After the Shalit deal was announced, we issued a news release in which we expressed empathy for Gilad Shalit’s family and the families of the soon to be released Palestinian prisoners. We have received a number of responses criticizing our news release. One commentator, we’ll call him J, sent us the following message:
In the news release you issued after the Shalit deal you wrote, among other things, “We join in the sigh of relief that is palpable today throughout Israel and of course the relief felt by the Shalit family and the families of the prisoners who will be released”.
I’d like to ask how you can join in the sighs of relief of the families of men and women who murdered civilians.
Yoni Eshpar, director of Gisha’s public department, responded to J’s comment in detail, and since he was not the only person to criticize our news release, we chose to publish the short correspondence between them, after obtaining Y’s consent:
First I’d like to thank you for your inquiry. We value the responses we receive about our work from those following our publications and we consider each one carefully.
It was unclear to me from your message whether you had read thefull news release or just the segments that were quoted from it in various media. In any case, I believe the answer to your question can be found in the lines that follow the segment you quote, which make it clear that our sense of relief did not come from support for the actions of the Shalit family or of identification with the actions of the Palestinian prisoners who were to be released, but rather from our hope that that moment would “signal an end to this difficult chapter in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and lead us down a path toward positive changes for ordinary people in Gaza and in Israel”. Our news release deliberately focused on ordinary people because we believe they deserve the opportunity to lead normal lives, whether they are Israelis or Palestinians and regardless of actions taken by their leaders, or even their family members.
We took no official position for or against the deal, just as we have no formal position on many other political issues. Gisha’s staff is both Jewish and Arab, individuals from different backgrounds and with different beliefs who hold a wide variety of opinions and viewpoints about the reality in which we live. However, we all agree that freedom of movement for the purpose of education, employment, trade and family life is a human right and that upholding and safeguarding this right, even under the complex conditions of armed conflict, serves all parties to the conflict, including Israelis. Gisha chose to focus on freedom of movement for these reasons and usually refrains from making statements on other issues, with rare exceptions (such as our joining in the criticism of the conditions under which Hamas was holding Gilad Shalit).
I conclude by stating the obvious, that attacking civilians deliberately is an abhorrent war crime. The released prisoners who took part in such attacks are guilty of war crimes. I realize why the deal that brought their release remains a controversial and sensitive issue in Israel, and, as stated, there are differences of opinion among our staff about this as well. However, now that the deal has been made, we can only hope that it will open the door for an informed public debate about Israel’s policy toward the Gaza Strip, a debate that would focus on the best interest of Israel’s citizens rather than their concern, understandable as it is, for the fate of the captive soldier.
Hello Yoni and thank you for your response.
I would first like to note that I did read the full news release before I wrote to you.
Regarding the issue itself, you write:
I believe the answer to your question can be found in the lines that follow the segment you quote, which make it clear that our sense of relief did not come from support for the actions of the Shalit family or of identification with the actions of the Palestinian prisoners who were to be released, but rather from our hope that that moment would “signal an end to this difficult chapter in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and lead us down a path toward positive changes for ordinary people in Gaza and in Israel”.
I believe that the message you conveyed to me should have been explicitly stated, rather than merely implied, in the official news release.
I accept your comment and I thank you again for directing my attention to the misunderstanding that may have been arisen as a result of our choice of words in the news release. A short news release always leaves out more than it says, but I do agree that we should make every effort to say things as clearly and explicitly as possible and leave very little room for interpretation.
I’m sure this correspondence would interest others who follow our work and I request your consent for posting it in full on our blog. We can do so without revealing your name and personal details if you prefer.