The excruciating tragedy of Gilad Schalit’s captivity continues, as he marks his 21st birthday and his 14th month of imprisonment in whatever dank hole Hamas is keeping him.
On Tuesday a Hamas official claimed that they had been on the verge of releasing him 4 months ago, but the deal fell apart because the Israeli government “didn’t care about its people or its soldiers”.
Of course the reason that it fell apart is that the price was precisely calibrated to be too high for Israel to pay — a list of 350 terrorists, many of them mass murderers, of whom Israel could only agree to release 40. Noam Schalit, Gilad’s father, criticized both the Prime Minister’s office and Hamas for the failure to reach an agreement.
In order to understand Hamas’ strategy, we need to understand how Hamas evaluates Israel, and how it expects Israel to respond.
Hamas sees Israel as morally and spiritually weak, lacking the will to stand up for itself. Hamas expects the Israeli government to always take the easy way out of any situation, even if it involves compromising important principles and achieving short-term relief at the expense of long-term goals, even survival.
Some will agree with them. To a certain extent, the West in general is unclear about basic principles, and this gives an impression of weakness. But there is another reason for the difficulty that Israel and the West face in hostage situations, and this is something that the Islamists of Hamas and Hezbollah can see, but cannot interpret correctly.
Call it an excess of empathy. For some reason, large elements of Western cultures like that of Israel have become painfully able to empathize with a broad range of other creatures (human and animal), even those to whom they are not closely related. It’s not possible for many Israelis to read about Gilad or Noam Schalit without feeling pain. In fact, many of them empathize strongly with Palestinians, too, which explains some of the apparently psychotic behavior of the far Left in Israel.
I am not saying that Palestinians are incapable of empathy for a wide circle of others, but I must say that public expression of it on their part is rare indeed. And I believe that the Hamas leadership certainly is not made up of particularly empathetic individuals!
So they just don’t get it, and they interpret Israeli attempts to make deals for the return of captives as simple weakness, and they keep pushing the goalposts back in order to demoralize Israelis, shake their confidence in their leaders, and — in their view — weaken them further.
At some point, they believe, Israel will be so weak that it will take any deal, no matter how dangerous, to get Schalit back.
What is actually happening, though, is that the accumulation of pain that Hamas is inflicting is creating a reservoir of hatred which, at some point — perhaps in response to a new atrocity, if, God forbid, Gilad Schalit dies, or perhaps if Hamas joins Hezbollah in the next war — will make it possible for Israel to take military action against it unrestrained by empathy.
Meanwhile, I don’t have a lot of hope for Gilad Schalit. I fear that he will not survive unless information develops which will make it possible for Israeli forces to rescue him.