Usually, it is said that parents are proud of their children. If there has ever
been a case where a child should be proud of his parents, it is that of Gilad
Never have I seen a family persevere and fight with such
tenacity to get their boy back home – and this without diminishing any of the
heroic struggles by other parents to do so in the past.
however, it was different.
For five long years, every day, every hour,
they devoted all their energies to Gilad’s release, traveling the world,
beseeching heads of state, going to the UN, and even having to put up with Jimmy
Carter’s cold shoulder when they tried to get the former president to be more
proactive on Gilad’s behalf with his contacts in Hamas.
And then, after
months of frustration and disappointments, the proclamation that few believed
they would actually carry out: a vow not to leave the tent encampment they, and
hundreds of volunteers, erected literally on the prime minister’s doorstep until
Gilad comes home.
And there they were, every day, day after day,
sometimes alone, often with sympathizers and supporters. Slowly the encampment
became a transpolitical national shrine of sorts. Busloads of school children
from all over the country came to pay their respects; synagogues held Friday
night services there, and often laid out a long table for Friday night dinner so
the Schalit’s would not be alone.
Then came the massive empty chair
someone placed on the pavement in an act of solidarity with the missing soldier
– something soon emulated across the country – and a white sheet was tied to a
fence and within days covered with thousands of names, a tablet of sorts to show
Gilad when he gets back tangible proof that even in his darkest hours, even when
he may have thought there was no hope, thousands, tens of thousands, thought
about him every day, and had come to leave their mark.
It is fair to say
that though there were those who opposed the deal, getting Gilad back home
enjoyed a national consensus.
So did concerns over the price Israel had
to pay, 1,000:1.
There is undeniable logic that the horrendous imbalance
ostensibly sends a message of weakness to Israel’s enemies, and stokes fears
that it could only encourage more kidnappings.
There are serial killers
among those being released, who in many other democracies would have lost their
heads a long time ago, and who will now be technically free to plan more
That is all true. But this is not about price, and Israel can
well manage the potential threat from people we know intimately, who have been
banished to lands far from here, and who will be on the radars of every
intelligence service committed to fighting international terror – even unlikely
allies, like Israel and the Saudis.
What it is about is that Israel never
leaves a wounded soldier in the field, that its service men and women know –
even if they are kept in the darkest dungeon, deep underground, no matter where
– at home no effort will be spared to get them back. No price will be too
The country rallied behind the Schalits because that is what the
country’s moms and dads, soldiers and children about to be inducted want to
hear. We are with you through thick and thin. What message could be more
important for both parents and children in a country where there is universal
(well, almost) service for all? And what stronger message of national strength
and unity could Israel send? It is a fallacy to see the exchange as
Ask Hamas. Ismail Haniyeh, its leader, said in an interview
that he saw Israel’s dedication to getting its soldiers back as one of the
country’s greatest attributes. Sometimes one has to know how to take a
compliment from one’s enemy.
The Schalit case is, unfortunately, not
We all remember similar exchanges in the past, albeit with
smaller ratios. Gilad’s case, however, is a re-affirmation of the principle of
the sanctity of human life, the commitment of the people of Israel to those who
serve in its name and to their families, in the most fundamental
In December 2009, and I say this responsibly, an exchange was on
the table that would have had Gilad back in return for the release of some 460
prisoners, some of whom would have been banished. At the last minute the prime
minister pulled back, mainly because of vociferous opposition from some in the
security community, notably Meir Dagan, then the head of the Mossad.
the summer of 2011, when serious negotiations were renewed, the “price” was over
1,000, and growing.
There also was no military option. It was not a
question of intelligence. Even if Israel knew exactly where Schalit was being
held (and one assumes Israel did, as Gaza is a very small place) according to
someone who I guarantee knows these things, there was no chance of extricating
Schalit alive and without Israel sustaining serious casualties in the effort.
Those who claim there was such an option, are being knowingly disingenuous. It
was never seriously there. Failure was guaranteed.
This is a country
where officers famously say, “After me.”
If Schalit has been abandoned,
more than a human life would have been thrown away. Israel’s morality would have
gone with it, as would the core of the military code that makes the Israel
Defense Forces the fighting force it is.
Hamas could kidnap another
Israeli soldier with or without Schalit incarcerated. The border with Sinai,
which is a tunnel away from Gaza, is porous, and we all see soldiers waiting for
lifts on the roads.
The price is not the problem.
The problem is
with people like Moshe Ya’alon, a former paratrooper, head of military
intelligence, chief-of-staff and now minister for strategic affairs, one of only
three cabinet ministers who voted against the exchange.
What example, I
ask, is he sending to young soldiers, or those about to be inducted, or their
parents, or those he sent into battle on Israel’s behalf? And this is the
minister responsible for the long-term security of Israel.
more worried about that, than not having to feed 1,000 terrorists three times a