Shalit's Bizarre Predicament
Since the start of Israel's war on Gaza on December 27, the Palestinians, the Israelis and much of the world have been fixated on the situation there. For the Palestinians, the Israeli aggression has been indescribably devastating, with the death toll as of January 5 at more than 520 people, more than a third of them civilians. There is one person currently in Gaza, however, that I can't help think is between one of the most bizarre rock and hard places ever witnessed. Israeli Corporal Gilad Shalit must be thinking – between bouts of fear – that this has got to be the strangest situation he has ever found himself in.
Since June 2006, Shalit has been in the captivity of a Hamas-affiliated group, holed up somewhere in a dark, secret corner of the Gaza Strip. Half-hearted attempts by Israel to reach a prisoner exchange deal with the Palestinians that would ensure Shalit's release have all failed and the young soldier has remained "Missing in Action" since then.
As Israeli bombs, missiles, artillery and sniper fire all rain down on the people of Gaza, taking whole families at a time, I can only imagine what is racing through Shalit's and his family's minds right now. My only hope is that the carnage Shalit's own army is creating in the Gaza Strip will serve as one tiny silver lining, by generating some level of compassion in the minds of the captured soldier and his family for those dying around him.
Shalit was taken hostage over two years ago in a cross-border attack on an Israeli base on the Gaza Strip's southern border with Israel. Until now, his whereabouts have remained unknown, although it is widely believed that he is alive and well. This leaves us with the valid assumption that Shalit is now under the constant boom of F-16 bombs, missiles and, most recently, the chilling grind of tank chains, perhaps driven, flown and fired by some of his old army buddies. The only difference now is that Shalit is on the wrong side of the barrel of the gun, at risk of sudden death just like his Palestinian captives.
This eerie fact has surely not escaped his family, whom I assume are now doubly worried about their son. While public opinion polls in Israel have shown that the majority of Israelis back Israel's offensive into the Gaza Strip, I wonder if the ruthless bombardment of Palestinian areas, often indiscriminate in their targets, has made those who care about Shalit question, even a smidgen, Israel's brutal hand in the Strip.
I mean, even the most conservative numbers indicate that civilians constitute at least a quarter of the dead. Not only have Hamas military installations and rocket launch pads been targeted, so have universities, mosques, stores and homes. Lifeless and limply doll-like bodies of young children have been pulled from under the rubble of collapsed buildings, others screaming in terror as they are rushed to hospitals so poorly equipped, their staffs turn back all those not seriously wounded. Israel's campaign to allegedly eliminate Hamas has left no one and no place in the Gaza Strip safe, its fiery wrath scorching every corner. Now that Israel's ground offensive has begun, the situation for the people can only get worse, with the fear of Israeli ground fire looming around the clock.
Throughout all this, Gilad Shalit sits somewhere, probably in an underground room, in an anonymous location in the Gaza Strip. If he has not been able to see the pictures of Palestinian families blown to pieces by Israel's mighty military machine, his family surely must have. Since Israel's fury has no boundaries, what makes this lone Israeli soldier any less vulnerable to an Israeli missile than his Palestinian captors, fighting for a completely opposite cause?
I have not heard any recent statements from Shalit's family, but earlier in the year when Egypt was hammering out a truce agreement between Hamas and Israel, his father said he expected that any truce must include the release of his son. I wonder, now that his son is directly under Israeli fire, if he has changed his tune. No one better understands what the Israeli military is capable of more than those who have served in it.
I know it is a long shot. But in my infinite faith in people's humanity, perhaps living the horror in Gaza will somehow make Shalit more compassionate with the people he was trained to occupy and oppress? Perhaps as they watch whole buildings crumble like cards with scores of bodies strewn across bloody streets, this will shake the same slumbering humanity in his parents towards the Palestinians. When our television screens flash with a Gazan mother bewailing her slain son who died in an Israeli missile attack, perhaps Gilad's mother's heartstrings will be tugged at just a bit.
This is not the first time Gaza has been under Israeli fire even though it is definitively the fiercest episode. However, for Shalit's family, this time things are different. As Israelis, they most likely believe what their government has told them. Israel is in the Gaza Strip to defend itself. It must annihilate Hamas' capability to fire rockets into its towns and it must take out as many Hamas "terrorists" as it can. Still, it must feel a bit like W. W. Jacobs's The Monkey's Paw. While Hamas is directly responsible for the capturing of their son, whom Shalit's family have most likely wished dead, they should be careful what they wish for. With the Israeli attack on Gaza, they might get their wish for, but not without their son's body bag as well. The irony is that should Shalit die, it may not be at the hands of his Hamas captors, but along with them, pulled from under the debris of an Israeli-bombed house.
Wouldn't it be one of fate's most masterful strokes of brilliance if the family of captured soldier Gilad Shalit, in fear for their son's life, called on their own army to stop the downpour of bombs on Gaza's Palestinians to ultimately save their son? As a Palestinian who wants only to see a halt to such an inexcusable and cruel assault on her fellow citizens in Gaza, I can only hope this happens sooner rather than later.
Joharah Baker is a Writer for the Media and Information Program at the Palestinian Initiative for the Promotion of Global Dialogue and Democracy (MIFTAH). She can be contacted at email@example.com.