Welcome Home, Gilad Shalit.

Gilad Shalit was welcomed home today after five long years in the Hamas prison system. (The Telegraph is live-blogging his homecoming for those interested.)

The 477 Palestinian prisoners who were freed today in exchange for Shalit are also celebrating their own homecoming, albeit under different circumstances. (The remaining 550 prisoners will be released in two months.) Though Israel hopes the terms of Shalit’s release will lead to renewed peace efforts, Gazans have already greeted their released compatriots with demands for more kidnapping and violence:

“The people want a new Gilad!” the crowd chanted, suggesting the abductions of Israeli soldiers would mean freedom for thousands more Palestinians imprisoned in Israel.

…most of the 477 prisoners freed Tuesday had been serving life terms for killing Israelis, and their release violated a long-standing Israeli pledge not to free those with “blood on their hands”…

In his speech, Abbas praised the released prisoners as “freedom fighters.”

He suggested that his method of negotiations was also bearing fruit, saying that “there is an agreement between us and the Israeli government on another batch (of releases) similar to this batch after it finishes.”

His comments marked the first time he referred to an additional prisoner release, and there was no immediate Israeli comment.

The Boston Globe has some sobering (and gruesome) details about several specific Palestinian soldiers and the reasons they had been imprisoned. JTA has more here.

Even so, polls indicate that an overwhelming majority of Israelis supported the terms of the exchange–likely because universal conscription means nearly all Israelis can strongly identify with the desire to leave no soldier behind.

Curiously, polls also indicate that 66% of Israelis have little hope for a peaceful solution to the Palestinian conflicts. 67% of those polled last month also said that President Netanyahu did not believe peace with the Palestinians is possible.

It’s as if Israelis are desperate for an end to the conflict, but have all but given up hope that an agreement will ever be reached. No doubt Palestinian families feel the same way, though many of their leaders seem bent on continuing the conflict at all costs.

Netanyahu noted this morning that “On this day, we are all united in both joy and pain.” That may be the best, most universally applicable summary of this situation yet uttered. And as Palestinians welcome home their loved ones today, no less loved for having blood on their hands, it’s hard to imagine a time when the pain and the joy will not be thus co-mingled.

Photo courtesy of the Israel Defense Forces

 

What if Spock Was Right: Gilad Shalit, the Many, and the One

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Hamas announced yesterday that Gilad Shalit, the young Israeli soldier held captive by Hamas since 2006, will be released.

In exchange for Shalit’s freedom, more than 1,000 Palestinian prisoners, hundreds of them convicted terrorists, will also be released.

The lopsided nature of this one-for one thousand exchange has not gone unnoticed, especially since similar past exchanges have not worked out well for Israel. It’s generally agreed that Hamas is set to be the winner in this instance, and though many believe Israel ought to be commended for a renewed commitment to life and hope, it seems probable that the freeing of these hundreds of convicted terrorists will bring an end to many, many more lives in both Israel and Palestine.

Has Israel made the right decision? It’s hard to know.

Perhaps it’s trite, but I can’t help thinking here of two exchanges between Spock and Captain Kirk in the Star Trek movies.

As Spock sacrifices himself at the end of Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan, he tells Kirk,

Spock:“Don’t grieve, Admiral. It is logical. The needs of the many outweigh…”

Kirk: “The needs of the few.”

Spock: “Or the one.”

Later, when Kirk and Spock are reunited after Spock’s rescue, Spock is puzzled—why was he spared when so much was at stake?

Spock: My father says that you have been my friend. You came back for me.
Kirk: You would have done the same for me.
Spock: Why would you do this?
Kirk: Because the needs of the one… outweigh the needs of the many.

In the Star Trek universe, Kirk found a way to save both the many and the one. Spock sacrificed himself for his shipmates, and they in turn sacrificed themselves for him. It makes for a good story—but real world struggles rarely end so neatly. In buying Gilad Shalit’s freedom at an almost impossibly high price, Israel may end up sacrificing its own people for the sake of a compelling national narrative.

It’s bold. It’s risky. It’s what the “good guys” in the movies would do. But is it wise? Perhaps not.

This tension between the needs of the one and needs of the many is, by the way, an old problem for Israel. In John 11, when the chief priests and Pharisees are discussing what to do about the man whose actions threaten their own power, Caiaphas convinces them to simply do away with Jesus:

“…You know nothing at all, nor do you take into account that it is expedient for you that one man should die for the people, and that the whole nation should not perish.” (John 11:49-50)

In the past, when Israel acted out of fear and favored the “many” over the “one”, Jesus died. (Of course, Gilad Shalit is not Jesus, and both stories are complicated. This is not a perfect analogy!) This time, though it’s easy to criticize the country’s desperation, they are at least moving forward boldly, and without obvious fear.

