The Shalit prisoner swap agreement – The Arab reaction

The Shalit prisoner swap agreement - The Arab reaction
Prisoners release rally - Khan Yunis

Many reactions in the Palestinian street and media to the release of prisoners in exchange for the release of abducted Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit reveal a worrying and disturbing narrative of glorification of the returning terrorists and support for their heinous crimes and violent ways. Calls for future abductions of Israeli soldiers as bargaining chips for future prisoner releases were also common.

In the Gaza Strip, the main rally in support and celebration of the returning prisoners was held at Al-Katiba Square in Gaza City. Green Hamas flags were the main noticeable decoration in the square, making the event seem more like a Hamas event than a national Palestinian celebration. The not-so-subtle Hamas undertones were further expressed as Ismail Haniya, head of Hamas in Gaza, was the keynote speaker in the event, attended by tens of thousands of Palestinians. In his speech Haniya emphasized that the deal included operatives from all Palestinian organizations, who operated from all of “greater Palestine.” [by “greater Palestine” Haniya refers to Israel within 1948 lines]. He praised the use of terrorism, to which he referred as “the resistance”, which, according to Haniya himself, is Hamas’ “strategic choice”. He justified this “resistance” as the method through which the prisoners were released.

Yehya Sanwar, one of the released prisoners and one of Izz al-Din al-Qassam Brigades’ (Hamas’ military wing) founders, also spoke at the rally. In his speech he called on the Izz al-Din al-Qassam Brigades to continue their efforts for the release of all the Palestinian prisoners held by Israel, by implication through further abductions of Israelis.

Ahmed Ja’bari, Izz al-Din al-Qassam Brigades commander, was quoted as saying his group would continue its efforts to kidnap “IDF soldiers and officers,” in a bid to free all the prisoners from Israel… “We have taken upon ourselves the task of cleansing the Israeli prisons [of] all Palestinians, regardless of their political affiliations.”

In a statement along similar lines, spokesman for the Izz al-Din al-Qassam Brigades, Abu Obeida, said that Hamas would not rest until all the Israeli jails had been emptied of Palestinian prisoners. Hamas was not the only organization to advocate for terror acts against Israeli targets and abductions for the release of Palestinian prisoners. The Palestinian Islamic Jihad issued a statement calling on the “resistance” to increase their efforts to abduct IDF soldiers “until all the Zionist jails were empty of prisoners”, and Abu Mujahed, spokesman for the military wing of the Popular Resistance Committees, said that “we will continue until the jails have been emptied of prisoners”.

In an article on Al-Aqsa TV website, Dr. Mustafa Yousef Al-Liddawi, former Hamas representative in Syria and Lebanon, wrote: “Today, as we say goodbye to Shalit, we hope to welcome [back] all our prisoners, to free all our prisoners, to end their period of incarceration in the [jails] of the occupation, and to prevent the arrest of many others and the return [of the freed prisoners] to the shackles of captivity. As we say goodbye to Shalit, we hope to welcome a new guest, to capture a new soldier, to hurt the enemy in a way that will humiliate and distress him, to pull his soldiers from their tanks and even shoot down their planes, to destroy their vehicles and to lead them, handcuffed, to our jails. This, in order to… liberate those whom the enemy is [still] holding in his prisons and whom he refuses to free because they have shed his blood, humiliated him, killed the best of his soldiers, rubbed the noses of his crack units in the dirt, and forced his leaders to surrender and accept their terms. Goodbye, Shalit, and hello to the new prisoner who will replace you and by means of whom we will humiliate your army and your leadership.”

During a rally in solidarity with the released prisoners in Khan Yunis, in the southern Gaza Strip, senior Hamas official, Khalil al-Haya, also threatened that Hamas would try to kidnap more soldiers to secure the release of Palestinian prisoners: “Spare yourself the suffering and release all our prisoners, because they will be released in the same way we released some of them now.”

