October 20, 2011

Gilad, Benjamin and How it Looks to be Home

I celebrate the release of Gilad Shalit from his five year imprisonment in Palestine.  Five years is a long time.  I don’t know him personally, but I can imagine that he has had enough of politics for awhile, and that he is looking forward to seeing his family and friends.

There should be no surprise that politics has not had enough of Gilad.  This photo nicely captures the subordination of private life to political grandstanding.  Gilad had his father embrace while being shouldered aside by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Defence Minister Ehud Barak.  The pols know a thing or two about grabbing the camera.  Gilad and his dad are turned toward each other, into their private bond, while together they seem to be trying to duck out of the public eye.  Bibi and Barak, not so much.

Perhaps the ministers shouldn’t be judged too harshly: the leaders on both sides are making the most of the photo-ops.  Indeed, the bargain has all the marks of the conflict as a whole: Israeli leaders can talk of how each life is precious while demonstrating their unremitting resolve to protecting their citizens.  Palestinians can talk of how thousands have been held in Israeli prisons while demonstrating their unremitting resolve to freeing their people.  And both sides have to like the bargain: some Palestinians have crowed about how 1 for 1000 prisoners is a great deal; some Israelis will silently presume that is about the right assessment of relative worth.

And by focusing on the dramatic event, the media continue to miss the story.

Gilad is home, but every day–every single day, year in and year out–thousands of Palestinians are delayed, harassed, detained, or turned away at checkpoints that impede and sometimes prohibit travel to and from their homes.  Travel to work, to hospitals, to schools, to their relatives, travel for any reason whatsoever.  Political prisoners have been released from jail, and that always is a good thing, but the occupied territories remain a large, open-air prison.  And 60 years is a long time.

If you look at the pictures, you can see that peace may be as far away as ever.

— Robert Hariman

(cross-posted from No Caption Needed.)

(Photos: Israeli Defense Force and Musa Al-Shaer/AFP-Getty Images.  For documentation from the prison guards’ perspective: see Mikhael Manekin et al., eds,Occupation of the Territories: Israeli Soldiers’ Testimonies 2000-2010 (Jeruselum, 2010), and Breaking the Silence:Israeli Soldiers Talk about the Occupied Territories.)

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Robert Hariman
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