Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Setting Gilad Shalit Free

A yellow ribbon is tied to the rearview mirror over my dashboard. I received the ribbon one afternoon a few months ago when I drove by the protest tent outside the prime minister’s home in Jerusalem. Activists at the tent and all over Israel were marking five years since Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit was captured by the Hamas. Pressure calling for a deal with Hamas which would set Gilad free had been constant since he fell captive but has been growing even stronger in recent months.

Last night the Israeli government approved a deal which would set Gilad Shalit free. 

Gilad will be coming home in a few days, the prime minister stated, addressing the cabinet, the Shalit family, and the entire country. There was a window of opportunity for Gilat’s release now, we learned, due to the recent changes in the Arab world which may leave us without the possibility of getting Egypt’s assistance in future negotiations.

Most Israelis are welcoming this news with joy, but for many it is received with very mixed feelings. Gilad’s release will come at a painful price, and possibly endanger the lives of Israeli citizens and soldiers in the coming months and years. Some 1,000 Palestinian prisoners will be released, many of them serving life sentences for the murder of Israelis in horrific terrorist attacks. These prisoners will be welcomed as heroes in the Gaza Strip and on the West Bank, and the fear is that they will return to their murderous ways.

One Israeli is being released in exchange for 1,000 Palestinians. The equation has never been equal. Gilad Shalit has never been visited by the Red Cross and the last sign that he was alive was a carefully scripted video over two years ago. At that time, Gilad appeared to be in good health. He smiled to the camera and held a newspaper dated September 14, 2009.

We hope that not only will Gilad return home alive, but that he will be in good mental health. His return will obviously be a huge media event, but Gilad also needs the privacy of a reunion with his family.

It is one of the hardest things that Israeli parents must do - letting go of our teenage sons and daughters when they enlist in the Israeli Defense Forces. We pray for our children’s safety every day of their service, and expect and assume without a second thought that their commanders and our leaders will do everything possible to protect them, and bring them home safely.

Last night the Israeli government reached a difficult and painful decision. Yet for parents Noam and Aviva Shalit, and for all of us who have prayed for Gilad over these past five years, it will be a welcome end to this tragic affair.

I hope to be able to remove the yellow ribbon from over my dashboard in the days to come.

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