The Release of Gilad Shalit and Human Worth

This week, an Israeli solider held captive in the Hamas controlled Gaza Strip was released in exchange for more then 1000 Palestinian prisoners. The event is meaningful, not only in terms of Israeli/Palestinian reconciliation, an improbable result of this exchange, but also as a measure of the vast divide of human worth between the wealthy and the poor.

Gilad Shalit is a nobody. He is a (now) 25 year old French/Israeli national who served as a low ranking soldier in the Israeli Defense Forces. Symbolically, he was a giant. That Hamas kept him alive for five years in Israel’s backyard despite numerous attacks on Gaza by the IDF and an ever complicated political battle over Palestinian statehood should serve as proof to his significance.

Most interesting to me, however, is the vast divide of the value of humans between the richest of the world and the poorest. One Gilad Shalit is exchanged for 1,027 faceless Palestinian prisoners. If we are to quantify the relative value of humans from Israel and Palestine, we could say that a Palestinian is worth less than one one-thousandth of an Israeli. The GDP per capita of the West Bank and Gaza was $1,123 in 2005. The GDP per capita of Israel is $26,256. The monetary worth of a Palestinian is one twentieth that of an Israeli.

Comparisons of GDP for the US, Israel, Iraq and Afghanistan (World Bank)

The 9/11 attacks by Al Qaeda on New York City and Washington, DC claimed 2,996 lives. The retaliatory conflicts that were soon begun by the United States on Afghanistan and later, Iraq, have killed an estimated 200,000 people. The exact number is unknown, mostly due to Afghanistan’s lack of reporting and recording infrastructure. Iraq’s contribution, however, totals more than 150,000 as of 2011. If figure that this means that an Iraqi and a person from Afghanistan are worth approximately 1.4 hundredths of an American (1.4%).

The GDP per capita of Iraq and Afghanistan are $2,090 and $483, respectively, where as the GDP per capita of the United States is $45,989. The monetary value of an and Iraqi and and Afghanistani compared to an American are 1% and 4.5%, respectively.

The attack on Pearl Harbor by Japan claimed 2,403 lives. Over the course of the war, more than 3,000,000 Japanese lost their lives. Now, certainly, the war with Japan was inevitable. Thus, I calculate the relative value of a Japanese civilian to an American in 1940 to be less than .0001 or one ten-thousandth of an American.

I do not mean this calculation as a criticism of the decision to go to war. I won’t go there, though I will say that the war in Iraq was unjustified, and the decision to use the Atom Bomb on Nagasaki/Hiroshima was reprehensible from every measure of human rights and human decency. (I guess I went there, anyway. Oh well..)

Rather, I intend this as a criticism of the destructive and cyclical process of war itself. It is important to recognize that nearly no American civilians died in World War II, very few died on 9/11 and relatively very few Israelis have died in he conflict with Palestine. Most of the dead on the other side have been, in fact, women, children and the aged, the historical case in nearly all conflicts. These numbers, do, however, unveil the vast disparities in human worth between those at the top, and those at the bottom and personally, I find this disparity to be incredibly depressing.

About Pete Larson

Researcher at the University of Michigan Institute for Social Research. Lecturer in the University of Michigan School of Public Health and at the University of Massachusetts Amherst. I do epidemiology, public health, GIS, health disparities and environmental justice. I also do music and weird stuff.

One response to “The Release of Gilad Shalit and Human Worth”

  1. Kathy Lawrence says :

    ALL of the Pearl Harbor deaths happened on a military base; except for one civilian employee, all were members of the military. To me, that makes the use of the atom bombs even more horrible.

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