At long last the famous Israeli captive Gilad Shalit has secured his freedom from his Palestinian captors. Hamas and Israel have come to a prisoner swap agreement at a very dubious time to release Shalit in exchange for over a thousand Palestinian detainees. I bet millions, the world over, have heard of the Israeli soldier, who was captured by Hamas a couple of years ago to the extent that he has become, by all accounts, an international figure. He has been in the news for months and months on end. All American and European media have written extensively about his case.
Even the Arab press has given his ordeal huge coverage forgetting of course the ordeals of thousands of Arab “Shalloots” both at home and abroad. It is no wonder then that Hamas leaders have remarked sarcastically more than once that wherever they go in the Arab world, Arab officials ask them about Shalit with great enthusiasm. We have all seen how the deposed Egyptian president Hosni Mubarak and others worked for months on end to secure Shalit’s release, but to no avail.
I am sure some are asking now what is meant by “Shalloots”. Is it a derivative of “Shalit”. The answer is no. I am trying here to play on words to show how great the difference is between the Israeli Shalit and the so-called Arab “Shalloot”, which means in Arabic “shabby or seedy shoes”. This colloquial Arabic word is, in actual fact, a metaphor for run-down cheap things.
Why have the whole world including many Arab leaders been so busy trying to free Shalit when there are tens of thousands of Arab “Shalloots” languishing in Israeli and other prisons unnoticed? Why are they so cheap and unimportant?
It is not a secret at all that the value of an Arab person in the stock-exchange of Arab regimes is sort of nil. He is as valueless as an onion’s peel. One should not expect of regimes which treat their downtrodden people like dirt by torturing and starving them inside their countries to care about an Arab captive in Israeli or other foreign jails. Thousands of Arab detainees have been held all over the world for decades legally or otherwise, and some of them died abroad unheard of. Hundreds of Arabs might disappear at one point outside their countries, and nobody would care an iota. We have seen how hundreds of people die while trying to flee their countries in the so-called “death boats.
Have you ever seen an Arab government organising a campaign to release one of its nationals from a foreign jail? Probably a few such as the Kuwaitis who worked hard at one point to secure the release of their captives in Iraq. But this remains the exception and not the rule. Have you ever seen an Arab government trying to get one of its citizens out of Guantanamo Bay camp? Not really. Most of them have kept silent. And were it not for the pressure of western governments, no naturalised European Arabs would have got out of the infamous camp.
Have you ever seen an Arab regime trying to get its captives out of Israeli prisons? Forget about it. Most of Arab regimes have no problem at all letting their nationals die in Israeli jails. The Arab citizen is so cheap that Israel sometimes exchanges hundreds of Arab detainees for the remains of an Israeli soldier.
How would one expect Arab regimes to care about their citizens detained abroad if their security services are even collaborating with the Americans and others to kidnap Arab persons and torture them in the so-called ‘rendition prisons”? It is worth-mentioning also that some Arab states are hosting US prisons on their lands because American law prevents the authorities from torturing detainees on US soil. Have you ever seen an Israeli or American security apparatus collaborating with an Arab counterpart to arrest and torture an American or Israeli citizen? Not at all. It is quite funny and extremely painful at one and the same time that some Arab security apparatus have supplied western authorities with fabricated information to help condemn some Arab dissidents held abroad instead of helping them to get out of prison.
When will we see an Arab leader visiting the family of an Arab citizen arrested in Israel or somewhere else? When will we see an Arab official assuring a family that the government is doing its utmost to help secure the release of an Arab captive abroad as did Israeli prime ministers with Shalit’s family?
It is quite great to see over a thousand Palestinians released from Israeli prisons, but it is very sad that this huge number of detainees will be exchanged for a single Israeli soldier. Isn’t it very humiliating for all Arabs politically and morally?
It is no wonder at all that Israel is releasing a large number of Arabs for one person. It must have seen the Arab armies and security services opening fire randomly on Arab demonstrators as if they were a swarm of flies or a herd of livestock just because they went out clamouring for their basic rights. Have you ever seen an Israeli force shooting Israeli demonstrators with great ease? Of course not. In actual fact Israel sent its aircraft to Uganda years ago to help free Israeli citizens kidnapped by Palestinians there. And so, as long as we, Arabs, do not respect ourselves nobody will ever respect us, and we will always exchange thousands of Arabs for one single Israeli.
We are crossing our fingers that the new Arab revolutions might one day liberate Arab people from despotism and turn them from “Shalloots” into “Shalits”.
Dr Faisal Al Qasim is a Syrian journalist based in Doha.