Potential prisoner exchange weighs Israel’s value for life

Parents of late Israeli soldiers Oron Shaul and Hadar Goldin interview with the press at the protest tent outside the Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's residence in Jerusalem on June 29, 2016. The families have been protesting in demand of retrieving the missing bodies of Hadar Goldin and Oron Shaul from Hamas captivity. (Photo: Hadas Parush/Flash90)

A Hamas official claims talks are underway for a prisoner swap with Israel, involving two Israeli civilians as well as the remains of two soldiers who died in 2014 Operation Protective Edge in exchange for 60 high-security Hamas prisoners.

In 2011, Israel exchanged a single IDF soldier, Gilad Shalit, for 1,027 prisoners, mostly Palestinians and some Arab Israelis, including 280 sentenced to life imprisonment. Shalit was the first Israeli to be returned alive in 26 years. By 2014 at least six Israelis had been killed by those released prisoners.

During Operation Protective Edge, in which Hamas used its own people as human shields, Israel re-arrested some of its ex-prisoners for breaking the terms of release. It is now those who were re-arrested that Hamas wants back.

The families of IDF Staff Sgt. Oron Shaul and Lt. Hadar Goldin, apparently killed in separate battles in 2014, are desperate to have the remains of their sons returned, with the Goldin family launching a campaign last June in Israel. Even the United Nations is involved.

“Hadar fell into captivity during a UN-brokered cease-fire,” the UN stated in a press conference.“UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon and the UN Security Council bear full responsibility for bringing Hadar back.”

A senior Hamas official has also hinted that one of the two may still be alive, but refused to elaborate, although evidence collected at the scene suggests that they both died. At some point, Hamas also released video footage of a mock birthday party for Shaul.

Hamas is also holding two Israeli citizens with mental health conditions who more recently strayed into Gaza of their own accord: Ethiopian Israeli Avraham Mengistu and Bedouin Juma Ibrahim Abu Anima.

A surprising twist is a claim that Qatar and Egypt are attempting to broker the deal, particularly through Mohammed al-Emadi, Qatari envoy to the Gaza Strip and head of the Qatari National Committee for the Reconstruction of Gaza.

Israel has not commented. However, Kul al-Arab – a Nazareth-based weekly newspaper quoted senior Hamas official Salah Bardawil as saying, “I’m not aware of any Qatari involvement, but there are talks between the parties on this issue.”

Meanwhile, the Times of Israel quoted an unnamed senior official as saying Hamas will not even begin to talk until its prisoners are released. Israel has demanded that Hamas deport any released prisoners to Gaza or Qatar, a condition which Hamas has refused.

Israel also recently stated that it will not return the bodies of killed Hamas terrorists until the situation is resolved, but will bury them quietly.

The situation appears to be at a deadlock, but through prayer can be unlocked.