Hamas-affiliated columnists from the daily Falastin also encouraged abduction of more Israeli soldiers, stressing that the Shalit deal has proved the efficacy of the path of resistance.

Iyad Al-Qara wrote: “After the imminent completion of the ‘Loyalty to the Free’ deal [Hamas’s name for the Shalit deal], the resistance will be able to stage further attacks… and repeat ‘Operation Fading Illusion’ [Hamas’s name for Shalit’s abduction] so as to capture more soldiers or settlers in order to liberate all the prisoners from the jails of the occupation. This [is an effective strategy], especially considering that any new abduction will be carried out and completed swiftly, because the [present] deal has laid down the framework for negotiating with the occupation for the liberation of all [our] prisoners from its jails.”

Similar hopes were expressed by Hisham Munawwar, who wrote: “The ‘Loyalty to the Free’ deal, in which the largest number of Palestinian prisoners ever to be exchanged for a single soldier will be liberated from the prisons of the occupation, is not the first [deal] in the history of the exchange deals, and, as the resistance factions have promised, it will not be the last, Allah willing, until every Palestinian prisoner has been liberated… This deal proves that resistance is the only way to restore the Palestinian rights and liberate the prisoners…”

The reception of released prisoners in the West Bank was disquieting as well. Held at the Muqataa in Ramallah and attended by several thousand Palestinians, the main rally included speeches by Mahmoud Abbas and Hassan Yussuf (a high-ranking Hamas figure in the West Bank). Abbas implied that terrorism plays a role in the way to Palestinian statehood as he praised the sacrifices made by the former prisoners, which he said were not in vain as their result would be an independent Palestinian state within the 1967 borders whose capital was Jerusalem. He expressed hope that soon the main prominent terrorists: Marwan Barghouti (Fatah), Ahmed Saadat (Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine) Ibrahim Hamad and Abbas al-Sayyid (both from Hamas), who Israel refused to released, will be free. He also promised that the issue of the prisoners would be the top priority of the Palestinian Authority.

The PA support for the released prisoners, however, was expressed in deeds, not only in words. Prisoners Affairs Minister Issa Qaraqi announced that Abbas has decided to honor Palestinian prisoners by rewarding them financially, Qaraqi said that all prisoners would receive grants, including those who were deported to the Gaza Strip, or other countries. Abbas’s decision follows a similar move by Hamas Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh, who decided to give each prisoner a $2,000 grant.

In an article posted on a Fatah-affiliated website, journalist Sami Foda tried to portray Gilad Shalit as a morally bankrupted, degenerate and dangerous person (as a symbol of Israeli society), using traditional antisemitic terminology: “[Gilad Shalit is] a young man who spent his time in bars and brothels, playing games and pampering himself. He enjoyed the pleasures of a land not his own. He went around robbing, stealing, torching, raping, trampling, and desecrating the soil of this land that is not his own. He viciously strove to shed the blood of the martyrs, killed innocent people, shelled the homes of innocent people with tanks, destroying them without shame, mercy, or pangs of conscience, a stupid murderer who did not mind killing our elderly, our men, our youth, and our women, and even our poor children, [so] pure and innocent. “This soldier was a waif born in a shelter as a result of the deterioration and disintegration of Israeli society. A Zionist soldier, he became seeped with Zionism to the bone… [He is] a gullible [boy], the genetic grandson of the Zionist leaders by virtue of his affiliation with, and loyalty to, his Nazi leaders. This monster joined the army of Zionist gangs, to carry on the legacy of his fathers, the apes and pigs of the Haganah, Irgun, Stern, and Palmach organizations, in order to carry out the orders of his fascist masters. That was the Zionist soldier Gilad Shalit, 19 years-old when he was captured by the Palestinian resistance. “This incompetent soldier became the most prized soldier in all the armies of the world. He entered the annals of history through the widest gate, and his name went down in the Guinness Book of World Records… The world was in turmoil as the Arab leaders, the West, and the monstrous mini-state [Israel] waged a five-year publicity and marketing campaign throughout the world in an attempt to liberate the Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit… He was a focus of interest for journalists and political and military analysts in all the electronic and printed media, while the conscience of those flaccid leaders remained unmoved by the [plight of] our courageous heroes and glorious prisoners hidden away in the dungeons of the enemy’s strongholds.”

