WAKIM: Why PM Gillard is nearly crying over Gilad 25Oct11 October 25, 2011

by Joseph Wakim  -  The ABC’s The Drum  -  25 October 2011

The homecoming celebrations for IDF Sergeant Gilad Shalit highlights two inconceivable collaborations.

Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu – who has vowed never to negotiate with terrorists – executes a prisoner swap deal with Hamas to release his soldier.

Australian Prime Minister Julia Gillard – haunted by the return of her popularly-elected predecessor – issues a joint statement with him pandering to the pro-Israel benefactors.

Both of these deals reek of desperation as they juggle principle against pragmatism.

Both give succour to the notorious provocation that ‘one million Arabs are not worth a Jewish fingernail’, which Israeli Rabbi Yaacov Perrin declared to glorify the terrorist act of Dr Baruch Goldstein in 1994.

While Netanyahu was representing the vast majority of his cabinet (26 out of 29 supported this prisoner swap) and indeed his nation, Gillard appears to be turning her back on the majority of her nation when it comes to Palestinian issues. For example, recent polls suggested that Australia should support Palestinian statehood at a United Nations vote, yet Gillard could not face her ‘friends of Israel’ if she joined the majority, rather than the margins, of the UN member states on this historic bid.

The disproportionate equating of one Jew with many Arabs is nothing new. During Operation Cast Lead in December 2008, 1,300 Gazans were killed, which was a hundredfold more than Israeli deaths. While a Morgan poll revealed that the majority of Australians saw this overkill as ‘not justified’, Gillard squarely blamed Hamas, hence ‘Israel responded’.

Gillard’s zealous tributes to the returned IDF soldier is a pathetic pledge to please the pro-Israel lobby and an unashamed declaration of where her loyalties lie:

As a human being, I have been very touched … seeing that young man returned to his family… after five long years of being held unlawfully.

Her joint press release describes Shalit’s captivity as ‘inhumane as it was unjustified’.

But was there any ‘heart warming moment’ at seeing the Palestinian families embrace their returned sons after years and even decades? Could she name any of the Palestinian political prisoners or were they all terrorists who deserved to rot in Israeli prisons?

Alas, there was no place for Palestinians in her occupied heart. Hence, her pragmatic fears have outweighed her democratic principles.

Since speculations of a leadership challenge have surfaced, joint statements between Julia Gillard and Kevin Rudd have been rare, perhaps since the pledge to support the independent South Sudan in July. But when it comes to saluting Israel, our leaders line up to sing in perfect harmony.

It is richly ironic that Gillard is so vocal over one soldier, yet so silent over countless Israeli actions that are inhumane, unjustified and unlawful.

While ’1941 terrible nights spent in solitary captivity’ are inhumane, Hamas negotiator Mahmoud Zahar declared that many Palestinian prisoners were also held in solitary confinement ‘to increase pressure…to reach an agreement on freeing Shalit’. Zahar also claims that this deal includes relaxing the blockade against Gaza.

While 477 Palestinian prisoners were released as the first phase of the 1,027 total, there are still another 5,000 held in Israeli prisons. It is unclear whether phase two will include the 164 Palestinian children who are imprisoned with adults, mostly for stone throwing. Their conditions are in contravention of article 76 of the Fourth Geneva Convention as well as Israel’s own laws. Both Hamas and Fatah leaders need to quell any temptation to exploit this precedent for Israeli soldier abductions and for more disproportionate prisoner swaps.

While compromising his principle about dealing with terrorists, Netanyahu sought a pragmatic means to boost Israel’s morale, especially as the tides turn against Israel in the UN and especially since his prized military intelligence failed to locate their lost soldier in Hamas territory. Hence his timing was perfect to revive the Israeli honoured tradition that ‘no soldier is left in the field’, especially as conscription is compulsory for Israelis aged over 18 years. His timing was also perfect to weaken the UN statehood bid by Mahmoud Abbas, who failed to arrange any prisoner releases as PA president.

However, Netanyahu’s principle is farcical given that many Palestinians would see the state sponsored brutality of the IDF as terrorism, and they remember a phase when Israel preferred to deal with Hamas rather than Arafat.

At least the Israeli Prime Minister represents the sentiments of most of his citizens, whereas our Prime Minister is increasingly detached from hers.

The Twitter broadcast across Israel to hail this historic day read ‘Israel loves its sons more than it hates its enemies’. If indeed what we love and hold dear prevails over what we hate and fear, there is hope.

Two waves of violent Intifadas have been superseded by non-violent mass movements. Within the Holy Lands and even the Diaspora, a growing numbers of Jews and Palestinians are capitalising on new technologies for conceivable collaborations and joint statements. This is not driven by a pragmatic panic that Palestinians are fast outnumbering Israelis, despite the increased settlements and the disproportionate ‘overkill’. It is driven by a principled perspective that every individual has an inalienable right to be treated with equal dignity, rather than equating the other with a finger nail.

Joseph Wakim is a freelance writer and founder of Australian Arabic Council.

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