The Israeli Sergeant Major Gilad Shalit, kidnapped five years ago by Palestinian thugs, was released to much jubilation last week. The release, with Israel reciprocating by setting free around 1,000 militants, has been hailed as both the world’s most lop-sided prisoner exchange and a boon to the cause of regional peace. Certainly, to see the wrongfully held Sergeant returning to his family home after so much time warms the heart. Equally, his statement on Egyptian state television that he would be happy to see Palestinian prisoners return to their own families suggests an unusually magnanimous character. Though this might fill one with hope, this should not be taken to mean a new age of peace in the region.
Depressing and pessimist though this may sound, it is the sad truth of the matter. The Telegraph reported on 18 October that, even as Shalit emerged from captivity, Hamas was announcing its intent to capture ‘another Gilad Shalit’ to ransom the release of yet more militant terrorists. Similarly Wafa al-Bis, a Palestinian woman that tried to blow up an Israeli hospital where she was to be treated for burn injuries, made worrying announcements upon her return to Gaza. Again according to The Telegraph, she stated her only regrets after six years’ imprisonment was her failure to kill herself and her captors, reaffirming her commitment to seize any new chance to become a martyr.
The outrages categorised vary wildly…
In view of this literally religious fervour to kidnap or otherwise butcher Israeli soldiers and civilians, one begins to wonder if regional peace is ever possible. Such sentiments are only entrenched when one considers the broader situation within Gaza. The Middle East Media Research Institute released a seven-part report on Hamas’ administration of the region, revealing the dazzling array of abuses Gaza’s overlords indulge in. The outrages categorised vary wildly. According to the MEMRI report, Hamas has arbitrarily restricted rights to assembly, persecuted political opponents and violators of Shari’a law, and even brazenly seized private funds from Gazan banks with scarcely a pretence of legality. With Hamas showing such restraint when dealing with its own people, is it any wonder that peace has yet to come to the wider area?
Of course, the standard apologist response to such inconvenient details is invariably one of evasion. Deborah Orr, writing for The Guardian underneath a cheerful photo of Wafa al-Bis surrounded by smiling schoolchildren, is one such example. Conveniently sidestepping the murderous intent of the woman looming over her article, (to say nothing of the butchery committed by the other 1,026 released prisoners,) she somehow arrives at the conclusion that the deal illustrates a belief that Israeli lives are considered more valuable than Palestinian equivalents. Admittedly, the choice of photograph might not have been hers – but the nebulous reasoning of her evasion is jarring. Nevertheless, that such an evasion was offered at all leads us to an important truth about the Israeli-Palestinian situation.
These mountains of obfuscating prose, swamps of moral relativism and logical dead ends cannot hide the fact of the matter: regional peace is impossible given the Palestinian leadership and the culture it fosters.
…the Israelis neighbour an essentially dictatorial regime…
Even if one’s first instinct here is to throw accusations of bellicosity or responsibility at Israel, our first concern should be to consider the nature of what it faces in Gaza. Put simply, the Israelis neighbour an essentially dictatorial regime, whose thuggish excess is well-documented, and for which Islamic repression and brute force – not reason and individual rights – are seemingly defining principles. With this regime exhorting religious violence at every turn, and without drastic cultural or political change in Palestine, how can we consider peace to be anything other than some ephemeral mirage?
In light of this, one wonders whether William Hague was just going through the motions or simply blind when he called on Israel to renew the now-farcical peace process last week. This insistence that Israel stoops and parlays with brutes in Hamas was an especially galling end to the Gilad Shalit story. As a country that flourished by embracing freedom and rationality – irrespective of what one thinks of Israel – the last thing Britain should do is offer those opposed to such ideals a chance to legitimise themselves.
Images courtesy of Gilad Shalit