June 27th, 1976, 36 years ago today, Palestinian and German terrorists hijacked an Air France plane from Tel Aviv to Entebbe, in Uganda. The hijackers demanded that Israel free 55 jailed terrorists in return for the 105 passengers. On July 4th the IDF stormed the Entebbe airport and freed all but one of the hostages (Dora Bloch had been taken to a hospital and was killed after the raid).
It's an interesting but idle exercise to wonder how such a raid would be reported today.
Anyway, that was then. A few days ago we marked the glum 4th anniversary of Gilad Shalit's capture and disappearance into Gaza. This morning his family set off on a highly publicized 12-day march from their home in the Galilee to Jerusalem, meant to pressure the government to pay whatever price Hamas is demanding for their son's liberation - something like 1000 terrorists, some of them convicted mass murderers. They enjoy significant public support.
Amit Segal, a Channel Two journalist, recently wrote an MA thesis about the turnaround in Israel's policy regarding negotiating with terrorists for the liberation of hostages. It has been about as total a change as imaginable: but why?
I haven't read the thesis, only a short summary of it which was published over the weekend in Haaretz (Hebrew, apparently not online), so I haven't seen the full argument. The synopsis, however, suggest that the main difference is that in the past, Israeli governments faced terrorist organizations committed to Israel's destruction and perceived as illegitimate negotiation partners; since the 1980s, however, the holders of the hostages have been perceived as at least partially legitimate interlocutors, so Israel preferred to negotiate rather than risk loss of life. Segal reinforces his thesis by noting that as far back as 1956 Israel had no problem exchanging 4000 Egyptian PoWs for four Israelis, as Egypt, although an enemy, was perceived as a legitimate negotiating party.
Perhaps. I don't have an explanation, myself, nor do I have a clear position (though I can't even begin to imagine the pain of the Shalit family, as Hamas systematically tortures them year after year in contravention of humanity and - for what it's worth - international law). I do wonder, however, what makes Hamas more legitimate a negotiating party than the PLO of the 1970s, both of which were openly committed to the destruction of Israel through the murder of its citizens.
Segal may be right in that Israel negotiates with greater ease now than then - not that the results are any better, sadly. It may however also be the case that the enemies have grown crueler, if possible. Israelis held as PoWs in Egypt or even Syria were visited - eventually - by the ICRC; their families missed them horribly but knew where they were and had some degree of contact with them. These days, Israelis in the hands of its enemies disappear totally. In the case of Ron Arad, who fell into the hands of Hezbullah in 1987, he was simply never seen again, and no-one will ever even know when he was killed or where he's buried.