The Great Gilad Shalit Binge

As I write, Israel is preparing for the Gilad Shalit bacchanalia. For the next 72 hours, perhaps more, the country will indulge in an elaborate orgy of media overkill, voyeurism and self-congratulation that has no equal in the modern world.

Last night, the Supreme Court rejected the petitions that had been lodged against the prisoner swap. That, too, was part of the ritual. The fact that Israel is releasing people accused of horrific crimes, and who clearly remain dedicated to their struggle, can’t be allowed to derail the ceremony. In fact, it’s the entire point. Without the release of hundreds of dangerous prisoners, the whole thing would lose its potency. It would be no more than a human interest story; big-time reality TV.

The prisoner swap is an essential national cleansing. It’s what enables us to continue occupying and brutalizing and killing for another few years. It is the only opportunity we have,  once or twice every decade, to show ourselves and the world how humane we are and how righteous. How we are prepared to take the most enormous risks in order to reunite a mother with her son. It is a reaffirmation of our morality, of our essential humanity.

It is also part of our Jewishness, that which sets us apart from all the other nations. No other nation would behave as we are behaving, our politicians have declared pompously over the past few days. And they are right. The release of over one thousand prisoners for a single captive soldier makes absolutely no sense in terms of security, logic or even mathematics, which are the normal terms of reference. But Israel isn’t normal and few other countries have the same primitive need for purgation and absolution.

Without the prisoner swap, we’d just be the neighborhood bully; the thug who terrorizes those weaker than him. The low-life. With it, we are uplifted, purified; absolved of our sins. Yom Kippur no longer works for us; we need something a lot more dramatic. And there’s nothing more powerful than putting hundreds of murderers back on the streets so a desperate family can regain their son. It’s a national catharsis. And the nation, with the exception of the party-poopers who lost loved ones in terrorist attacks, participates ecstatically.

The prime minister will be there when Gilad returns, of course, in his capacity as lay high priest. He doesn’t attend the funerals of whose who die as a consequence of his policies, but no self-respecting Israeli politician would miss the opportunity to be center stage in the purification ceremony.

When it is all over, and Gilad is back with his family, Israel will be able to return to the routine of beating, torturing, humiliating and denying the Palestinians their basic human rights, with renewed vigor and a pure conscience. Shiites cut their bodies and beat themselves with whips until the blood flows; Catholic clergy deny themselves the pleasures of the flesh. Israel binges on releasing prisoners. It’s all part of obeying a higher calling.

1 reply on “The Great Gilad Shalit Binge”


There you go again, relieving yourself into the tent from your perch outside it.

Surely you aren’t advocating keeping Shalit in his cell indefinitely, or until the market price for his release goes down sufficiantly (500 prisoners? 300? What number does make sense?).

Nor do you expect news outlets to relegate news on the release of an Israeli prisoner after 5 years, or the release of a thousand Palestinians, to the 10th page on the bottom.

One cannot deny that the outpouring of emotion of this neurotic nation is going way over the top. But you don’t fight one psychosis with another, you don’t need to compete with the language of Der Stürmer to make the point that occupation and settlements are unjust and unsustainable.

Finally, this government of stuckness and indecision made a constructive move. As usual, public opinion is way ahead of it. A poll done by Channel 1 TV showed that 69% of respondents consider the Hamas a viable partner for further negotiation.

Why not negotiate a new long-term cease fire agreement (Hudna or Tahadiyeh) with the Hamas? Why not use the momentum generated by this swap to strengthen our relations with the new government in Egypt, mend our relations with Turkey, solidify the anti-Iran coalition?

Once we let processes happen possibilities for change abound. And yes, the time for the end of occupation of the West Bank will come, too.

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