After more than five years in captivity by Hamas — and following a deal that will release 1,027 Arab prisoners — Gilad Shalit is home.
In a speech marking the occasion, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu noted that fighter pilot Ron Arad was captured 25 years ago. While Netanyahu stated it was "exactly" 25 years ago, Arad was presumed captured on Oct. 16. There is, however, another event coinciding with the date of Shalit’s release that bears mention.
On Oct. 18, 1979, a group of Arab prisoners were released as part of a deal with Egypt. One interesting point from the article:
Israeli authorities stressed that the majority of the prisoners were serving sentences for criminal offenses and the few who were jailed for membership in terrorist organizations had not participated directly in terrorist acts. This point was made to forestall the flood of criticism that greeted the release of a large number of convicted terrorists earlier this year in exchange for a single Israeli soldier held by terrorists in Lebanon.
A partial list of crimes and sentences of the prisoners being released in the Shalit deal has raised similar concerns. Netanyahu addressed this in his remarks as follows:
I know very well that the pain of the families of the victims of terrorism is too heavy to bear. It is difficult to see the miscreants who murdered their loved ones being released before serving out their full sentences. But I also knew that in the current diplomatic circumstances, this was the best agreement we could achieve, and there was no guarantee that the conditions which enabled it to be achieved would hold in the future. It could be that Gilad would disappear; to my regret, such things have already happened…
I would like to make it clear: We will continue to fight terrorism. Any released terrorist who returns to terrorism – his blood is upon his head. The State of Israel is different from its enemies: Here, we do not celebrate the release of murderers. Here, we do not applaud those who took life. On the contrary, we believe in the sanctity of life. We sanctify life. This is the ancient tradition of the Jewish People.
See our earlier blog post for a list of other prisoner exchanges for live soldiers, including the controversy surrounding the 1979 prisoner exchange.