“The infernal choice” – Melanie Phillips
I have been watching on TV the drama unfold in Israel and Gaza as the kidnapped
Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit was released after five years in Hamas captivity in
exchange for the release from Israeli prisons of more than 1000 Arab terrorists.
The first pictures of him in a brief interview on Egyptian TV were unsettling, even
if not surprising: painfully thin, pale and with deeply sunken eyes, he looked very
different from the smiling 19 year-old that became the iconic image of the campaign
to secure his release. Relief that he appears to be physically unharmed – he says
he was treated well — must be tempered by concern for the psychological damage
he may have suffered. One can only hope (doubtless fruitlessly) that he will now
be shielded from intrusive media attention to afford him the privacy he undoubtedly
needs in which to start the long process of adjustment and recovery.
Shalit told his Egyptian TV interviewer that he hoped his release would further
the peace efforts and help end the conflict between Israel and the Palestinians.
What a burden this poor boy now carries from this deal with the devil that has
been done to secure his release. But it will not bring about peace; indeed, one
might even say that it marks the collapse of the ‘peace process’ and makes war even
For by making this deal with Hamas, Israel’s Prime Minister Netanyahu has effectively
buried Fatah’s Mahmoud Abbas, already weakened by the failure of his UN ‘Palestine
statehood’ stunt. For Israel, that stunt marked the end of the illusion that Abbas
was a genuine partner in any peace process. Now Hamas has been strengthened by this
deal. That is, to put it mildly, unfortunate; but now at least the illusion of a
moderate Palestinian leadership is over. Israel has brought its hostage home;
and now, with Hamas poised to relocate to an Egypt which is itself on the brink
of descending into Islamic radicalism, Israel faces squarely the true face of genocidal
Nothing illustrates this better than the obscene joy which has erupted in both Gaza
and the West Bank, where jubilant Arabs are celebrating their released killers as
returning heroes. This was how the so-called ‘moderate’ Mahmoud Abbas addressed
the murderers of Jewish innocents at a mass welcoming ceremony for the released
‘Your sacrifice and hard work were not in vain… We thank God for your return and
your safety…You are freedom fighters and holy warriors for the sake of God and
Hamas is also presenting as heroes to cheering Gazan crowds the terrorists in charge
of guarding Shalit during his time in captivity:
‘Shalit’s captors will take the stage alongside the freed prisoners during the Gaza
celebrations to be held upon their return to the Strip. The released prisoners will
be first received by Hamas Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh, government ministers,
Legislative Council members and other figures. Next, the detainees would meet with
relatives. One of the freed prisoners is Muhammad Zufi, who assisted Shalit’s abductors
in videotaping the abduction operation.’
According to Israeli opinion polls, the deal has overwhelming Israeli public support.
But away from the mainstream media which has been gloating over its role in creating
the public pressure for such a deal to be done, an anguished debate has nevertheless
been under way for days now about the terrible price Israel has paid for the release
of this one soldier and the incalculable consequences of such a deal.
It is not merely the grossly disproportionate numbers involved, which no other country
in the world would even contemplate for one moment. It is the fact that the deal
declares in effect that terrorism works. It is the fact that trading one innocent
life for more than 1000 guilty lives hands a sickening victory to terrorists, making
it much more likely that they will kidnap more soldiers to trade for yet more jailed
It is the fact that this deal makes it almost inevitable that yet more Israeli families
will end up mourning the loss of loved ones who will be murdered as a result by
Palestinian terrorism. It is the fact that it underscores the shattering weakness
of the Israel Defence Force in having failed to rescue Shalit during the five years
he was held.
What has happened, many Israelis are asking themselves, to the country that produced
the daring and heroic raiders of Entebbe who managed to defy all odds in rescuing
Israeli hostages from a hijacked plane?
And at a deeper level still, it is the fact that an obscene moral equivalence has
been established by this deal between the innocent and the guilty.
This equivalence is being played out in the coverage which describes the deal as
a ‘prisoner swap’ or ‘prisoner exchange’ – more than 1000 Palestinian prisoners
held in Israeli jails for one Israeli prisoner held by Hamas. But Shalit was a
hostage, kidnapped in an act of illegal aggression by an organisation whose aim
is the destruction of Israel and which allowed him not one visit by the Red Cross
during his five year incarceration.
By contrast, the released Palestinians have not just been tried and punished according
to due process of law, but include among their number not just those who have committed
some of the worst terrorist atrocities in Israel’s history – such as the blowing
up of Sbarro’s pizza restaurant in Jerusalem, where 16 people were murdered including
five members of the Schijveschuurder family — but even worse, some of the masterminds
behind such atrocities.
Some families who have lost loved ones in these terror attacks have welcomed the
deal; they say they did not want the Shalit family to suffer as they themselves
have suffered. But for other families bereaved by these murders, the anguish is
unbearable. Watching the murderers of their loved ones walk free to a rapturous
reception in Gaza and the West Bank and listening to their gloating satisfaction
at having taken the lives of Israeli innocents, these families feel as if they have
been brutally abandoned by a society for which justice cannot be allowed to get
in the way of emotion. For these suffering relatives, it is almost as if today they
are being forced to endure yet another bereavement.
