Gilad: The symbol


The images of Gilad Shalit, many cast in blue and white, hung everywhere.


This summer and while in Israel, I’d see his boyish image flying in the breeze, hanging out of apartment balconies, posted along avenues and at any number of gatherings or makeshift rallies. So many of the white sheets bearing his likeness were tattered from the blistering atmosphere over the past five years.


The dilapidated cloth made me wonder what he, Gilad, must look like now.  Was he frail? Worn down from Hamas’s cruelty?


Captured at age 19, how had he changed? Around the world, his youthful face rose to become a symbol, an icon of injustice. A single soldier, held interminably as a prisoner by vicious thugs. 


While relatively few actually knew him prior to his capture, his smiling countenance became famous to us all as he was ingratiated into our lives.  And by becoming a symbol or, as Yossi Klein Halevi describes him “Everyone’s Son”, Gilad was linked to a cause greater than himself.  It’s unknown if he’s even aware of this.


Moreover, by becoming a symbol, Hamas knew his value and was not about to ever dream of releasing him until their demands were close to met. 


In turn for his release announced this week, their ransom was 1,027 Palestinian prisoners - something that mathematically doesn’t add up to a fair exchange.  And these are no ordinary prisoners.  They are some of the worst terrorists.


Palestinian security prisoners to be released as part of the Gilad Shalit deal between Israel and Hamas include the murderers of kidnapped IDF soldiers Nachshon Wachsman, Ilan Sasportas and Ilan Saadon.


Other prisoners being released include the perpetrator of the Bus 405 Tel Aviv-Jerusalem attack in 1989, the terrorist who killed 10 Israelis in Wadi Harmiyeh north of Ramallah in 2002, the terrorist who brought the suicide bomber to the Sbarro restaurant in Jerusalem in 2001, several perpetrators of the lynch in Ramallah in October 2000 and on and on the list goes.


Of the 479 prisoners being released in the first stage, 279 were serving life sentences.


Of them, 110 prisoners will be freed to their homes in Judea and Samaria and East Jerusalem. 96 will be returned to Judea and Samaria and 14 will return to East Jerusalem. 203 prisoners who were residents of Judea and Samaria will be deported to Gaza.


Such an unbalanced transaction, strains rational thinking and is more like a painful hit in the gut.


Even Yoram Cohen, the chief of the Israel Security Agency said, “This is a bad deal and is certainly not easy for the bereaved families (meaning the families of the Israelis.) This is not a good deal; this is a deal which is hard to digest.”


So if it is a bad deal, as Cohen says, why do it?


There was tremendous pressure applied by the family and one can certainly sympathize at their distress. 


Then there is the Israeli notion of “not leaving sons in the field.”


But I also thought it was an Israeli dictum to not deal with terrorists.  For in doing so, by entering into this Faustian bargain, Senior Hamas leader Khalil al-Hayya says the Shalit-for-terrorists deal proves kidnapping works.  He promises more abductions.


Israel National News reports that de facto Gaza Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh is preparing a mass celebration to welcome home terrorists freed by Israel in exchange for Shalit. “It is the historic moment of great victory,” Haniyeh told a spontaneous victory rally in Gaza Tuesday night.


With Israel trading Gilad, now there will be a much higher price to kidnap and a greater threat on the head of every Israeli soldier.


Granted he’s in good health, the symbolic nature of having Gilad free is tremendous and will require a unique celebration on Israel’s part.  But beyond the symbolic, the actual number of feet on the ground will weigh heavily in Hamas’s favor.

Abe Novick is a writer and communications consultant and can be reached at [email protected]