The brief Gilad Shalit videotape was produced by Hamas with precision. It was meant to convey an impression to viewers in Israel and abroad: We, the members of Hamas who are holding Gilad Shalit, are not animals.
We are not al-Qaeda, which documents its captives humiliated and beaten up. We are not the Taliban, which forces its prisoners to make horrific confessions. We are not the Pakistani Jihad, which filmed the brutal murder of Jewish journalist Daniel Pearl. We are not even Hezbollah. We, Hamas – as of the fall of 2009 – represent a humane approach. We are treating Gilad Shalit as one treats a prisoner of war.
The fact is that Gilad is wearing a uniform, alive and well, without visible signs of physical or emotional torture. He tells the camera about an experience he remembers from his military services. As you see, we are not wild animals.
Indeed, we’ve been holding Gilad Shalit for a long time without providing information about his condition, yet now we decided to change our approach and accept a reasonable Israeli offer. Let’s engage in dialogue as equals with shared human values. We’ll respect you, and you’ll respect us. This is the new image which Hamas wishes to reinforce among Israeli and global public opinion through the Shalit video.
The grand swap Hamas aspires to seal now – judging by the videotape’s implicit message – includes a component that was absent from other such deals: Legitimacy. After two years of dictatorial rule in Gaza, Hamas needs to a breakthrough that will let it out of the Gaza ghetto it trapped itself in along with the Strip’s population. The grave disaster brought upon Gaza by the Shalit abduction cannot be anything but patently clear to any reasonable Palestinian, even if he fears to express it in public. Even Mahmoud Abbas is preferable in Palestine today compared to the current Hamas regime.
‘The new Hamas’
The almost sole outlet for Hamas’ leadership is Gilad Shalit; he’s their spring board and lifesaver. Through a lone 23-year-old soldier, Hamas hopes to salvage itself, take front stage among Arabs and Palestinians, and gain recognition as a relatively sane political organization that can be a legitimate party in any regime to be established in the territories.
The latest reports from Gaza also attest to a change in the government culture there. The process of Islamization has not been curbed, yet it modified its shape; it is being enforced more pleasantly, with less force. There is even a certain decline in the level of wild incitement against Israel and the Jews. Hamas is sanitizing and shining itself ahead of joining the grand Palestinian coalition.
The Gilad Shalit videotape is part of this trend and is meant to make it known to the world. It is meant to prove that the “new Hamas” already exists and that it prefers the narrative of dialogue over the narrative of constant rejection. It’s an attempt to present a new face.
Can we conclude from this that Gilad Shalit’s parents will see and hug him at home sooner than expected? Only if the deal to be sealed will include not only a prisoner release, but also the (at least partial) lifting of the global boycott on Hamas.
Hamas will agree to show flexibility on the names and numbers of the prisoners to be released should an authorized party give it the kosher stamp. Kosher for dialogue, kosher for policy purposes, and kosher for taking power. It is worthwhile for Hamas to release Shalit in order to secure Obama’s blessing.
I watched Gilad Shalit facing the Hamas camera and I thought to myself: Here is yet another cruel game of history, which imposes such great burden on the shoulders of this young soldier, who is showing incredible courage.