But then, the equivalence being drawn in the coverage of this deal reflects in turn
the morally bankrupt ‘tit-for-tat’ analysis of the Arab war against Israel employed
by so many in Britain and the west. For whenever Israel points out that any military
action against the Palestinians is only in response to Palestinian attacks, many
in Britain claim that those Palestinian attacks were only in response to previous
Israeli attacks. Thus Israel is always painted as the ultimate aggressor.
This is entirely false. From the moment Israel was re-established in 1948, it has
only ever launched military operations against the Arabs in response to actual or
imminent Arab attacks. Yet many in Britain refuse to acknowledge the difference
between murderous aggression and the defence against it.
They refuse to acknowledge that Hamas sets out to murder as many young Israelis
as possible, whereas Israel goes to great lengths (not always successfully) to avoid
civilian casualties. They refuse to acknowledge that the aim of every single military
operation by Israel in Gaza is to defend and protect itself against attack by a
fanatically Jew-hating enemy pledged not only to destroy Israel but to wipe out
every single Jew on earth.
The refusal to acknowledge this crucial moral difference has meant that many in
Britain and the west view Israel as the aggressor in the conflict, and the victimisation
of Israelis is largely glossed over. So just as the anguish of Israeli terror victims’
families over the Shalit deal has been minimised by the media coverage – particularly
in Israel itself, which reflects the malign nature of its own left-wing media class
— so the anguish of Israel itself as a state under permanent existential siege
is routinely ignored, and Israel instead grotesquely portrayed as the aggressor
in the region.
What too many in Britain and west still don’t understand is that what Israel is
up against is what Britain and the west are now up against – not a violent campaign
by people fighting for a state of their own but an Islamist cult of death, in which
the murder of innocents is a cause for exultation and mass killers are lionised
as heroes and religious martyrs, not just by Hamas but by the Fatah leadership in
the West Bank too.
The five-year Shalit drama and its disturbing resolution have therefore come to
symbolise the toxic cocktail of ignorance, misunderstanding, naivety, malice, cowardice,
cynicism, incompetence and moral muddle by the so-called civilised world – including
Israel itself — that has actually served to perpetuate the Middle East impasse.
No decent person can fail to be moved by the return of Gilad Shalit to Israel. Few
eyes will have been dry at his reunion with his family. Yet it has to be said that
ultimately, this deal represents a triumph of heart over head and sentimentality
The Shalit family did what many of us hope we would have done in similar circumstances
– fought a tenacious and brilliant campaign to sustain public pressure on the government
to secure their son’s release. It was, however, emotional blackmail – and the Israel
government should have resisted it. Shalit came to be regarded as every Israeli’s
son. Tragically, however, in the years to come Israel may come to realise that it
paid for the life of Gilad Shalit with the blood of further murdered Israelis and
the lifelong torment of their families.
Yet no-one should underestimate the extreme difficulty of the decision Netanyahu
was forced to take in this case. As so often in Israel, he was between a rock and
a very hard place. However he resolved the Shalit dilemma, it would have been a
For Jews, the diabolical nature of this kind of choice – weighing up the sacrifice
of one of your own against the sacrifice of others of your own- has a terrible historical
resonance. For during the Holocaust, a particularly sadistic torment inflicted by
the Nazis upon their Jewish victims was to force them to choose which of their children
or loved ones to sacrifice in order to save others from gas or bullet.
The Holocaust happened because the world looked the other way until it was too late.
It abandoned the Jews to meet their fate and be forced to make these infernal choices
alone. And now the world is abandoning Israel to meet its fate and be forced to
make these infernal choices alone.
Sure, America helps arm Israel in order that it may defend itself against otherwise
insuperable odds. But at the same time, the west forces Israel to remain trapped
in a permanent war that the west ensures Israel cannot win.
For Israel’s fate is to live cheek by jowl with people pledged to destroy it. Armed
to the teeth, Israel will however never unleash its full military power against
those people because it is constrained by Jewish ethics. The result is that it deals
more scrupulously and humanely with its mortal enemies – and takes more punishment
as a result — than any other nation on earth.
The Arabs know this and take full advantage of it, launching attacks in order to
present Israel with the choice between abandoning its own victims – as has effectively
largely happened in the rocket-bombarded south of Israel – and taking military action,
which will inevitably result in some civilian casualties and thus not only earn
the opprobrium of the double-standard applying world but, more lethally, destroy
Israel’s own belief in itself.
To their eternal shame, Britain and the west have allowed themselves to be manipulated
by this cynical strategy in the cause of genocide. These false friends leap to defame,
demonise and delegitimise Israel by denouncing its military actions as illegal,
aggressive or disproportionate – thus in effect trying to paralyse its attempts
to defend itself against attack, while simultaneously forcing it to surrender to
its enemies through the appeasement process.
The outcome is that Israel is now trapped between Hamas, Fatah, Hezbollah, Iran,
Syria, Egypt and the Mediterranean Sea – and yet is blamed for preventing peace
by building apartments in the suburbs of Jerusalem. The infernal choice it was
forced to make over Gilad Shalit was thus but the latest and most dramatic example
of how the west has abandoned Israel to swing in the wind.