The Australian (13/10) titled its editorial about the deal to release Gilad Shalit “Upholding a hallowed principle”. With typical insight, it concluded, “It is galling to see terrorists released. We take comfort however from Shalit’s imminent release from detention, which was against all international norms. We will share his joy when he is reunited with his family. The Israelis emerge with honour, having upheld the principle that human life is sacred and needless suffering cannot be endured. We can only hope that the returning Palestinians will do the same.” A Sydney Morning Herald editorial (14/10) also sensitively considered Israel’s dilemma, stating “To accede to the demands of any kidnapper is repugnant. It is all the more so when Hamas, which controlled Shalit’s fate, has never abandoned the destruction of Israel as its stated aim. Yet equally, to abandon a captured soldier goes against human nature, as well as political good sense and the interest of Israel’s defence force.” However, it also speculated that Israel might hope that the deal, in excluding “some key PLO figures” may raise tensions between the Palestinian factions.
On ABC Radio‘s “AM” program (13/10), Anne Barker noted that the Palestinian prisoners up for release included a mastermind of the Sbarro bombing, which killed 15 people, including Malki Roth, the teenage daughter of ex-pat Australian Arnold Roth. Roth told her, “It’s devastating. [The terrorist’s] got a life that’s being handed back to her as a result of this transaction. She’ll almost certainly have children and she’ll almost certainly inspire many more children than she’ll ever give birth to. She has said without any prevarication, I’m proud of what I did.”
Fairfax correspondent Ruth Pollard wrote, in the Age and Sydney Morning Herald (17/10) about the Palestinian prisoners Israel was to release. Having noted that some were imprisoned for murderous terror attacks, she added, “For Palestinians, who have at least 6000 loved ones in Israeli prisons, some for serious crimes, some for political activism and many held without charge or trial, the release of 1027 is not enough.” Pollard makes this seem far draconian than is warranted. The Palestinians and some of their more extreme sympathisers regard any Palestinian held by Israel to be a political prisoner, including terrorists guilty of multiple murders. Others often labelled by Israel’s critics as “political prisoners” have been found guilty of membership in a terrorist organisation, or of organising or participating in violent demonstrations. Israel does not jail people for their politics. Those held “without charge or trial” are under administrative detention. B’tselem, a group highly critical of Israel, states that, as of August this year, there were 272 in this category. Israel can only hold someone under administrative detention if it is found by a military judge that there is “a reasonable basis for believing that the security of the region or public security” requires it. This status must be reviewed at least every six months, and the determination may be appealed to a military appeals court and Israel’s High Court.