No, I don't mean unequal in exchanging one person for many.
On the front page of the NY Times for Wednesday there was a picture of relatives and friends rejoicing at the release of IDF soldier Gilad Shalit in return for the release of a group of Palestinian prisoners.
This sounds like a good deal all around but let's consider it more deeply. Of course in the U.S. it isn't surprising that Shalid is almost a hometown boy while the Palestinians are just another bunch of terrorists. Attention has been focused on Shalit being held by HAMAS while no attention is given to the thousands of Palestinian prisoners held in Israel.
Shalit was abducted while on duty with the IDF. As a member of an occupying army, it's not hard to understand that he was taken prisoner. An interesting point about the Palestinian prisoners is that most of them might as well have been kidnapped for the lack of legal process accompanying their imprisonment. Since there is no law except Israeli military law in the occupied territories, any Palestinian can be grabbed and put in prison if some officer in the IDF decides it should be done...whether on the spur of the moment or as a result of planned 3AM raids that the IDF conducts nightly. May a lawyer be called? Maybe. Will the family be told where the prisoner will be taken? Maybe. May the family visit the prisoner? Maybe but probably not if the prisoner is taken into Israel itself because Palestinians may not go there without permission.
This brings up another difference in this case. Gilad Shalit will be warmly welcomed to a secure home that any American would find familiar. Shalit will never again be subject to the Palestinians and will live in the same security as any other Israeli for the rest of his life protected by an army, an air force, a navy, a undercover police force, the border guard and the plain old ordinary police - backed up by the civil laws of Israel.
Those Palestinians released in the exchange will go home to the same lives dominated by Israel that they knew from the past. They will have no laws to protect them that cannot be flouted at will by the IDF. They will have no police force other than that of the Palestinian Authority which is a creature of Israel that stands aside upon the appearance of any Israeli military or police units. If Israel wanted it, every one of these Palestinians could be back in prison next week. (update: This has come true)
There is another difference. The Shalit family and supporters put on a demonstration to demand the release of Gilad. They had tents and had been actively calling for the government to do something for some time. They were not molested by the police and had plenty of support as one might expect.
But Palestinian demonstrations of any kind are barely tolerated and usually bring barrages of tear gas and stun grenades. Leaders of non-violent protests such as Bassem Tamimi are arrested in order to disable the organization of protests.
The Shalit family can safely put the episode in the past. For every Palestinian, Israel looms menacingly over every day and night into the indefinite future. In a very real sense, every single Palestinian lives on probation.