This week is a time of celebration. A son of Israel, Gilad Shalit, is home with his parents and family. Millions of Jews, in Israel and around the world, including right here in northern New Jersey, are rejoicing with Noam and Aviva Shalit, Gilad’s brother, Yoel, and his sister, Haddas.
As the father of two young children myself, I can only imagine what it must have been like for the Shalit family these past 1,940 days. I felt tremendous sympathy for them and what the family was going through. Today, there clearly can be no happier moment in the life of the Shalit family than to see their son and brother – imprisoned for five long years; to be able at last to hold him in their arms and know the nightmare is over.
For all the years Gilad was held, Jews around the world thought about him sitting alone in a cell, who knows where, away from any human contact, except with his Hamas captors. For all the time he was held, from June 25, 2006, the day he was captured by terrorists off the soil of Israel, until this past Tuesday, October 18, 2011, American – as well as world-wide – Jewish communities never let the world forget about Gilad.
Gilad’s release is credited in many ways to the efforts of the North American Jewish community, including our own here in northern New Jersey. For years, we tirelessly worked with that one goal in mind. We rallied, we demonstrated, we signed petitions, we wrote letters to our congressmen and senators and every elected official we could think of, we wrote to the president, to the Red Cross, to the United Nations. We met with Israeli politicians and we met with the Shalit family. We never gave up. It’s my belief that the pressure we brought upon world leaders, the constant, never-ending reminder of Gilad’s imprisonment, was a factor in his release. All those leaders in northern New Jersey and beyond should be proud of the role they played in bringing a son home to his family.
The story of Gilad Shalit’s release is a humanitarian one, a return of the captive to his family. And yet, there’s no getting away from the fact that Israel is paying a heavy price for Gilad’s freedom with the release from prison of 1,027 Palestinians, all of them terrorists and murderers. How do we justify that?
I am not sure it is for us, as Americans, to make the justification. It is for the Israelis. The Israeli government, before it made its decision to negotiate with Hamas on its demands, debated the issue long and hard. Israelis on the street, too, spent hours and days in heated discussion. What would the release of 1,027 Palestinians, all of whose business it has been to destroy Israel and Israelis, mean to the safety and security of the Jewish state? Could the release of one justify the release of more than a thousand? Some in Israel – those whose children, parents, or siblings were murdered at Sbarro or on buses, or in too many locations in Israel to count – didn’t understand it, and couldn’t accept it.
I don’t stand in judgment of Israel and what the government did to facilitate Gilad’s release. I don’t feel that we have the capacity to correctly judge or comprehend the situation in Israel and the political and diplomatic atmosphere in which such a painful decision was made.
The safety and security of Israel is a top priority or, as President Shimon Peres put it, “The safety of each soldier is no less important than the safety of the nation as a whole, and the anguish of a family who lost loved ones to terror is also the anguish of the nation.”
At the end of the day, I see Gilad’s return home purely as a story rich in human interest. Intellectually, I can question and be concerned with the cost of his release, as well, but I cannot legitimately question the decision-making process taken by Israeli leadership. Israel places a premium on its children’s lives, just as we in America do on ours. For this reason alone, we must see this not just as the return of Noam and Aviva’s son, but as the return of a son of all of the Jewish people. Please join me in congratulating the Shalits on the return home of their son.