The Arab-Israeli exchange rate (part I)

The Arab-Israeli exchange rate (part I)

The exchange rate on the Arab-Israeli prisoner market is changing in favor of the Arab currency: In 1985, Prime Minister Shimon Peres released 1,150 prisoners in exchange for three Israeli soldiers captured by the Palestinian Militant Front of Ahmad Jibril in the famous Jibril Deal. With the release of Gilat Shalid in exchange of 1,027 prisoners, the rate has moved sharply from 1 soldier = 383.3 prisoners to 1 soldier = 1,027 prisoners. The exchange rate asymmetry is becoming starker.

All the same, whether the Shalid deal is “a great victory for terrorism” as one Israeli Cabinet minister reportedly said or worth the value is an entirely Arab-Israeli matter. Skeptics claim that many of the freed prisoners are linked to some of the deadliest attacks on Israeli civilians in recent years.

They cite figures too: A total of 180 Israelis have lost their lives to terrorists freed in previous deals since 2000; and 48 percent of freed prisoners who returned to the West Bank have been recaptured on terrorism charges. But the joy in Israel over the safe return of a soldier, in Palestine over the return of prisoners, and the (though too naive) hope that they will not resort to violence again must be worth taking any risks associated with this deal.

The news of Mr. Shalid’s return after five long years of captivity reminded me of another man who was less fortunate. One of the two other Israeli soldiers kidnapped by Hezbollah in 2006, sparking the Second Lebanon War, was Ehud Goldwasser. In December 2006, I and my colleague Yusuf Kanlı visited the Goldwasser home in northern Israel. Malka, Ehud’s mother, pointed to a cat, Meshi, and said, “She’s been living in my son’s room since he disappeared.”

Neither Malka nor her husband Shlomo knew if their 31-year-old son, who was on his annual reserve duty when kidnapped, was dead, injured or in good health. But Malka said she knew the Quran told Muslims to treat their prisoners in a humane way. Shlomo, a ship captain, doubted if Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan was allying with the right men: “Terrorists are the same men Erdoğan said he would like to see playing a part in governing Lebanon.” Yusuf and I looked at each other, silently.

In 2008, Ehud’s body was returned to Israel. I do not know what Malka, Shlomo, Misha or Ehud’s wife Karnit felt after having lived in agonizing darkness for two years. Reading the news of the return of Ehud’s body to Israel I felt that his captors were at least generous enough to make one final gesture to the family of the man they had killed. Sadly, I was wrong, and that gesture in fact denoted a new exchange rate on the swap market.

Ehud’s body had been sent to his country in exchange for the release of Samir Quntar, imprisoned for the murder of a policeman and members of the Haran family. When one “currency” was not alive the exchange rate had gone down to 1 = 1. I remembered Malka telling me she knew the Quran told Muslims to treat their prisoners in a humane way. They did so: The exchange rate had generously gone down from 1 = 383.3 to 1 = 1. The merchants of human bodies had entered the market.

I have no idea what Malka, Shlomo and Meshi felt about Mr. Shalid’s return. But Karnit was among the first people to visit the Shalid home to share their joy.

To be continued on Friday