A video has been released by the Qassam Brigades, Hamas’ armed wing, and the group responsible for the famed capture of Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit on 25 June 2006.
The eleven-minute long footage in Arabic reveals a top-secret unit called the Shadow Unit. According to Hamas’ spokesperson, the unit was established ten years ago solely to ensure the release of Palestinians imprisoned by Israel through prisoner exchanges. Shalit was released on 18 October 2011 in exchange of 1,027 Palestinians; many of them were rearrested by Israel.
The capture of Shalit remains a dizzying chapter in Israeli and Palestinian affairs, not least because it eclipsed all efforts to find him throughout 5 years, during which Shalit’s fate was only surrounded by rumors and inaccurate reports.
Five members of the Unit, who have been killed in unrelated operations between 2008 and 2015, are named in the video: Sammy Mohammed Alhamaydeh (killed in 2008), Abdallah Ali Lubud (killed in 2011), Khalid Mohammed Abubakr (killed in 2013), Mohammed Rashid Daoud (killed in 2013), Abdulrahman Salih Almubasher (killed in 2015). The video reveals that at least two of these members were involved in Shalit’s stay — they are seen eating together.
The video shows episodes of Shalit’s arrest, including footage of the time he received messages from his family. Some Twitter users were surprised to see Shalit enjoying leisure time and barbecuing alongside his captors (at 8 minutes in), causing a barrage of satirical tweets. Hamas’ spokesperson stresses that Shalit’s treatment was in line with Islamic law governing prisoners of war, and contingent on how Israel treated Palestinian prisoners. The satirical reaction by many Palestinians is not to say that Hamas should have mistreated Shalit. Rather it illuminates how Hamas treats local dissenters in a way contrary to their proclaimed commitment to Islamic law. Last night, satirical pundit Ayman Al-aloul, was arrested by Hamas’ interior security for his scathing satire about the video and life in Gaza. Social media users quickly pointed: “Hamas invited Ayman for a BBQ.” Others wondered whether Ayman will be allowed to eat at all.
In the haze of satire, one may find it easy to quickly dismiss the video as propaganda footage to boost Hamas’ image, particularly in increasingly desperate Gaza amidst failed reconstruction efforts in the aftermath of the 2014 Israeli onslaught. While that is true, it is also partial.
Just as Hamas ensured that Shalit’s release comes at an appropriate price, the video sends a signal to Israeli authorities, and indeed Israel’s public, regarding two Israeli soldiers whose dead bodies are believed to have been captured by Hamas in the war of 2014: Oron Shaul, and Hadar Goldin. Hamas is rumored to hold two more living Israelis: Avera Mengistu, an Ethiopian Israeli, and another from the Negev whose name is unknown.
The families of Shaul and Goldin have been quietly campaigning to retrieve their bodies. Though the Israeli government has little to show for its commitment to striking any deals that may advance a prisoner’s exchange. And, needless to say, the Israeli re-arrest of many Palestinians who were released in the 2011 exchange does not exactly lend confidence in future exchanges. Moreover, the current climate in Israel deters any hint of weakness, let alone a deal with Hamas; particularly at a time that most Israelis, according to recent polls, feel their personal security is declining while the government is failing to protect its citizens as Palestinians continue to confront the occupation.