Wednesday, April 15, 2009

A tale of two hostage crises

It took five days for the US Navy to rescue Captain Richard Phillips from Somali pirates who had captured his ship ... but Israeli Defense Forces soldier Gilad Shalit still languishes in Hamas captivity over 1,000 days after militants took him prisoner. Why did the Navy mission succeed, and Israeli efforts (so far) fail?
A lot of it has to do with geography. For all their technological prowess -- the New York Times described Phillips' captors as "armed with pistols and AK-47s" -- the pirates were undone by the fact they were operating on the open sea. "By the weekend," the Times reported, "the pirates had begun to run out of food, water and fuel. That apparently provided the opening officials were hoping for."
Shalit, by contrast, is at the mercy of not a group of four pirates, but a Hamas government entrenched in the Gaza Strip, which the BBC called "one of the most densely populated tracts of land in the world." Locating him here seems difficult, so perhaps it's inevitable for Israel to try to rescue him through diplomatic means, although progress in talks seems slow. YNet News reported that a Hamas "official cited the election of a new Israeli government as the reason no breakthrough was expected in the coming months."
So what can we do? The Times involved its readers in the crisis off Somalia by soliciting solutions. For anyone following the Shalit saga, there are a number of ways to call for action. There is an online petition that urges Secretary of State Clinton to make the US' humanitarian aid pledge to Gaza
-- the petition says it's $300 million, the Times (UK, not NY) says it's $900 million -- contingent upon his release, which my friend Martin mentioned to me in an email. Shalit holds dual French and Israeli citizenship; perhaps pressure on Sarko -- and on Egypt and the Vatican, which have gotten involved in negotiations, as well as on the International Committee of the Red Cross, which Hamas has prevented from seeing Shalit -- could result in positive results. Let's hope that someday soon, Shalit will have the same freedom from captivity that Captain Phillips now enjoys.

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