I wonder how long it will take for Gilad Shalit, his family, and his supporters, to realize that his fifteen minutes of fame are almost up. Here is a soldier, a military combatant, a conscientious member of an army implementing the illegal occupation of a people and its land. Shalit is nothing special — the Israeli military currently employs tens of thousands of his prototypes. The only thing that stands out from the ordinary is that Shalit happened to be captured while on active military duty.
Shalit’s capture must have been very embarrassing for Israel. How did one of the world’s most advanced armies fail to outmaneuver a simple scheme? As expected, the Israeli government’s collective ego kicked in and so began another round of PR blitzes to convince the world that Shalit had in fact been the target of an armed human burglary. For the first few weeks, Israel demanded the safe return of its soldier, painting him as a defenseless cub kidnapped by ruthless invaders for no legitimate reason. But soon after, the memory of Shalit disappeared almost as fast as he did. Except by his family and close friends, he was no longer considered a hot topic.
This, however, makes complete sense. Immediately following his capture, the Israeli government put together a collection of talking points to address the public on just how criminal the Palestinians are. Government officials called Shalit a victim of racist thuggery. Propagandists depicted him as a peaceful young man who had nothing to do with Palestinians. Ambassadors urged college students to search for Shalit in their hearts. Flag-wavers argued that his disappearance was evidence of Palestine’s occupation of Israel. Political pundits identified this as an illegal and illegitimate tactic never seen before.
The irony in all of this is that before, during, and after Shalit’s capture, Israel’s military and police continued a longstanding tradition of nightly arrest raids in the West Bank and, until 2005, the Gaza Strip. As midnight approached, soldiers would execute orders to break down doors, storm into houses, handcuff the targeted men (some as young as 14 years old), and violently drag them into the back of an army jeep. This is the definition of abduction.
In Shalit’s case, he was not a teenage boy whose only crime was to wake up before the daily curfew was lifted to make it to school on time. No, Shalit was an armed combatant, a hostile unit backed up by other hostile units, actively engaged in sealing Palestine’s borders. And so the Israeli government had nothing substantive to work with. When the headlines died down, it was forced to come to grips with the fact that its elite army had been subject to the same tactic it employs on a regular basis.
Five and a half years later, Benjamin Netanyahu finally chose to act on a deal that had been offered countless times in the past. Shalit emerged and Israel felt victorious. He was free and he was smiling, but the government of Israel wanted to redeem itself. Even before the prisoner swap went into effect, Netanyahu’s squad of propagandist teams and Shalit-supporters prepared themselves for what they thought would inevitably be a PR win. They were going to analyze every second of Shalit’s experience. For every detail they deemed substandard, they were going to publish a press release, justify another invasion, submit demands to the United Nations, and build another settlement in the West Bank.
As it turns out, all they could find was a skinny Shalit. So, in a frantic effort to condemn Shalit’s treatment, they blamed Gaza’s hummus. He wasn’t starved, they admitted, “but the menu was primarily Gazan and not really nutritious. There were pitas and a lot of hummus.” In other words, Shalit’s captors inhumanely denied his right to appetizers and deserts from a five-star restaurant along the beautiful coast.
Although the Gazan diet wasn’t good enough for Shalit, it is good enough for thousands of Palestinians facing a siege that prevents foods as simple as chocolate and nutmeg from entering the territory. If pita and hummus isn’t all that nutritious for Shalit, it likewise isn’t all that nutritious for those who have nothing else, those who have no access to the necessary vitamins and minerals, those whose foods spoil at the Eretz border crossing.
This twisted irony and blatant double-standardism just goes to show how low the Israeli victimization effort can go. Shalit is being used for this purpose. In a matter of days, when the public can no longer ignore the fact that Shalit was captured while on active duty, that he probably ate better than his captors and their families, and that he was treated better than Palestinians in Israeli jails, Shalit will only be remembered as that one guy who played a role in the occupation. He may be physically free from Gaza, but he and millions like him are still locked behind the prison walls of his government’s actions.