On the surface, it seems like the Palestinians and Hamas won a major victory in today’s exchange of prisoners. Gilad Shalit, one Israeli soldier, in exchange for more than a thousand Palestinians. The numbers are theirs to claim. How could Palestinians not be declared the victors?

With all this media coverage, I really only know one name. The general public truly only knows one name. One face. One set of parents. One human story of drama and pain and sacrifice. I know Gilad Shalit. He’s my son and my brother and my friend. He’s the child I would sit out in the rain and the blazing sun to protect and bring home. I ache for his family and his country. He’s human, he’s real, he’s flesh and blood.

With the Palestinian prisoners, I don’t know the name of one person. We don’t know the name of one person. No headlines in the papers or blogs exclusively devoted to the single surname of a Palestinian prisoner returned to her family. I know only numbers and politics and negotiators. I don’t know the woman above. We don’t know her. The story of a daughter and a sister and a mother and a wife. We don’t identify with her because she has remained faceless, nameless, lost. How long has she spent inside an Israeli prison? How long has her family begged their government to make a deal for an exchange? She goes unnoticed and unnamed by all of us.

Even the description of the photojournalist doesn’t identify her but names one man:

“A Palestinian prisoner hugs relatives after arriving in Mukata following her release on October 18, 2011 in Ramallah, West Bank. Israeli Defense Forces soldier Gilad Shalit was freed after being held captive for five years in Gaza by Hamas militants, in a deal which saw Israel releasing more than 1,000 Palestinian prisoners.”

This is the tragedy of the circumstances. When the dust settles and history remains our only chronicler, we will remember the name of Gilad Shalit — a young man who spent five years in Palestinian cell — but not the name of this one Palestinian woman. And we will remember that the Palestinians received 1,027 people in return. Numbers get confused in our memories, but the story and image of one individual, one life worth retrieving, will remain with us forever.

But, now at least, I know her face. We see the love of a family and the pain of return. And, even though it’s not the equivalent, it’s a beginning. The Palestinian leadership would do well to remember this, and so should the media, including us.

Photo by Ilia Yefimovich/Getty Images

Share Your Reflection



This new play by Canadian playwright and artistic director Arthur Milner may be of interest to you and your listeners. http://factstheplay.ca/?p=190

Thanks for sharing, John. This is important and I realize that even if a full list is available one name won't capture the headlines. Readers won't know a person but a mass. I'll be sure to share.

In the meantime, here's the lead on the New York Times home page:

Hamas Frees Israeli Soldier as Prisoner Swap Begins
Gilad Shalit, held for more than five years by Hamas, was traded on Tuesday for hundreds of Palestinian prisoners in Israeli jails in an exchange that could shake up regional politics.

Nor do we know the names of all those who were murdered by the Palestinian prisoners who are being freed. Gilad was not a murderer.

Hi Tru. I don't know how to address your statement. I'm thinking about the responsibility of humanizing the people involved. When I read about an exchange of prisoners but only one name is repeatedly used in the headlines, it feels discriminate and unbalanced. Reporting on the actions of all sides is part of the story, but which story and at what cost of subjectivity. Not including those people is one-sided, non?

I agree that more western coverage should be given to those who were freed.   But I ask this... along with their names tell why they were in prison and be honest about it.   Were they just walking down the street and detained for no reason or did they just try and blow someone up?  How much coverage will there be about that?  If they were detained for no reason then expose it.  But tell the truth either way.  Another thing... how were these people treated in jail... and how was he?  Will you report that?    How many prisoners have Hamas released unharmed ... do they kill captives?  how many have the Israelis released unharmed... do they kill captives?  ... will you ask these questions? will you answer them?   Honestly?

I agree. There are a whole host of questions for follow-up reporting. In this moment though, the headlines have been one-sided and identified one man — setting aside the individuality of the thousand other prisoners. I'd like for more people to be humanized in telling about this exchange.

I think the one-sided attention (I agree) has been given to Gilad due to the excruciating efforts of the entire Israeli people in constantly campaigning for his release. Every single Israeli, abroad and at home, knows Gilad Shalit by his first name, his parents, his story, his hometown. This is only due to the people's dedication and determination to bring him home--- and the importance of the individual lives of young Israeli soldiers in Israeli society. The numbers of the deal only reflect that value of society. The government was willing to give up 1,027 Palestinian prisoners (many convicted for heinous crimes that killed scores of innocent civilians) for one soldier.

Thanks for your views on this, Maia. Please know that my reflection isn't a call for less attention to Gilad Shalit or efforts to bring him home, but the equanimity of coverage in an exchange of prisoners.

Maia, your statement "The numbers of the deal only reflect that value of society"-- if meant the way I read it-- speaks to Trent's point.  The 'one' has value for me and mine, the many 'others' are just that, 'other' and thus a faceless mass.  Because no one looks good in all of this on going imbroglio (other than through massive spin) it is pointless to claim high moral ground.  All parties are guilty, to a greater or lesser degree, of sins of commission and ommission.  I think we could all do better at looking at these problems by invoking the old Native American proverb "Never criticize a man until you've walked a mile in his moccasins".  To do that we have to do what is so deeply a part of our own culture, namely to look at the individual.  To Trent's point, we, without referring to anybody else, are not doing that.  That is an act of omission.      

