defies Islam and the Muslims.”

Hamas as an organization blames Jews for the French Revolution, the Communist Revolution and for creating the League of Nations. Hamas believes “There was no war that broke out anywhere without [Jewish] fingerprints on it,” says the organization. They also claim that Jews reaped benefits from World War II, during which the Nazis orchestrated a genocide which destroyed one-third of the world’s Jewish population.

Over five years ago, Hamas extremists from Gaza traveled in tunnels under the border between Gaza and Israel, near the Kerem Shalom Crossing. The extremists wore stolen Israeli Defense Force uniforms and, at 5 a.m., attacked a group of soldiers who had recently begun their mandatory army service. This crossing, ironically, was the same crossing through which Israel sends thousands of tons of aid to Gaza several times a week.

The Hamas extremists murdered two 20-year-old soldiers, Hanan Barak and Pavel Stutzker, and captured the 19-year-old Gilad Shalit. Hamas has released public statements that show their support for their members’ actions. The attack was planned by the Popular Resistance Committees, consisting of affiliates of Islamic Jihad, Fatah (the political party in control of the West Bank) and Hamas.

Hamas members had been holding Shalit at an unknown location in the Gaza Strip for over five years. Israel demanded Shalit’s immediate release, but Hamas refused to release the young soldier. After a bevy of rocket attacks from Gaza had targeted Israeli civilian centers, Israel invaded Gaza. Even after this invasion, the Israel government could not find Shalit’s location.

While being kept in an undisclosed location, Shalit was denied visits from the International Committee of the Red Cross by his captors. This denial violated international law.

While Shalit’s parents were lobbying for their son’s safe return home, Hamas was supporting his captivity. The organization published a number of cartoons on their children’s television station that mock Shalit. One depicts Shalit chained to a wall, crying for his mother as a Hamas child mocks him and assures him that his country does not care about him. Another cartoon depicts a Hamas child chipping away at a giant chain with a stone that has Shalit’s face on it. The child says that “If one stone isn’t enough, we’ll bring more,” insinuating that Hamas plans to continue abducting Israeli soldiers to pressure Israel into releasing more terrorist prisoners.

The debate stands: should Israel negotiate with Hamas to release Shalit in exchange for releasing over 1,000 Palestinian prisoners, all of whom have been arrested for attempted or successful terrorist attacks against Israel, and who will most likely return home only to plot more Israeli deaths? Israel, the only democracy in the Middle East, has been continually attacked since its declaration as an independent state.

Morale is integral to the existence of the state because the soldiers must feel hopeful for the country for which they risk their lives. Bringing Shalit home lends credence to the Israeli Defense Force’s ideal of “no soldier left behind.” Though Shalit’s return heralds new hope for Israelis the only way to bring Shalit home was to trade him for Palestinian prisoners. The Palestinian prisoners, unlike the randomly-captured Shalit, were arrested for plotting or committing attacks against Israel.

Is one soldier, who has turned into a national symbol of the hatred Hamas has displayed toward Israel, worth the thousands of lives that could be taken by those Israel would have to release? And, is that soldier of greater importance to the country than giving justice to those who have lost family and friends from these prisoners’ attacks?

This week, Hamas and Israel agreed to a two-stage exchange to release Gilad Shalit in exchange for hundreds of Palestinean prisoners taken by Israel for violent crimes against the state. Tuesday, Hamas released Shalit, now 25, to return to his parents’ home in Israel. He was transported to Egypt to be retrieved by Israel. Israel agreed to release 477 prisoners at the time of Shalit’s return. Of those prisoners, about 280 had been serving life sentences; 131 will be returned to Gaza, 14 to east Jerusalem and 96 to the West Bank. About half of the prisoners being returned to East Jerusalem and the West Bank will not have complete freedom of mobility. Ahlam Tamini is one of the 477 that are to be released; Tamini is responsible for aiding in a suicide bombing that took 16 lives. If all proceeds as planned, Israel will free 550 more prisoners in two months.

If you are interested in discussing Hamas, come to LESS HAMAS MORE HUMMUS, October 20 at 7 p.m. in Vita Nova 100.