Maybe that’s good. Maybe it’s bad. I don’t know.

“Pray for the peace of Jerusalem”—and pray for Gilad Shalit. That much, at least, is clear.

 

Egyptian Turmoil is Among the Least of Democracy’s Worries

The news from Egypt is different every hour, but right now it looks as if the Egyptian people may soon enjoy the democratic elections they have so firmly demanded. (Either that, or a messy military-led coup.)

But would elections do them any good?

It’s hard to know. Freedom and democracy are devoutly to be wished for, but the possibility of an ascendant Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood is alarming at best, both for Egypt and for the rest of the world.

CNN recently revealed that the Brotherhood has contributed tens of thousands of dollars to candidates in Islamic democracies—candidates who are expected, upon taking office, to use their positions to further the Brotherhood’s goals.

In other words, the organization that now helps rally for reforms in Egypt has a history of using such reforms to further its own agenda. That agenda, the worldwide institution of Sharia law, is profoundly anti-democratic, and the Brotherhood will not hesitate to use democracy against itself. Unfortunately, both the Brotherhood and some of its most important leaders are popularly considered to be moderate voices—a fact that both endangers those who listen to them, and prevents real moderate Muslims from being heard.

The Muslim Brotherhood was formed in 1928 by Hassan al-Banna, whose belief that jihad and death were intimately intertwined still motivates Brotherhood actions. A decade after its founding, the Muslim Brotherhood had over a million followers in Egypt alone.  Today its adherents are all over the globe, including in the United States, where advocates at Virginia’s International Institute of Islamic Thought coined the term Islamophobia in an effort to gain sympathy and “beat up their critics.”

The Brotherhood’s motto remains unambiguous: “Allah is our objective. The Prophet is our leader. The Koran is our law. Jihad is our way. Dying in the way of Allah is our highest hope.”  Widely recognized as one of the world’s most dangerous terrorist entities, the Brotherhood has birthed groups like Hamas, whose tactics are neatly representative of the sort of radical Islamism the Brotherhood seeks to spread.

Muslim Brotherhood-affiliated protesters claim to be upset by the ruling party’s assault on democracy, but historically their own assault has been much worse.  Claire Berlinski writes,

I find it unfathomable, a true national security emergency, that the words “Muslim Brotherhood” mean so little to most Americans… The first thing you must grasp about the Brotherhood is its ideology: Its goal is the establishment everywhere of an Islamic state governed by Sharia law. In al Banna’s own words, it seeks “to impose its laws on all nations and to extend its power to the entire planet.”… The Brotherhood’s essence is immoderate: It is at its core unremittingly anti-secular, anti-Semitic, anti-democratic and anti-Western.

Sheik Yusuf al-Qaradawi is the Brotherhood’s de facto spiritual leader, and a key figure in its quest to set up global Sharia. He has spoken openly in favor of suicide bombing, wife beating, and female genital mutilation.  A fierce anti-Semite, Qaradawi has called the holocaust a “divine punishment” and praised Hitler because “he managed to put them [the Jews] in their place.”  And, lest you think such travesties don’t affect you, he has also forbidden the sale and advertising of American or Israeli goods, stating,

“America is a second Israel. It totally supports the Zionist entity. The usurper could not do this without the support of America. “Israel’s” unjustified destruction and vandalism of everything has been using American money… America has done this for decades without suffering the consequences of any punishment…”

Qaradawi has encouraged the killing of Israeli women and children, including pregnant women, on the grounds that babies might grow up to join the Israeli army. He teaches that Muslims have a duty to support Hezbollah.  And, though he has written in favor of democracy in the Muslim world, he admits that a Muslim democracy would be very different from those found in the West because “…in Islam there are some fixed principles that cannot be changed.”

The fact that the Brotherhood has joined the demands for democratic elections in Egypt ought to be overshadowed by the fact that the group subscribes to a philosophy that seeks to “destroy the Western civilization from within.” Yet, few realize that radical Islamism poses a danger even more insidious than outright violence.  Robert Spencer writes,

There is a new attempt to confuse the American people about the nature of the threat we face. It’s a large-scale mainstream media effort to deny both that there is any attempt to bring Sharia to the United States, and that Sharia is anything to be concerned about in the first place. Unfortunately, there is plenty of evidence of attempts to establish the primacy of Islamic law over American law, and much to indicate that Sharia is anything but benign.

Egyptian tyranny is tragic, and should be stopped. But tyranny, it seems,  is among the least of democracy’s worries.

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