Five years ago the Hamas terrorist group snuck across the border into Israel. They captured then 19-year-old Gilad Shalit, a member of the Israeli military. Hamas held Shalit captive for five years, denying him access to International Red Cross visits to assess his condition, something that was condemned by Human Rights Watch director Sarah Leah Whitson. She said: “Hamas’s cruel treatment of Shalit causes him and his family needless suffering.”
For those who have not heard of Hamas, it is a group widely recognized as a terrorist organization. Hamas stands in direct opposition to the values of students and the vast majority of Canadians. Hamas is against women’s rights, against religious freedom and has committed violent terrorist attacks even against their own people. Hamas doesn’t like to negotiate either, preferring instead to blow up crowded shopping malls and buses, as well as executing women and children. And by buses I’m not referring only to attacks on public buses, as horrible as that is, but Hamas has also attacked school buses as well.
For five years Israel worked to bring Shalit home, without success. Finally, a deal was made, assisted by Egypt, in which over 1,000 captured terrorists would be released from Israeli jails in return for Shalit — one person for 1,000.
Calling this a “prisoner swap” is disingenuous. Shalit was an innocent man when he was captured. His only “crime” was being in the wrong place at the wrong time when Hamas decided to capture him. Those released by Israel were imprisoned for actual crimes and terrorist acts.
Hamas is a violent movement that worships at the altar of hatred and violence. Hamas uses propaganda to incite innocent children to become suicide bombers. Hamas has declared that anyone who is a member of the LGBT community is a criminal and has imprisoned people because of their sexual orientation. Their murderous and backwards ideology is a disgrace to all those in Israel and the Palestinian territories who strive in good faith for peace.
One of the released terrorists was a Palestinian woman named Amina Muna, who lured a 16-year-old Israeli boy in an Internet chat room with promises of a romantic encounter. When they met in person she murdered him in cold blood. It takes a sick and evil mind to commit an act that devious against a child.
Another individual who was released was responsible for the death of a Winnipeg teen. Fern Shawna Rykiss was only 17-years-old when a terrorist hijacked the bus she was on and deliberately drove it into a ravine.
They say a picture is worth a thousand words, and the images of Shalit, in contrast to the terrorists released by Israel, is obvious.
Upon his release, Shalit was thin, pale and had great difficulty breathing. Hamas placed Shalit in solitary confinement during his five long years in captivity, whereas the prisons in Israel allowed exercise, group activities, visits every two weeks from family and the free expression of religion. Only the most biased and ill-informed person could fail to see the contrast in how Israel and Hamas treated their prisoners.
There is some debate over whether Israel made the right decision in releasing 1,000 terrorists for Shalit. The arguments on both sides are understandable. The families of those killed by the released terrorists are no closer to justice or closure for the tragic loss they suffered. At the same time, for Shalit to remain in prison for the rest of his life would have been a horrific fate. In Israel, military service is mandatory, as they are surrounded by nations that either are or have been hostile in the past. Israel promises no soldier will be left behind. In doing what it took to bring Shalit home, Israel has kept their covenant with those who undertake her defence. This prisoner-terrorist swap makes one thing clear: Israel seeks to protect human life and Hamas seeks to destroy it.
There are a few fringe critics of Israel, and unfortunately some of them are on this campus. These misguided individuals are unable to see reality and fail to condemn the horrific acts of Hamas. Instead, they spend all their time attacking Israel, even though Israel is the only true democracy in the Middle East. While it is disappointing that some people are so out of touch with reality, I am confident most students can see past the foolish and hateful rhetoric of those few who attack Israel. Israel’s regard for human life and human dignity in contrast with Hamas’ lack of even a shred of decency is clear as the light of day.
Shalit’s return home is a good day for his family and for Israel. It does not mean that peace is just around the corner. Sadly, the prospects for peace may remain dim until Hamas values human life as much as Israel does.
Spencer Fernando is the Comment Editor of the Manitoban.