"There comes an end to all things; the most capacious measure is filled at last; and this brief condescension to my evil finally destroyed the balance of my soul. And yet I was not alarmed; the fall seemed natural, like a return to the old days before I had made my discovery. It was a fine, clear January day, wet under foot where the frost had melted, but cloudless overhead; and the Regents Park was full of winter chirrupings and sweet with Spring odours. I sat in the sun on a bench; the animal within me licking the chops of memory; the spiritual side a little drowsed, promising subsequent penitence, but not yet moved to begin. After all, I reflected, I was like my neighbours; and then I smiled, comparing myself to other men, comparing my active goodwill with the lazy cruelty of their neglect. And at the very moment of that vainglorious thought, a qualm came over me, a horrid nausea and the most deadly shuddering. These passed away, and left me faint; and then as in its turn the faintness subsided, I began to be aware of a change in the temper of my thoughts, a greater boldness, a contempt of danger, a solution of the bonds of obligation. I looked down; my clothes hung formlessly on my shrunken limbs; the hand that lay on my knee was corded and hairy. I was once more Edward Hyde. A moment before I had been safe of all men's respect, wealthy, beloved - the cloth laying for me in the dining-room at home; and now I was the common quarry of mankind, hunted, houseless, a known murderer, thrall to the gallows." Dr Jekyll & Mr Hyde, Robert Louis Stevenson
What about Gilad Shalit? asked James Carleton, presenter of Radio National's Breakfast program this morning.
"Israel calls him a hostage," began Dr Ben Knight, the ABC's Gent in Jerusalem, conveying the Israeli party line (which, alas, in the simple retelling of events, couldn't help but crumble): "Hamas, who've been holding him, call him a captured soldier. He was on patrol [!] near the Gaza border [!!] in June 2006 in an armoured vehicle [!!!] when some militants from Gaza popped up out of a tunnel they'd dug underneath the fence, attacked the patrol [!!!!], killed several soldiers [!!!!!] and took Gilad Shalit back through the tunnel into Hamas."
Into Hamas! Yikes! Dr Knight had pulled himself up just in time. For a nanosecond there he had nearly said into Hamastan. It's happening, he shuddered. Mr Regev. And smack bang in a bloody Radio National interview! Shit!
He was helpless, and could only listen appalled as Mr Regev regaled the Breakfast audience with the tale of that "quite awful character" Samir Quntar* who, back in the 70s, for no apparent reason, had leapt into a dinghy, paddled down the Lebanese coast and onto an Israeli beach, and offed the first Israeli "family, including the children" he could lay his evil hands on (a bit like those "militants," who, for no apparent reason, had just decided to dig a tunnel and plug some Israeli soldiers who were quietly going about their usual morning killing spree).
He listened, numb, as Mr Regev went on about how galling it was for Israelis to see that q***(ar) being swapped for some Israeli stiffs in Lebanon, and then receiving a "hero's welcome" in Beirut. "This really did stick in the Israelis' craw," ranted Regev, "and so here they are going through it again, but what you're looking at this time is a far higher price. This is a live prisoner, and what is being asked by Hamas is the release of miltants inside Israeli jails who... the term over here is blood on their hands."
It was at that very point, where Mr Regev was about to say with blood on their hands, that Dr Knight rallied with the words the term over here is blood on their hands. Just in the nick of time, he thought, the sweat in beads on his forehead. The doctor pressed on heroically: "Now for some of them, they may simply have been involved in throwing a rock at a police officer."
But it was no good, Mr Regev was simply too strong. "But for others," rasped Regev, "we're talking about the people who made the bombs during the Second Intifada when we saw Tel Aviv and Jerusalem living in fear when buses were blowing up. So Israel is having this national discussion at the moment and the line seems to be, yes, we'll do it this time, we'll allow this large number of prisoners released to get our soldier back, but never again. But it's certainly not a done deal. It's a very, very high price to pay for Israel's Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu at a time when he's got other matters on his hands."
Carleton, clearly taken aback by Dr Knight's increasingly obvious struggle with Mr Regev, tried to toss him a lifeline in the form of a question about Hamas maybe not quite feeling the same way.
To no avail. It was not Dr Knight, but Mr Regev, who responded, "Well, each case on its merits, but you certainly do get the impression that Israelis have had enough of watching these prisoners being released when they certainly feel that they should spend the rest of their lives in jail, and in this case, we're talking about hundreds and hundreds of prisoners."
The rest of their lives in jail? It was too much. Dr Knight fought back valiantly: "Now not all of them were involved in those suicide bombing incidents in the Second Intifada. Some of them are car thieves. Some of them picked up in the wrong place at the wrong time and face an Israeli military court, which is not a court that anyone would want to find themselves in if they were Palestinian. But we're talking about hundreds and hundreds and hundreds for one Israeli soldier and you just get the sense that there's a very very strong desire to bring Gilad Shalit home but not at any price and after this there's going to be a major rethink of how it's done."
His bacon was saved - for now. But how much longer can I go on like this, he asked himself, before Dr Knight is no more and only the hideous Mr Regev is left?
Pray for the soul of Ben Knight.
[See my 21/7/08 post The Motiveless Malignancy of Samir Quntar]