emotions: gideon levy on gilad shalit

by anzya

The case of Gilad Shalit is, understandably, a very emotional one for Israelis. Military service being compulsory for all, it would be every Israeli parent’s worst nightmare to have their 19 year old son abducted by hamas for four years, not allowed any communication with his family, nor visits by the red cross. The pain and agony of not knowing must be unbearable on Shalit’s family.

Since news of the widely supported protest march in Israel, I’ve been trying to sift through the articles on Shalit.  I was relieved to read the Haaretz journalist, Gideon Levy’s latest article – Life as a soap opera – which, as Levy always manages to do, puts the protest around Shalit into a broader and important political perspective, and gives some insight into the mindset of Israeli society right now.

Levy discusses how the current protest march around Shalit, in self-consciously avoiding being labelled “political”, creates a discourse that is dangerously “sentimental”. The crux of his argument is probably here:

It is not only a question of the price we are being asked to pay for Shalit’s release – and permit us to guess that some of the marchers will protest against it when the time comes. It is also a question of the next Gilad Shalits. If very few people are speaking honestly about the prisoner exchange, nobody at all is speaking about the more important question, of what Israel is doing to prevent more unnecessary victims like Gilad. That is political. But the answer can only be found in the political arena. There is no other option.

After Shalit was captured, Israel embarked on an unnecessary war, which received sweeping support, without any public discussion of its means and objectives. Even if, God forbid, other soldiers had fallen captive during this war, support would have remained strong. We are deeply moved by the fate of one soldier, but the question of whether it was right to embark on a war in which 13 Israelis were killed and dozens more wounded never came up.

Levy also wrote an earlier piece about the Shalit protests last year in Haaretz where he criticised some of the protestors’ methods. This included a demonstration at the Megiddo prison that prevented the families of Palestinian prisoners from visiting. Levy made the important point then that:

About 7,700 Palestinians are imprisoned in Israel, including about 450 without the benefit of a trial. Most of them are not murderers, although they are all automatically labeled as such here. The demonstrators at Megiddo would do well to realize this. Some of the prisoners are political detainees in the full sense of the word, from members of the Palestinian parliament imprisoned without trial, which is a scandal in and of itself, to those behind bars because of their “affiliation.” Innocent people are among them as well as political activists and nonviolent protesters.

As Levy points out, Israelis are not the only people who fear losing their children, or having them abducted and tortured. This is an ongoing reality for Palestinians, too. And the Israeli government’s gun-ho attitude in ostensibly “protecting” its people and the state, only perpetuates this dangerous cycle of violence and fear.

But, I do want to criticise Levy just a (verrry little) little bit here, and I would be interested in hearing blog readers’ ideas… Reading these made me think a lot about the interplay between politics and the emotions, and Levy is fairly dismissive of emotional, sentimental reactions which do not leave room for political reason. But,  I think that maybe it is when emotions are only directed narrowly inward and narcissistically that they become dangerous. Emotions are, I think, important and valid, as they can also lead to empathy, understanding and solidarity with the other… Any thoughts?