Israeli anguish laid bare as bid to halt prisoner swap rejected
Emotional scenes as soldier exchange for 1,027 Palestinians gets go-ahead
Published 18/10/2011 | 05:00
ISRAEL'S anguish over the most lopsided prisoner swap in its history was laid bare last night after the country's highest court rejected a last-minute legal attempt to prevent the release of the captured Jewish soldier Gilad Shalit.
Five years after he was kidnapped and spirited into Gaza, the conscript, whose incarceration tormented a nation, will return to his home in the northern Israeli village of Mitzpe Hila this evening.
Amid scenes of raw emotion, the supreme court in Jerusalem turned down four petitions against the Israeli government's deal with Hamas to exchange the 25-year-old soldier -- promoted yesterday to the rank of sergeant major -- for 1,027 Palestinian prisoners.
Israel's most senior judges concluded they did not have the right to interfere in government policy, a ruling that removes the last legal obstacles to Sgt Maj Shalit's release.
The verdict was greeted with dismay and anger from the plaintiffs, many of whom had lost relations in terrorist acts perpetrated by some of the Palestinian prisoners who are to be set free, among them 280 serving life sentences.
Some of the plaintiffs confronted Noam Shalit, the soldier's father, as he arrived at the court. Led by Shvuel Schijveschuurder, whose parents and three siblings were killed in the suicide bombing of a Jerusalem pizzeria in 2001, they accused him of forcing Israel into a deal that would lead to renewed terrorist attacks carried out by those to be freed.
"Your son will come home and say 'hello father, hello mother' and then we'll experience the biggest terror attack ever seen here," Mr Schijveschuurder shouted, demanding the soldier's father look him "in the eyes".
Mr Shalit did not respond.
However, the supreme court's ruling reflected the will of Israeli society at large. An opinion poll published yesterday found that 79pc of respondents supported the prisoner exchange.
Sgt Maj Shalit is expected to be handed over to the Red Cross in Gaza this evening. At the same time, 450 male and 27 female prisoners will be transferred to Gaza, the West Bank and East Jerusalem; the 40 considered most dangerous will be taken into Egypt and thence to a life in exile in Turkey, Qatar or Syria. The remaining 550 prisoners will be released over the next two months. (© Daily Telegraph, London)