by Sarah Walton
At first I was going to tell you a story about life on a kibbutz in norther Israel (which I will do another day), but then Gilad Shalit was returned to Israel. For three days afterwards, the news was filled with nothing but Shalit, Shalit, Shalit ... and oh, yes, the 470 released “Palestinians.”
Gilad Shalit is an IDF soldier who was captured by Hamas during one of their terrorist infiltrations from Gaza into Israel over five years ago. When the deal was brokered via Egypt last week, Shalit was to be swapped for the ultimate release of 1027 prisoners from Israeli prisons.
As a pale, emaciated Shalit went home to Israel last Tuesday, an initial 470 prisoners were released to the Palestinian Authority in the West Bank and to the Hamas government in Gaza. However, it’s impossible to say -- as the Western media are -- that the 470 released prisoners were “Palestinians.”
To call the released prisoners Arab or Muslim would be equally inaccurate, and therein lies part of the dilemma facing Israel every day of the week.
At least one of those prisoners was from Buqata, a village right next to my son’s kibbutz, El-Rom, where he now lives. Anyone from Buqata is invariably Druse -- a mystical sect which is not even considered to be Islamic by Sunnis or Shiites.
Nor are the Druse Arabs, but members of a people who have lived in this area since before Joseph took his tribe -- who would later become the Jews -- into Egypt, more than a millenium before the Arabs, under Mohammed, swept into the area from the Arabian peninsula in the seventh century.
In fact, the Druse consider themselves to be the descendants of Jethro, who was Moses’ father-in-law and whose tribe accepted Judaism. So, does that make the Druse an offshoot of Judaism?
See how confusing it all gets?
To further increase the confusion about ethnicity and religion in the Middle East, a majority (around 60 per cent) of the Druse up here in the Golan Heights still consider themselves to be Syrians, and have rejected full Israeli citizenship, despite the fact that Israel annexed the Golan in 1984.
On Tuesday, for instance, when the released prisoner was on his way back to Buqata, a small crowd formed in the streets to welcome him, and most carried the Syrian flag. The irony is that many of those waving Syrian flags also happen to be anti-Assad activists.
Confusing enough for you?
The complications to life in Israel, as exemplified by the 470 “Palestinian” prisoners released to the PA, grow with every glance at those released. For instance, six of the 470 were, in fact, Israeli Arabs and went back to their villages in Israeli upon release. Others are being shipped to Damascus, some into Gaza, a tiny contingent to East Jerusalem.
To the shock and horror of many Israelis, one of the prisoners released was the man who planned the heinous bombing -- actually carried out by suicide bomber Saeed Hotari --of the Dolphinarium nightclub in 2001, which killed 21 Israeli young people and injured 132.
As though things weren’t confusing enough, a vocal contingent of Israelis were opposed to the deal made for Gilad Shalit. Why? Because they fear that the outlandish swap of one Israeli soldier for 1027 Arab/Palestinian/Muslim/Arab Israeli convicted criminals will simply lead Israel’s sworn enemies, Hezbollah and Hamas, to perpetrate the capture or kidnapping of more IDF soldiers.
After all, there are still 6,000 so-called Palestinians in Israeli jails. At the rate of current exchange, all they need to do is capture six more IDF soldiers!