Three Questions (and Answers) Concerning the Soldier Shalit

A man may be worth nothing, but nothing -- and especially not the swaggering, chest-inflating pride of the Collective -- is worth the sacrifice of one man.
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Why so much emotion about the soldier Shalit ? Don't all conflicts produce prisoners of war, and isn't the young PFC from a tank crew, abducted in June, 2006, just a prisoner among others? Well, actually, no. For there are, first of all, international conventions governing the status of prisoners of war, and the sole fact that this one has been sequestered for four years, the fact that the Red Cross, which regularly visits Palestinians in Israeli prisons, has never been granted access to him is a flagrant violation of the laws of war. But moreover and most of all, we must never tire of repeating this: Shalit was not captured in the fury of a battle but during a raid in Israel, when Israel, having evacuated Gaza, was at peace with its neighbor. In other words, calling him a prisoner of war is tantamount to judging that the fact that Israel occupies a territory or has ceased to occupy it changes nothing in terms of the hatred one believes it deserves. It means accepting the idea that Israel is at war even when it is at peace, or that we should make war against Israel because Israel is Israel. And if we do not accept that, if we refuse this logic that is Hamas's own logic and which, if words mean anything, is the logic of total war, we must begin by completely changing the rhetoric and the lexicon. Shalit is not a prisoner of war but a hostage. His fate is comparable to that of, not a Palestinian prisoner, but a kidnap victim being held for ransom. And he must then be defended as we defend the hostages of the FARC or the Libyans or the Iranians -- we must stand up for him with the same energy devoted to the defense of, say, Clotilde Reiss or Ingrid Betancourt.

Hostage or prisoner, no matter, why all the fuss over a single man? Why this focalisation on an individual "of no importance to the community," a man "made of all men, worth them all and of the same value as anybody" [Sartre]? Well, it is because Shalit is, precisely, not just anybody, and that he is going through what sometimes happens, in times of extreme tension in world history, to individuals in no way predisposed to play a part who suddenly become the captors of this tension, those who attract the resultant lightning, the points of impact of forces that, in a given situation, converge and clash. The dissidents of the era of communism were such, as are the persecuted of China or Myanmar today. Or, yesterday, this or that humble Bosnian figure an unparalleled concentration of adverse circumstances catapulted to prominence, turning him into a sort of a chosen one, in reverse. So it is with Gilad Shalit. Thus this man whose face is still that of a child incarnates, most unwillingly, the unending violence of Hamas; the mindless urge to exterminate of its supporters; the cynicism of those "humanitarians" who, like those of the Free Gaza flotilla, refused to take a letter from his family; or, once again, the double standard whereby he does not benefit from the same wealth of sympathy as, precisely, a Betancourt. Is a Franco-Israeli worth less than a Franco-Colombian? Is the signifiant Israel enough to degrade him? Exactly why hasn't his portrait been hung next to that of the heroic Colombian, on the facade of the Hotel de Ville in Paris? And how can one explain that, in the little park in the 12th arrondissement where it was finally displayed, it has been so regularly vandalized, and with such impunity? Shalit the symbol. Shalit, like a mirror.

One last question, that of the price the Israelis seem ready to pay for the liberation of the captive and the related question of hundreds, some mention a thousand, of potential assassins who will then be released. This is not the first time the problem has occurred. Already, in 1982, Israel freed 4,700 combatants being held in the camp of Ansar in exchange for eight of its own soldiers. In 1985, 1,150 of them (including the future founder of Hamas, Ahmed Yassine) were set free in return for three of theirs. Not to mention the bodies, just the bodies, of Eldad Regec and Ehud Goldwasser, killed at the outset of the last war in Lebanon, traded, in 2008, for several leaders of Hezbollah, some of them sentenced for serious crimes. The idea, the double idea, is simple, and it is to Israel's credit. Against the cruelty, first of all, of the famous reasons of State, against the workings of the cold monsters and their terrible laziness, at the opposite of the glacial intransigence Italian writer Leonardo Sciascia was not afraid to decry in the wake of Aldo Moro's kidnapping by the Red Brigades and the way he was abandoned by his "friends," calling it another face of terrorism, this categorical and irrefutable imperative: between the individual and the State, always choose the individual. Between the suffering of only one and the turmoil of the Grand One, the one alone must prevail. A man may be worth nothing, but nothing -- and especially not the swaggering, chest-inflating pride of the Collective -- is worth the sacrifice of one man. And then, against a pseudo "sense of the Tragic" that serves as an alibi for so many instances of cowardice, in the face of the dime-store dialecticians rambling on ad infinitum about the possible perverse effects this action or that (the potential rescue, in this case, of a Daniel Pearl) might provoke in the distant future when faced with a situation of which we are presently unaware, this principle at the heart of Jewish wisdom, admirably summed up in Ecclesiastes (III: 23): do not concern yourself with that which goes beyond your works -- in your ignorance of the kingdom of ends and purposes and its ruses, just save the soldier Shalit.

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