The standard media treatment of any aggression against any Israeli target is to extricate it from the context in which it has occurred and ignore circumstances and tensions surrounding it. In this case, the multitude of Palestinian civilian casualties and deaths in the weeks preceding Shalit’s kidnapping is hardly mentioned. In this way, the average reader gets a foreshortened perspective of the story and is likely to view the young corporal as an innocent victim who merely happened to be in the wrong place at the wrong time.
In addition, many newspapers have also written several sensitive profiles of Shalit, enabling us to empathize with him and his family’s hope for his safe return. Because Shalit is also a French national; France has tried to intercede on his behalf by putting further pressure on the Palestinians. By comparison, coverage of the IDF’s killings of a Palestinian family of seven who were enjoying a picnic on the Gaza beach on June 9 quickly gave way to the official Israeli response that their deaths resulted from a mine planted by Hamas.
The second kind of imbalance is political. Palestinian groups holding Corporal Shalit are demanding the release of all Palestinian women and children prisoners in exchange for his return, but Prime Minister Ehud Olmert has refused all negotiations, defiantly declaring, “The government of Israel will not yield to the extortion of the Palestinian Authority and the Hamas government, which are led by murderous terrorist organizations…We will not conduct any negotiations on a prisoner release.”
The third kind of imbalance is military. Israel has responded to guerrilla actions with overwhelming force designed to crush the Palestinians’ infrastructure and terrify the population. In the first stage of an operation euphemistically dubbed “Summer Rains,” Israeli aircraft relentlessly pounded Gaza, targeting much of the Palestinian infrastructure and demolishing the main electric plant, leaving the majority Gaza residents without electricity. In its subsequent land invasion, Israeli tanks and armored vehicles invaded Beit Hanoun (in the Gaza Strip) and drove tens of thousands of Palestinians from their homes, further tightening the noose on the 1.3 million inhabitants living in what has become the worlds’ most densely populated area. As of today (July 7), the IDF has killed 27 Palestinians. One Israeli soldier has also died.
Palestinians living in the West Bank and Gaza can recount hundreds of stories like this that never make it into the Western media nor warrant interventions by mediating countries such as France and Egypt. Another kidnapped Palestinian does not make big headlines.
Those familiar with Gaza know that Corporal Shalit is by now being held in the southern part of the Gaza Strip, far from the battlefield. So what are the real reasons behind this disproportionate use of force? Some Israeli analysts believe Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and Defense Minister Amir Peretz, who both have civilian backgrounds, see this as a testing ground of their military bravado and feel they must outperform their military predecessors Ariel Sharon, Ehud Barak, and Yitzhak Rabin to gain legitimacy in the eyes of Israelis.
I believe, however, that the aim behind Israel’s military operation in Gaza is to topple the democratically elected government of Hamas and impose further territorial demands on the Palestinians. It is a familiar and ineffective strategy that Israel has been engaging in for decades, trying to extinguish political problems with the use of military power.
The current Israeli policy of retaliation and reprisals will not bring lasting peace and security to the Israelis. It is improbable that it will bring the release of the captured soldier either, the reason Israeli officials have focused on to legitimize the reoccupation of Gaza.
Counterattacks by Palestinians on nearby Israeli towns with home-made rockets are only going to exacerbate the situation as well and will continue to detract from the real issues on the ground.
A real and lasting peace will only be possible when every human life, Palestinian and Israeli, is seen to be of equal value and all the followers of Abraham can participate fully in the opportunities and human rights that only a segment of the population enjoy today.