The Ministerial Committee on Legislation decided this week that the State would be allowed to deprive Palestinian prisoners associated with Hamas of family visits, televisions, and books. Yet a quick examination revealed that in the past three years, Gaza prisoners received no family visits anyway and were also deprived of cable TV. It appears that ahead of the upcoming Hebrew Book Week, the main sanction will be to prevent Hamas book-lovers from reading.
The fundamental question is as follows: What’s the benefit inherent in all these moves? Will the further worsening of imprisonment conditions, which are harsh as it is, prompt Hamas to change its attitude and release Gilad Shalit?
To be honest, the likelihood isn’t great. People of the type that does not hesitate to kill or be killed for the sake of their objectives will not break because they can’t watch their favorite TV show. If Hamas did not embark on talks in the wake of the massive destruction caused in Operation Cast Lead, what’s the chance that preventing books from its prisoners will prompt it to change course?
If the utilization of great pressure against the civilian population did not prompt the hoped-for response, namely civilian pressure on the leadership, what is the chance that the prevention of morning newspapers will bring better results?
It’s hard for Israel to accept this reality, but at times, in contacts with a radical and zealot terror group, the ability to exert pressure is highly limited. What haven’t we tried already? Sanctions, a blockade, military operations, and the outrageous capturing of hostages (“bargaining chips” as we euphemistically refer to it) – yet everything was in vain.
Think for a moment about the highly problematic (legally and morally) detainment of “bargaining chips” (in the past we did not hesitate to kidnap such people in Lebanon, and not all of them were high-ranking figures like Dirani and Obeid.) Seemingly, what’s more effective than securing such bargaining chips? After all, members of Hamas’ civilian leadership must be more meaningful for group members than the families of simple fighters in the organization.
Immoral and ineffective
Yet the refusal to capitulate in the face of the pressure shows that for the sake of some things, Hamas members are willing to pay a heavy price that may be illogical in our view. They’re simply not taking part in our card game. For them, a significant prisoner release in exchange for Shalit’s release is not an algebra problem where the whole discussion focuses on numbers and names.
At the end of the day, they wish to undertake a symbolic move by defeating the enemy via the captive soldier. The release under their terms is worthy of a price that we would never pay (as is clear that they would never make any gesture for the sake of one prisoner, whoever he may be.)
Is it appropriate to grant this symbolic victory to Hamas members? To me, it appears that the answer is “no” – for both practical and moral reasons. We have no reason to grant a moral victory to a terror organization that aims to eliminate us.
However, this declaration comes with a price, and the person who may pay it is Gilad Shalit. It’s tragic, but it’s no more tragic than the decision to try to rescue an abducted soldier, thereby losing other soldiers. In the cruel world we inhabit, policy demands victims, and at times these are human sacrifices.
There is no reason then to make Hamas prisoners suffer – it’s not very moral and it’s not too effective either. The fact that their organization treats Shalit barbarically does not justify a barbaric treatment towards them. Israel must declare that it submitted its last offer and is no longer engaging in negotiations. This message, more than another bargaining chip and another empty move against the prisoners, is the only message that may be effective.
The bargaining is over. Israel made its last offer. This offer may be insufficient, but another one won’t be forthcoming.