Forty prisoners were transfered to Cairo airport as part of the prisoners deal, to be flown or transported to various Arab or Muslim countries ( such as Turkey, Qatar, Jordan and Syria). They were greeted by Khaled Mashaal, head of Hamas administration and his deputy, Musa Abu Marzouk. Mashaal, while thanking Egypt for mediating the deal and calling on Abbas to meet with him in Cairo to discuss reconciliation, also boasted of Hamas’ ability to hide Gilad Shalit from Israeli intelligence for five years, criticized what he sees as “the Israeli policy of prisoner deportation” (in light of the deportation of some of the terrorists beyond the borders of “Palestine” and ended by saying, “to our prisoners in jail…the liberty of all of you, all our prisoners from Gaza and the West Bank and the lands of 1948, compels us. The prisoners leaving for abroad will not remain outside the land of Palestine for long.” He then shook hands with Ahlam al-Tamimi, a female terrorist who participated in the suicide bomber at the Sbarro Restaurant in Jerusalem and was deported to Jordan upon her release, and congratulated her. Tamimi was greeted in Jordan by about 200 Jordanians, who shouted slogans of support for Hamas and denounced the Israel-Jordan peace agreement. Tamimi showed no remorse and said upon her release in Jordan that “the “resistance” is the only way to liberate Palestine. Israel understands only the language of weapons.”

Columnist Jamal Al-Shawahin, form Al-Sabil, the Jordanian Muslim Brotherhood daily wrote: “The Hamas movement must secure a new prisoner in order to free additional [Palestinian] prisoners from the jails of the occupation, because those who will not be released as part of the Shalit deal now feel and understand that their salvation depends on [the capture of] a new prisoner. This great national duty must be fulfilled, if not by Hamas then by any other organization… “The latest [prisoner] exchange deal was great and magnificent… a victory for the Hamas movement and the entire Palestinian people. It confirms that continuing the resistance is the [right] path and option [to take] until the Palestinian rights are restored in full, without exception… “The freed prisoners will be birds of freedom and torches to light the fire of resistance, and they are the incontrovertible proof that the Palestinian right[s] will only be restored through resistance…”

According to Syrian TV, the 16 prisoners who arrived at the airport in Damascus were welcomed by supporters who waved flags of Hamas, the Palestinian Islamic Jihad and the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine-General Command (Ahmed Jibril’s organization). Local media described the release of the prisoners as a “glorious achievement” for the “resistance”. For example, according to Al-Thawra, the deal proved that “the armed struggle and the resistance are an excellent way of achieving Palestinian national rights.” The article called on the Palestinians to abandon negotiations and adhere to the so-called “resistance” and to carry out more “actions” for the release of all the prisoners.

In Lebanon, President Michel Suleiman and Prime Minister Najib Mikati congratulated the Palestinian leadership on the release of the prisoners. Hezbollah’s Al-Manar TV broadcasted live the release of the Palestinian prisoners in a program called “Resistance creates freedom.” Samir Kuntar, a Lebanese terrorist released in 2008 in return for the bodies of murdered abducted IDF soldiers Ehud Goldwasser and Eldad Regev, urged the Palestinian “resistance” to abduct more “Zionist soldiers” for the sake of releasing the rest of the prisoners.

All this recommitment to violence and terror, taking up arms, glorification of convicted terrorists and calls for taking more prisoners stands in sharp contrast to Gilad Shalit’s words in the imposed interview he did for Egyptian TV, where he expressed hope that released prisoners will abandon their violent war against Israel and that this deal might facilitate negotiations towards peace.

Or Avi-Guy