It is astonishing and moving to see the intensity of emotions the plight of one young soldier has evoked. (See page 24.)
Sgt. Gilad Shalit is now all of 22. A corporal when he was captured by Hamas during a cross-border raid in 2006, exactly 1,000 days ago tomorrow, he was promoted in absentia. His fresh young face, seen in the media and on posters, is as well-known to Israelis as the faces of their own leaders. (In fact, given the fractious state of Israeli politics, the rank and file may not know who their leaders are – but that’s another story.)
In a sense, young Shalit has become everyone’s brother, everyone’s son. His parents are doing all that they can to save their son, who is reportedly still alive – and parents all over the world cannot help resonating to that. The Shalits and their supporters even set up a tent in front of Prime Minister Ehud Olmert’s home in Jerusalem to press for a deal that would get him back.
The deal, apparently, has collapsed. That’s disheartening for the country, as well as the family, but not exactly a surprise, considering that the “trading partner” is Hamas.
What is surprising – and heartening, in a bittersweet way – are the many people the world over this one young man’s story has touched. They’ve sent messages, worn solidarity bracelets, signed Internet petitions. Among the hundreds who have made their way to his family’s tent were even, according to Ynetnews.com, a group of Druze, Bedouins, and Muslims. They were led by Ayoob Kara, a Druze Israeli Knesset member, who called on Hamas – to no avail – “to find a way to finalize the deal.”
Israel has lost many soldiers across the years, young and old, killed and kidnapped, but somehow this one has come to stand for them all, the way that Anne Frank, for better or worse, became a symbol of the Holocaust. But it’s important to recognize that he is more than a symbol; he is a young man whose life is yet before him. We hope there is still a way to save that life.