Home > Gaza, Israel, Palestinian Authority, United States of America, West Bank > Comparing and contrasting Gilad Shalit and Rachel Corrie

Comparing and contrasting Gilad Shalit and Rachel Corrie

December 22, 2009 Leave a comment Go to comments

By Ira Sharkansky

JERUSALEM–The issue of Gilad Shalit rocketed again this week to the top of the national agenda, and now seems to have receded to another period of probing about further negotiations. For the nth time, the later headlines are more pessimistic than the earlier headlines.

As far as one can tell from the information available to the public, Israel is ready to release a number of prisoners “with blood on their hands,” on condition that they be exiled to Gaza or elsewhere far from the West Bank. The pros and cons, the high profile nature of the case, and the intensity of Israelis wanting to make a deal and those not wanting to accept Hamas’ conditions, are well covered in the New York Times.

Some of my correspondents are surprised at the attention given to the fate of one soldier. It is not all that different from the attention elsewhere given to one missing child, or one miner trapped underground. Josef Stalin put it well when he said that a million deaths are a statistic, but one death is a tragedy.

Here we are not talking about a death–yet–but an individual tragedy that has been in the headlines for three and one-half years. There has been more than enough time for organized demands that Israel pay any price, and organized demands that Israel not pay the price demanded by Hamas.

Now the reports are that Israel is willing to pay the price, with the condition that Hamas will accept exile for prisoners thought likely to be violent again. Israel’s cabinet, which will decide the issue, is divided. There may be a majority willing to go along, provided there is a condition of exile. Hamas spokesmen have dug in their heels against exile, but talks may continue.

One of my American friends remains obsessed with the case of Rachel Corrie, and compares Shalit to her. Why has Israel refused to apologize, and even rejected demands (including from the Member of Congress representing Corrie’s district) to investigate her case more thoroughly and hold individual soldiers accountable?

To remind those who have forgotten, or never paid attention, Rachel Corrie was a college student from Washington State intent on saving Palestinians from Israeli cruelty. She joined a group of like minded individuals, found her way to an active battlefield in Gaza, donned distinctive clothing and carried a loud speaker which she used to demand that IDF bulldozers stop their destruction. From the inquiry that did take place, the driver of a armed bulldozer, with only a small window most likely dirtied, did not see her or hear her in the dust and noise of battle. She died from a direct hit by the bulldozer, from the materials moved by the bulldozer’s blade, or from something else flying around in the fighting.

As is common in such circumstances, Israel expressed regret at the incident. Insofar as the investigation concluded that the IDF was not responsible, Israel did not apologize.

Corrie’s parents and other supporters have been waging a campaign to establish Israeli guilt, including a performance that has played to applause and protests in several venues.

If anyone ought to be called accountable, it could be the instructors and others at her college who encouraged Rachel Corrie to play in the busy traffic of warfare.

Israel has admitted to fault in other cases. Authorities agreed to compensation for the family of a British journalist killed in Gaza. Why the differences between the cases? Perhaps the IDF’s investigation found more responsibility in one instance than the other. Perhaps the British family and government were more skillful in pressing for a response than were the family and supporters of Rachel Corrie. Perhaps Israeli officials felt that soldiers ought to expect journalists near a battle, but not college students. One should not assume perfect understanding of what happens at the intersection of military and diplomatic bureaucracies, international politics, and what really happened in the fog of battle.

Gilad Shalit is different. He is an Israeli draftee sent to the Gaza border, rather than an American who took a foolish chance or a journalist who knew the risks of covering warfare. Several times we have felt that a final decision on his case was imminent, only to learn that there is more to negotiate. Those supporting or opposing a particular deal are able to keep the issue on the national agenda. That is not the case for Rachel Corrie and a few other civilians who put themselves in harm’s way.

Sharkansky is professor emeritus of political science at Hebrew University.

  1. carol ann goldstein
    December 29, 2009 at 5:24 pm

    You say:
    “If anyone ought to be called accountable, it could be the instructors and others at her college who encouraged Rachel Corrie to play in the busy traffic of warfare.”

    I say that if Isreal stopped their horrible treatment of Palestinians and stopped destroying Palestinian homes, there would be no need for the various human rights groups within and outside Israel to send people to help the Palestinians.

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