The NYT Magazine has a piece today on the prisoner swap between Hamas and Israel. The article itself is an example of the Israeli-centric view of the conflict that focuses on Gilad Shalit without bothering to think at all about dehumanized Palestinian prisoners, many of whom are children. The focus, as usual, is on Israeli casualties without expressing, for example, how many Palestinian civilians were killed in Israel’s 2008-09 “Operation Cast Lead” (between 726 and 926 — full list of casualties here) or in the case of the 2006 war, how many people were killed at all in Lebanon (around 1,191). In other words, the question of how many Arab civilians Israel deems it acceptable to kill in order to free its military captives isn’t even posed.
That said, the piece does include some very interesting information that I was unaware of. For example, the Israeli decision to assassinate Ugandan president and tyrant Idi Amin at Entebbe if they had the chance:
Rabin signed off on the Entebbe plan only after intelligence agents assured him that aerial surveillance showed Ugandan soldiers guarding the terminal where the hostages were being held, indicating that the building was not booby-trapped. (These same documents also reveal the orders to follow if the commandos ran into Idi Amin himself. “He isn’t a factor,” Rabin said. “If he interferes, the orders are to kill him.” To which the foreign minister, Yigal Allon, added, “Also if he doesn’t interfere.”)
Another tidbit that I was unaware of regards the prisoner swap with Ahmed Jibril of the PFLP-GC:
The first to grasp how sensitive Israeli public opinion was on the issue of hostages and M.I.A.’s — and therefore what a powerful weapon abduction could be — was Ahmed Jibril, the leader of a faction of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine. In 1979, Israel reluctantly agreed to its first disproportionate exchange with a guerrilla organization when Jibril insisted on getting 76 P.L.O. members in exchange for one hostage.
Jibril’s greatest success came in the mid-1980s, when in exchange for three Israeli soldiers he demanded the release of 1,150 prisoners. The group included some of the most infamous terrorists held by Israel, including Kozo Okamoto, a Japanese Red Army member who participated in the massacre of 26 people at the arrivals hall in Lod Airport in 1972. In the wake of Jibril’s demand, Israel attempted to put counter-pressure on him by kidnapping his sister’s son, Murad al-Bushnak, whom Israeli agents lured to Beirut with promises of a weekend of sex, drugs and gambling. Instead, Bushnak was captured and taken to an underground interrogation cell, where he quickly gave up the phone number of Jibril’s home in Damascus. A senior intelligence officer dialed the number and made Jibril a simple offer: a quick swap, without anyone knowing, of Bushnak for the three Israelis. Jibril calmly upped his price to include his nephew.
Interestingly enough, the NYT piece doesn’t distinguish between the capturing of soldiers or militants and the kidnapping of civilians. This is routine in the Western press when Israel and Palestine are concerned: the kidnapping of Jibril’s civilian nephew (or other examples of similar behavior) are often not reported at all or are described as a normal security tactic, while the capturing of Shalit, a soldier, is painted as morally outrageous.