Schalit family fence 311 R.
(photo credit: REUTERS)
One of the Hebrew papers had the great idea this weekend of encouraging its
readers to welcome Gilad Schalit home by sending him a letter via the paper’s
Facebook page, which the newspaper would then pass on to Schalit once he is
Putting aside the cynic in me, which saw this front-page
announcement as a way for the paper to build up its Facebook page for the
benefit of its marketing department, another thought struck: Gilad Schalit
probably has no idea what Facebook is. Since his capture over five years ago,
the world of communication, particularly for people of his age, has changed
In the summer of 2006, when Schalit was captured, Facebook
was still a closed system for university or high school students and only opened
to the general public in September that year.
Today, it has over 800
million active users, and played a large role in galvanizing support for
Schalit’s release. Twitter – on which Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu
boastfully tweeted that the “US Sec of State called me and congratulated me
on the release of Gilad #Shalit. She said that such a decision requires guts and
leadership” – had only just been launched in July 2006, while the first Apple
iPhone was still another year in the making.
There will no doubt be more
serious hurdles for Schalit to overcome on his return home as he readjusts to
normal life, but the above examples point out just how quickly our world is
changing, particularly in terms of media and communications.
reality TV-driven world, in which every inane utterance of a nonentity is fodder
for the day’s press, one has to hope the Schalit family will continue to
maintain the impressive dignity they have shown over the nightmare five years of
Schalit’s imprisonment, and will succeed in sheltering Schalit from unnecessary
media intrusion as he begins his new life.
In captivity, Schalit was a
symbol on which the country could build a narrative of solidarity; now, as he is
about to be freed, we must all recognize that he is a young man whose shoulders
are not wide enough to bear the weight of the fame he never sought. Although the
country as a whole has paid an extremely high price for his release, we do not
own him and he owes us nothing; we must let him be.
In this spirit, the
prime minister’s decision to host a short welcoming ceremony for Schalit on his
immediate arrival home is a mistake. Although the politician in Netanyahu wants
to maximize Schalit’s release as proof of his strength of leadership, this is
not the time for photo opps.
But the prime minister certainly deserves
praise for making a difficult decision and leading the process which has enabled
Schalit’s release. In approving the release of over 1,000 Palestinian prisoners,
many of whom are individually responsible for the deaths of scores of Israelis,
Netanyahu has shown that he is capable of throwing off his ideology and adopting
a more pragmatic stance.
Back in July 2010, after a previous round of
negotiations with Hamas for Schalit’s release eventually came to naught,
Netanyahu had this to say: “There are prices that I am not prepared to pay... I
am steadfast on two basic principles: the first principle is that dangerous
terrorists will not return to the areas of Judea and Samaria from where they can
continue to harm Israel's citizens.”
The second principle, he said, was
that no “arch-terrorists” would be released.
The deal Netanyahu pushed
through the cabinet scatters these principles to the wind. Around 100 terrorists
will be returning to the West Bank (and another 200 to the Gaza Strip) and among
those to be released include those who participated in the 2000 lynching of
Israeli soldiers in Ramallah, and the abduction and murder of the soldiers
Nahshon Waxman, Avi Sasportas, Ilan Sa’adon and Shahar Simani.
clear what has caused Netanyahu to change his mind, and why a price he refused
to pay a year ago is suddenly one he can live with today. Although Yoram
Cohen, the head of the Shin Bet (Israel Security Agency), told the cabinet (much
to the annoyance of some right-wing ministers) that he supported the deal, he
has also pointed out that 60 percent of released terrorists return to terror, so
Netanyahu is well aware of the dangers he is taking.
But the sign of a
great leader is the ability to make such decisions, even at the cost of spurning
long-held, cherished beliefs. With this decision now behind him, the prime
minister should take a look at the wider picture of Israel- Palestinian
relations, and take the initiative to make some bold decisions in this realm
too, not for the good of a single soldier and his family, but for the whole
Israeli nation.The writer is a former editor-in-chief of The Jerusalem