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Gershon Baskin recounts events that led to Shalit's release

By Rachel Starr
On April 3, 2012

Dr. Gershon Baskin, an experienced negotiator for conflicts dealing with Palestinians and Israelis, came to the Heller School for Social Policy and Management last Friday to discuss the secret back channel he created that lead to the release of Israeli prisoner Gilad Shalit. Baskin showed the audience of over 100 graduate and undergraduate students a slideshow dealing with important events within the Israeli conflict.

On June 25, 2006 the Hamas group captured Israeli soldier Shalit. The Israeli government contacted Baskin to negotiate for the safe return of the soldier.

He suggested they request a sign of life from Hamas. A letter or a video was requested. Baskin spent an hour and a half at the event telling his story, describing all the obstacles he had to overcome to help both sides and Shalit's family. Countless times, he was told to "butt out," but continued on with attempts to negotiate for both sides.

In 2007, Hamas and the Israeli government reached a framework for an agreement: Shalit would be exchanged for 1000 prisoners. There would be two phases: Hamas would select 450 prisoners and 550 would be selected by Israel. Both sides argued for four years about the prisoners that would be released, and Baskin was in part responsible for this release because of his role as a communicator between the two sides. "[Back channels] are essential. There is a limit to what public diplomacy can offer. There's no test. There are no objective reasons why [Palestinians and Israelis] should trust each other. [The Arab Palestinans and Israelis] signed five agreements and breached every one of them," he said.

Baskin has been involved with the conflict since 1976, when he was a student studying in New York City. He has made it his life goal to try his hardest to "smooth over" the tension existing between the two groups and travels to different universities to tell his story.

According to Baskin, Shalit had a treadmill, books and food during the five years and four months he was imprisoned but stopped eating the last two months. Baskin said he believed Hamas made a deal with the Israeli government because they knew Shalit would have died eventually. Currently, he is suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder and remains clinically depressed due to the conditions he experienced while in captivity, but is slowly recovering. Baskin still remains in contact with Shalit and his family and disclosed their plans to get lunch on Tuesday.

Zach Cardin '15 said, "I thought [the talk] was very interesting. I learned a lot of things I didn't know about Shalit's release." J Street U Brandeis worked with the Heller School to make sure that undergraduate students would be allowed to attend. Students for Justice in Palestine, the Brandeis Zionist Alliance, Brandeis Israel Public Affairs Committee and J street all had members present at the event. A member of J Street U, Eli Philip '15, said the group sponsored the event because, "We think Gershon Baskin has a really incredible story that not many people have heard. We wanted people interested in Israel to learn of the secret nature of the negotiations."

Gershon Baskin stayed after his speech to talk exclusively with undergraduates in the Hassenfeld Conference Center. More than 40 students attended. Ethan Stein '15 said, "Having the opportunity to hear Baskin, who took part in this remarkable release, was an opportunity I could not give up. After years of caring, praying, and hard work, our boy Gilad was finally home."

Many students left discussing what they had just heard. Philip said, "the most powerful message of Dr. Baskin's talk was realizing how much can be achieved through dialogue and negotiation. It is an inspiration that a peaceful solution is not only plausible, but attainable."

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