On Tuesday, Hamas released Gilad Schalit, 25, an Israeli soldier kidnapped by Palestinian militants in 2006 and held by Hamas for more than five years.
Last month, Iran released Shane Bauer and Josh Fattal, two 29-year-old Americans serving eight-year prison sentences on phony espionage charges filed as they hiked near the Iraq-Iran border in 2009. Tehran released a third hiker, Sarah Shourd, a year ago.
The disparity between Schalit's situation and that of the wayward U.S. hikers shows how light the consequences are when Americans misstep.
Bauer and Shourd, then 27_and 31, freely roamed the Middle East, writing against U.S. foreign policy. When the Iranians arrested them, a friend promptly called the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad. As U.S. law prohibits sending money to Iran, Washington stepped back while the sultan of Oman kindly negotiated a "bail" deal that netted Tehran some_$500,000 per hiker.
Fattal, then 27, was visiting Bauer and Shourd during the fateful hike. While Fattal was in Iran, his family decided not to broadcast that his father, Jacob, is an Israeli. Upon his son's release in September, Jacob Fattal told Agence France Presse that he wanted to call and encourage Noam and Aviva Schalit, whose son was being held hostage, to tell them his heart was with them.
Schalit was a 19-year-old_corporal who had signed up for combat duty when he was taken in a raid that wounded him and left two fellow soldiers dead. The most recent time Hamas had kidnapped an Israeli soldier, in_1994, militants executed him. Schalit, by comparison, was fortunate to emerge from captivity gaunt and pale.
Israel paid too steep of a price for Schalit's ransom -- the release of 1,027 Palestinian prisoners, including terrorists involved in brutal attacks inside Israel -- in a deal the country may well come to regret.
Abby Porth, associate director of the Jewish Community Relations Council, explained, "Every Jew around the world has exhaled in a sense of relief that one of our sons is home." And: "The bitter side of this emotion was the release of over_1,000 criminals, many of them murderers who had deliberately perpetrated terrorism against innocent civilians."
Wafa al-Bass, who tried to blow herself up at the Erez crossing in 2005, gave Israel reason to rue the bargain. As soon as she was released, she proclaimed that Palestinians should "take another Schalit."
The Palestinians have staged huge celebrations to welcome back the first group of prisoners. I don't get it. I wouldn't want people who blew up innocent children back in my homeland under any circumstances. I certainly wouldn't want the bad public relations just as Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas is trying to win statehood through the United Nations.
On Tuesday, Bauer, Fattal and Shourd appeared at an Occupy Oakland protest. Bauer told the crowd, "This is the perfect place to celebrate our freedom."
And he's right, because he is safe. In Iran, hikers can be grabbed as political pawns. In the Middle East, an Israeli soldier can be held as a bargaining chip to release terrorists. In Oakland, Calif., occupiers may break the law as they pitch their tents in front of City Hall. For that, the worst they need fear is that they'll be cited and released.