The prisoners should be written about; however, this author seems very naive in somehow idealizing the Palestinian prisoners who were freed. From my understanding, most of these prisoners were responsible for serious terrorist acts such as the Sbarro bombing in Jerusalem. They were not minor criminals. I have found a lot of information about the prisoners in reading news articles online, and many of the articles only wrote about the Palestinians, so I think it really depends on the news source. The Palestinian prisoners were imprisoned with respect for basic human rights. They look well fed, but Shalit was imprisoned underground without sunlight or respect for basic human rights. He looked very unhealthy and frail. In reading about the prisoners who were freed, it does not seem this will necessarily be a step towards peace. Many of the prisoners seemed unrepentant, and hopefully, they will not return to their old ways. 

It isn't as if the names aren't out there to be found - Hamas published them four days ago. (see www.haaretz.com, October 14).

We would also do well to remember  A J Heschel's admonition that " The fate of mankind depends upon the realization that the distinction between good and evil, right and wrong, is superior to all other distinctions"
Preventing adequate medical treatment and Red cross visits from Gilad was wrong and evil, to make no mention of torture  & terrorist attacks on innocent civilians..

Again, platitudes.  You are right, a basic, accepted standard of international law was not adhered to.  That was wrong.  But two wrongs do not make a right.  I cheer that this Israeli young man appears relatively healthy and hope that the emotional scars that he is sure to have are mitigated by the love and support his family are giving him.  I hope, too, that the families of the nameless Palestinians can also help heal their trauma and wounds.  Terrorist attacks on civilians in that neck of the woods really took hold from July 22, 1946 on, lest we forget.

Yes, that's the date the Israelis blew up the hotel used by the British who had prevented many Jews from reaching Israel, forcing their return to the nazi death machine. The terrorist attacks the "took hold" were and are perpetrated by Arabs against Jews. That's the long and the short of it. Israel has no death penalty, has executed one man, the mass murderer Eichman for his crimes against Jews and all humanity. If they had committed their crimes in Saudi Arabia or Bahrain or Egypt or Iran or some other hellhole the prisoners would not have been available to be exchanged, they would be dead.

Calling the bombing of the King David Hotel a terrorist attack is disingenuous. Terrorist attacks are--by definitition--attacks on civilian targets. The King David Hotel was the headquarters of the British Forces in the Mandate and was therefore a military target. Furthermore, the Irgun telephoned the King David Hotel 25 minutes prior to the explosion so as to warn all personel to evacuate the facility. The goal of the attack was to destroy a military facility, not to destory lives. That the British ignored the warning is the real terror of the event.

You want a name?  Here's a name  - Amna Muna, a female prisoner who lured 16-year-old Ofir Rahum to Ramallah where he was murdered in 2001.

I'm sure Ms. Muna's mother loves her.

You may not know their names, but you know their deeds - blowing up school buses filled with children, blowing up restaurants filled with adults, and blowing up families sitting down to dinner. Not to mention knifings, shootings and more.

You want names?  here are some names:

Ibrahim Hamed: Shin Bet attributes the murder of 90 Israelis to Hamed; among other attacks, he was responsible for three attacks in Jerusalem - at Café Moment, the Hebrew University and in Zion Square. He is also behind several shooting attacks across the West Bank.

Abdullah Barghouti: Another key name on the newly released list, Barghouti is Hamed's partner. Barghouti constructed the devices which were used in the attacks on the Sheffield Club in Rishon Letzion, at the Hebrew University, Café Moment, Zion Square, and in Tel Aviv's deadly Bus 5 suicide bombing.  In 2004, Barghouti was convicted of the murder of 66 Israelis.

Mohammad Arman: Another accomplice of Hamed and Barghouti, Arman enlisted the Silwan terror squad that executed the bombings themselves, briefed them, and supplied them with bombs.

Hassan Salameh: Salameh was convicted of initiating twin simultaneous attacks in an Ashkelon bus station and on bus number 18 in Jerusalem. A week later, he was responsible for another attack on another bus 18. He was convicted for the murders of 46 Israelis.

Salameh has been in solitary confinement since his arrest. He is considered to be a revered figure in Gaza, and one of the founders of Hamas' military wing.

Ahmed Saadat: The secretary-general of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine, Saadat's activities include ordering the murder of former Israeli minister Rehavam Ze'evi.

In the meantime,  Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutog is calling these acts "alleged crimes". I wonder what HIS mother thinks?

In fact I did see a report in mainstream media containing the name and photo of a just-released Palestinian prisoner, already in Damascus, looking stout, healthy, well-fed, celebrating "victory" and promising increased violence against Israel with hamas leader Khaled Meschal. Contrast his conditionwith that of Shalit - thin, pale, looking like he will need dental work. Compare the Israeli public reaction "Thank God he's home" - with the threats of violence and more kidnappings from the other side. If you don't get it, it's because you don't want to.