The year of 2006 marked a difficult period between Israel and her Arab neighbors. Conflict broke out with the Palestinians in Gaza and the West Bank and then trouble brewed with Hizbollah from Lebanon. It showed that Israel was not immune to attack and that organizations like Hamas and Hizbollah , even though they are not as powerful as the Israeli Army could wreak havoc and there was not much the Israelis could do about it.
On June 25, 2006 Gilad Schalit was abducted by the military wing of Hamas and held in Gaza for a period of 5 years and four months. The Israeli Army could not locate him nor mount a rescue operation. Recalling the rescue attempt for Nachshon Wachsman which ended in failure it seemed the only route for securing Gilad’s freedom was through negotiation.
This book is about the back channel negotiations that took place in order to secure Gilad’s freedom. Gershon Baskin opened up the back channel with Ghazi Hamad and the two communicated for five years and four months. During that period of time official channels failed to produce results. For one thing Israel would not recognize Hamas and vice versa. Another fact was that the Israelis were rather stubborn and could have done more to release Gilad or get him released. Hamas set there demand to high. They wanted to release prisoner with blood on their hands and they wanted prisoner releases just for showing a video tape of the missing soldier.
Gershon Baskin is a peacenik and a secular Jews. He traveled widely meeting with Arabs and Palestinians always hoping for peace. He was the perfect negotiator as he was not connected to the Israeli govt. officially and he had many arab contacts on the Palestinian side. He also had something else going for him. Had empathy for the other side and felt for the Palestinian prisoners languishing in Israeli prisons. Hamad Ghazi felt empathy for Gilad Schalit. These two succeeded where the government officials failed.
Over the course of years two prime misters served their terms. Israel had several negotiators working on it , all of whom produced no results. It was finally under Netanyahu that things got rolling. He surprised everyone by making the needed concessions to bargain for Gilad’s freedom. In the end 1,027 Palestinian prisoner were freed from Israeli prison and Gilad was freed. Over the five years of captivity there was regional conflict . The exchanges between Israel and the Palestinian cost well over three thousand Palestinian lives.
The end result is that both side need to learn to recognize each other an grow to trust each other. Peace is along road but the first step must be taken.