For the last couple of days, I’ve been feeling an emotion that I honestly never thought I’d have for Israeli Prime Minister, Binyamin Netanyahu: pity.
I happily admit that he often rubs me the wrong way and that I’m biased towards his party, the Likud because of some of the views it espouses. Where the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is concerned, I’m more often than not pro-Palestinian. I think that that is because I was once a refugee and at times, I hear an argument in the Israeli right-wing body politics (which Likud dominates) that sounds eerily like Juvenal Habyarimana’s, “Rwanda is like a full glass of water, if you add anymore water it will spill”. I think that he is a huge hindrance to the peace process and I wouldn’t mind seeing the back of him. Anytime ‘Bibi’, as the Prime Minister is also known, or any Likud leader for that matter sweats I become a happy man. But the Gilad Shalit prisoner exchange isnt a moment that I enjoy.
Gilad Shalit was captured and held hostage for five years by Hamas after its guerillas tunneled into Israel from the Gaza Strip, killing two members of his tank crew in the process. Quickly he became the most famous hostage in the Middle East, if not the world. After years of talks and what not, the soldier is home. But at the cost of releasing 1,027 Palestinians guilty of horrendous crimes, including founders of the armed wing of Hamas and the organizers of suicide bombings and other attacks in which scores of Israeli civilians, including children and teenagers, were killed.
Acknowledging the hurt that his decision invoked, the Prime Minister said that he was “faced with the responsibility of the prime minister of Israel to bring home every soldier who is sent to protect our citizens”. I fully understand where his decision is coming from. The Israel Defence Force is not a regular army as we know it here, made up of men and women looking at the military as a career choice. Almost every Israeli citizen of a certain age has to do a few years in the army, and only a small percentage avoids the armed service. As a result of this, their army is a ‘sacred cow’. But in the larger context of the fight against terrorism, should nations allow themselves to be blackmailed into making decisions that aren’t in their best interests? Because while Sergeant Shalit is now safely home, so are terrorists.
The thinking that terrorism and murder are ways to get your way isn’t strictly a Hamas invention. Here in Rwanda, co-defendants in the Victoire Ingabire trial have testified in court of similar skewed thinking in the ranks of the FDLR, Paul Rusesabagina’s PDR-Ihumure and Coalition des Forces Democratique (affiliated to Mrs. Ingabire’s FDU-Inkingi). According to testimony from Major Vital Uwumuremyi and Lt. Colonel Noel Habiyaremye, while the DR Congo based rebels realized that they couldn’t overthrow the Rwandan government through open warfare, the strategy that they came up with Mrs. Ingabire was to launch numerous attacks in various parts of the country, terrorizing people and destroying infrastructure: slowly bleeding the country until the exhausted government is forced to negotiate with the political leaders. This isnt a new strategy at all. The insurgency the north and west of Rwanda in the late 1990’s sought to force the Rwandan government’s hand. Thankfully this didn’t happen here.
But it has happened in other places, Northern Ireland comes to mind. It galls me that terrorists are rewarded for the lives they take; they should be in jail instead. I completely subscribe to the maxim ‘no negotiation with terrorists’ because to do so is to make yourself vulnerable to blackmail. What will happen when Bibi do if two soldiers are kidnapped this time? Will he release 2,000 prisoners? He has dug himself into a hole and I pray that such a situation never comes to pass.