The release last week of a video showing Gilad Shalit – a captured Israeli held by Hamas in Gaza – caused an international circus. But, writes Uri Avnery, the truth is something the Western media refuses to acknowledge:
Gilad Shalit is a prisoner of war.
The denial started at the first moment. The Israeli government refused to call the capture by its proper name and insisted that it was an “abduction” or even “kidnapping”.
The disciplined Israeli media, marching behind the generals in lockstep like the Prussian guard, joined the chorus. Not a single newspaper, not a single radio or TV announcer ever spoke about the “prisoner of war”. All of them, almost without exception, from the first day on, spoke about the “abducted” or “kidnapped” soldier.
The words are important. All armies are familiar with exchanges of prisoners of war. Generally, this happens after the end of hostilities, sometimes while the war is still going on. The army releases the enemy fighters in return for the release of its own captured soldiers.
This does not apply to abducted persons. When criminals abduct a person and hold them for ransom, the question arises whether the price should be paid. Payment may encourage more abductions and reward the criminals.
The moment Gilad was defined as “abducted”, he was condemned to what followed.
This affair also shows the absolute superiority of the Israeli propaganda machine over all competitors – if there are any.
The world media have adopted, almost without exception, the Israeli terminology. All over the world, they talk about the “abducted” Israeli soldier, rather than about a prisoner of war. British or German newspapers which use this word would not dream of applying it to one of their own soldiers in Afghanistan.
The name of Gilad Shalit was mouthed by the world’s leaders as if he were, at the very least, one of them. Nicolas Sarkozy and Angela Merkel spoke about him freely, certain that the listeners at home knew who he was. Liberating the “abducted Israeli soldier” has become a declared aim of several governments.
This formulation is by itself a triumph for Israeli propaganda. The negotiations are about an exchange of prisoners between Israel and Hamas, with German and/or Egyptian mediation. An exchange of prisoners has two sides – Shalit on the one side, Palestinian prisoners on the other. But throughout the world, as in Israel, they speak only about the release of the Israeli soldier. The Palestinian prisoners to be freed are just objects, merchandise, not human beings. But don’t they also count the days, like their parents and their children?
The greatest obstacle to such an exchange is mental, a matter of language. If it had been about “Palestinian fighters” there would have been no problem. The release of fighters in exchange for a fighter. But our government – like all colonial governments before it – cannot recognize local insurgents as “fighters” who act in the service of their people. The colonial ethos – like the “ethical code” of our ethical Professor Assa Kasher – demands that they be called “terrorists” with “blood on their hands”, base criminals, vile murderers.