Last week, Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit was finally allowed to return home after being kidnapped and held hostage for over five years by Hamas. Shalit’s release showed the immense value that Israel attributes to a single human life, and this value of life deserves praise and emulation.
Attacked and kidnapped in a cross-border raid in 2006 by Hamas terrorists, Shalit was taken into captivity in Gaza and was refused any outside contact. In complete disregard of international law, Shalit was refused his legal right to be visited by the International Committee of the Red Cross, access to medical attention, and contact with his family.
Gilad’s kidnapping soon soared to the international arena and sparked a worldwide movement asking for his release. Noam and Aviva Shalit, Gilad’s parents, were at the forefront of this movement and years into Shalit’s capture they were still camped in a tent outside of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu ’75’s office to keep on pressing for their son’s release. They never gave up hope that Gilad was alive, and took every opportunity to speak on his behalf. Their perseverance worked, and Gilad’s face became ubiquitous in Israel — bumper stickers, signs, fliers, bracelets, and Facebook profiles all demanded Gilad’s release, with slogans like “Gilad is still alive” and “Meet with Shalit.”
Whether it was because of overwhelming national support, fear of further change from the Arab spring, or an opportune political circumstance, Israel was finally able to come to an Egyptian-mediated agreement with Hamas for the release of Shalit last week. In return for his release, however, Israel agreed to release 1027 Palestinian criminals, many of them personally responsible for the murder of innocent Israelis. The prisoners released include terrorists who have blown up restaurants, clubs in Tel-Aviv, Passover Seders, and shot civilians at point blank range. For instance, one of the terrorists being released in the deal is Ahlam Tamim, who planned and helped execute the bombing of a Sbarro’s Pizzeria in Jerusalem that left over ten innocents dead; she has stated on numerous occasions that she has no remorse for what she did.
Now, terrorists like Tamim are receiving a hero’s welcome in Gaza, and calls for kidnapping more Israeli soldiers are echoing in the streets. It is obvious that a 1027:1 exchange rate is disproportionate and an excessive ransom, and that the danger posed by the released Palestinian terrorists is very real. The question that arises is: why would Israel make what appears to be such a foolish trade?
The answer stems from a deep sense of unity that penetrates all levels of Israeli society. Because Israel is so small and is the only Jewish state in the world, no one is really a stranger, and almost everyone has a mutual contact in common. For this reason, Gilad was not some obscure Israeli soldier who happened to be captured, and was not some remote and unfortunate casualty of war to remember. Instead, Gilad was transformed into every Israeli family’s son, someone they thought about and missed every single day; his release became a national plight, and although trading so many terrorists for his one life may be unwise from a rational perspective, Gilad’s case was propelled beyond the realm of pure logic. As Einstein so eloquently put it, “politics is more difficult than physics,” and the situation surrounding Gilad’s release is a prime example that nothing is truly black and white. Sometimes questions like “what if it were your son” get in the way of the logical or sensible choice, and lead to decisions that are not entirely levelheaded.
Regardless, Gilad’s return home should be enthusiastically celebrated, as should the Israeli people’s love for a soldier who the vast majority of them had never even met.