The release of Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit in exchange for more than 1,000 Palestinian prisoners has generated mixed opinions from Binghamton University’s student body.
Shalit was released on Tuesday, Oct. 18 after being held captive in solitary confinement by Hamas, a Palestinian militant group, for five years. He was abducted in a cross-border raid in 2006.
Shalit is the first captive Israeli soldier to be returned alive to Israel in 26 years.
Hillel at Binghamton held a discussion on Friday night for students to talk about the significance of Shalit’s release.
Dov Berkman, a junior double-majoring in political science and history, led the discussion of about 15 people.
“The common consensus was relief and happiness to see Shalit home,” Berkman said. “With that, there was no disagreement.”
However, students did not agree on whether or not Israel made the right decision.
“While we all agreed to support the decision as Americans, we could not all agree that it was the right choice,” Berkman said.
Berkman, though, said he thinks that Israel made the right decision.
“No country is forced to deal with such dilemmas because no country values its soldiers so highly,” he said. “Israel is a civilian army, quantitatively small, but qualitatively powerful, because it needs to be.”
Adam Talmud, a senior majoring in marketing, is unsure how he feels about the trade.
“I feel split,” Talmud said. “I’ve always felt that I was against it because I knew releasing him would mean releasing over a thousand of Palestinian terrorists. However, the day that it happened, I was so happy that he was home, I didn’t care that 1,027 terrorists were being released.”
Talmud added that the one-to-1,000 trade was a necessary move for Israel.
“Over 1,000 prisoners for one person is not equal by anyone’s standards,” he said. “However, this was the best deal Israel has gotten over the past five years, so if they were going to make a deal, this was their best chance to do so.”
Bat-Ami Bar On, a professor of philosophy and women’s studies, called the issue “complicated” and said that the ratio of one to 1,000 for the exchange can be viewed as extreme.
“What is even more obscene is that both sides actually kidnap people so they can enter these kinds of exchanges and then claim a moral or political victory,” Bar On said. “Should Israel have done this? Of course. And much faster. Gilad Shalit should have not stayed in jail for five years.”
Cara Schlefman, a senior majoring in integrative neuroscience, is not in full support of the swap.
“I understand that the Israeli government is trying to make it seem like they really care for their people, but that is a huge number of Palestinian soldiers to be released especially when a lot of them committed numerous crimes,” Schlefman said. “I would think any Israeli people who lost family in terrorist attacks would be upset to see these people just let off.”
Some people at the Hillel discussion had a connection to people who had been murdered by the Palestinian terrorists released, according to Berkman. However, not all of them disagreed with the exchange.
Michal Goldstein, a sophomore double-majoring in human development and English, said that Israel has a duty to protect its soldiers, regardless of how they may appear to other countries or what this could do to the political environment in the Middle East.
“I think that as difficult as it was to give such a large number of prisoners in exchange for just one Israeli, it was important for Israel to keep their promise that they will not leave any soldier behind and that the Israeli government truly is there for them in time of need,” she said. “It gives young Israelis going into the army a sense of hope and greater sense of pride to know that their country is 100 percent backing them up, especially in a country where everyone must serve.”
Shalit’s family played a large role in publicizing their son’s kidnapping and encouraged the country to lend their support, Berkman said.
“Because of their advocacy work, a captive Gilad Shalit was seen not only as the son of Noam and Aviva Shalit, but of the state and the Jewish people,” Berkman said. “The international Jewish community was deeply emotionally invested in Shalit’s release and that is something that must be taken into account when trying to understand the process as a whole.”
Talmud agreed with Berkman’s analysis.
“[Shalit's parents] made him the son of everyone in the country,” Talmud said. “They made him a real person and a figure in Israeli society.”
Berkman said it was possible that released Palestinian prisoners would commit the same acts that led to their imprisonment and continue to use captive Israeli soldiers as bargaining tools.
“They’ll certainly try, and Palestinian leadership glorifying their release will not help the cause of peace,” Berkman said. “Israel released the prisoners understanding the risk, one would hope that the implications turn out to be as limited as possible.”