The Hostage War

I think a new name for this Israeli-Gaza conflict should be considered to provide more insight into the perplexity of why a superior power such as Israel should find its hands tied in making any real inroads to a “victory” over Hamas.

If we follow the logic of a hostage situation, suddenly the nomenclature completely changes, as do the dynamics.  “Winning” is no longer a useful concept.  How does one “win” in a situation like this?

Imagine some armed robber holding up the owner of a liquor store. Perhaps he has gotten a shot off, to show he means business, wounding the owner.  The loud noise attracts attention, and soon the store is surrounded by police cars outside.  A police perimeter is formed a block around the store.  Inside, the robber not only has the wounded owner held at gun point, but a half dozen customers are also trapped inside.

The “Hostage Negotiator” gets on the bullhorn and encourages the armed robber to answer the phone so that “negotiations” can begin. In the interest of saving lives, the police are willing to hear the robber’s “demands.”

The robber answers the phone, feeling he must try to cut some kind of deal, the best possible, or else admit defeat, go to jail, with absolutely nothing to show for it.

Making it clear he will take hostages with him to coerce the police, he demands a million dollars, a nice helicopter, and free passage out of the country on a private jet.

The police try to get him to be more realistic.  If he gives up now, there will be less of a prison sentence than if he starts shooting people.

The robber knows he has more leverage than that, or at least he hopes he does, so he refuses outright this deal and says no, okay, he’ll skip taking the million, but he has to have the helicopter and free passage out of the country. The police, without promising anything like a helicopter, implore the robber to let half the hostages go “as a show of faith.”

Then the haggling starts, with each side trying to get as much and give as little as it can.

No one wins here.  Sharpshooters have been dispatched, but they are helpless to contribute.  They can’t get a clear shot without putting the hostages at risk.

The robber continues to be bargained with–to ensure the safety of the others. To the cops there is no “legitimacy” to this robber.  The value he gets from his role is from the lives he holds in the balance. But they must work with him, if only to do their best to save these lives.

Who can “win” in a situation like this?

About the Author
Victor Salkowitz is a retired Clinical Social Worker with over 30 years experience in prisons, child welfare, and adult mental health agencies. He received his B.A. in Psychology from UC Davis and an MSW from UC Berkeley, becoming licensed in 1991.