FLAME Outstanding Articles on the Middle East Printer-Friendly Version
Schalit: The details matter
The Jerusalem Post, December 3, 2009
Israelis would dearly love to see abducted soldier Gilad Schalit safely home, and the entire episode of his cruel captivity finally concluded. That is indisputably the national consensus.
But no similarly overwhelming consensus exists regarding the price which a sovereign responsible government should pay for Schalit's release, given the risks of further kidnappings and killings orchestrated by those Palestinian terrorists who could go free in a prisoner exchange.
Precisely because of widespread concerns over the terms and costs of a deal, Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu repeatedly promised full disclosure and a comprehensive public debate on the specifics of any swap.
Yet precisely the opposite is happening, with the formal sanction, as of this week, of a Supreme Court ruling. Rather than informing the citizenry, whose lives may be on the line because of the number and caliber of convicted killers slated to be let loose imminently, censorship is being employed to prevent us from finding out the specifics - at least until 48 hours before the deal goes into effect, by which time it will be a fait accompli.
Denied information, the Israeli public is being denied the opportunity for open, comprehensive debate on an issue that potentially affects us all.
We are being told, as per the state's November 29 affidavit to the Supreme Court, that the German go-between insists on strict secrecy as the Schalit deal takes final shape, and that leaks would render the Hamas position more extreme and intransigent. Such silence may make sense in the earliest phases of establishing contact; near the finish line, this argument insults our intelligence.
Very little stays hush-hush in these hi-tech times. Snippets of information unpublished here are routinely relayed to foreign news outlets. We are engulfed by truths, half-truths and innuendo anyhow, from tendentious sources in the Arab media and beyond. We don't live in a vacuum.
Besides, can anyone still buy the line that keeping our population in the dark will keep Hamas from adopting yet more uncompromising positions? Why, to take just one example, would an impassioned Israeli debate about the merits of releasing the Fatah Tanzim leader Marwan Barghouti, jailed for murder, prompt a raising of the Hamas price?
Surely, if anything, the reverse is true. Surely, the resonance of any public misgivings over such a step would prompt greater Hamas urgency and flexibility over a deal, amid fear that Israeli public pressure would stymie it.
Is the thick veil of secrecy, in fact, intended to prevent Israelis from discovering just how little compromise there has been on Hamas's part and how flexible our government has been? Perhaps, were the full list of arch-murderers about to be freed made public in reasonable time, substantial shock and opposition would be generated to discomfit the government. Perhaps the government fears being caught between two opposing forces of popular pressure.
As things stand, we are essentially being admonished that there are things we are better off not knowing and that others must be trusted to make our decisions for us. This, of course, is inherently anti-democratic.
It is surprising that the Israeli media - which had been broadly supportive of any deal, until a more balanced debate emerged in recent days - hasn't united against the unwarranted censorship. It violates our elemental rights and goes against journalism's intrinsic logic.
Except in the cases of wartime and actual battlefield action, censorship is an ineffectual and frequently misused relic. Israel's security-oriented censorship regulations comprise 41 articles, dating back to the 1950s and early '60s, many of them somewhat ludicrous nowadays.
The capacity they have to suppress politically sensitive information may have been justified in Israel's infancy, but it cannot be countenanced in this day and age.
The suspicion, in the Schalit affair, is that censorship is not safeguarding a vital national security interest as much as shielding edgy politicians from adverse public opinion.
All Israelis will potentially be affected by the repercussions of a deal to free Schalit - and, for that matter, by a decision not to proceed with such a deal. Whether we agree or not to the price that is being demanded, we have the right to know, in good time, exactly what that price is.
Gerardo Joffe, President
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