Of lions and lambs and all that

One Israeli soldier has been restored to life, his life with his family as it was meant to be if there were no war.

Gilad lion lamb 521 (photo credit: Avi Katz)
Gilad lion lamb 521
(photo credit: Avi Katz)
In a proud moment we have seen the pale Gilad Schalit returned to his family.
One Israeli soldier has been restored to life, his life with his family as it was meant to be if there were no war; if Israel lived in peace with its neighbors; if the settlers had not undermined so many peace initiatives; if the right-wing government had not sabotaged so many moments of potential agreements; if a religious fanatic had not killed Yitzhak Rabin. And if Hamas had not grown in power; if Yasser Arafat had not been craven; if Mahmoud Abbas had led his people back into their land.
We have seen Israel honor its promise to its soldiers to leave no one behind. We have seen Israel value the life of one of its own beyond measurement, beyond calculation. This is a moment when the morals of a society are tested and Israel has done with honor what needed to be done.
We have also seen waves of angry men, the enemy, gunmen and suicide bombers, packed into buses, waving their arms in triumph, promising mayhem and death to their former captors.
This is a chilling sight and reminds us that the hatreds boil, the fear is reasonable, the fence must be high, the checkpoints watched and the vigil for the lives of Israelis kept strong and ever prepared.
It also reminds us that Israel’s occupation of the West Bank, the continued settlement building, the insistence by some in Israel that Jews control the entire land of Palestine will only end in more violence, more captive Israeli soldiers, more dead Israeli soldiers and more dead Palestinians, more jailed Palestinians, more would-be suicide bombers who also have mothers and fathers and sisters and wives who love their own just as we love our own.
I understand that it might seem arrogant to some that Israelis value one of their own over so many of the enemy. The trade here with its imbalance of one for many is both a reason for Jewish congratulation and a reason for concern. Do we not believe that all life is sacred and worthy of respect? Do we really think of our enemy as a crowd of animals packed on a bus? Can we not remember their names and faces and isn’t it time to talk about compromise? Of course, Jews remember that only a little over a half a century ago they were packed in trains and killed without names, left in ditches, traded for no one, because they had no captives of their own. That haunts our equations now. It fuels our need to respect each Jewish life and insist on the worth of our own. Israelis know that survival depends on holding the people together, on making the army strong and destroying those who would destroy you. Diaspora Jews know too that mercy is no more than a fairy tale in the midst of a real nightmare.
Nevertheless, the joy at Gilad Schalit’s return should not obscure the work that lies ahead. Not just the job the military performs but the work of the people to secure a just and lasting peace between the two claimants to the land.
There must be moderates in Israel, those families who would like to create an Israel that does not need to arm every 18 year old and can concentrate its resources on schools and science and art and religion. I can imagine such an Israel.
It would mean that a similar Palestine would have to be imagined also. Hatreds and resentments would have to be diminished and each side would have to accept the other as a permanent presence, a neighboring state, a brother state.
The love that Israel has expressed for Schalit and his family will have to grow outwards and reach towards all who have suffered in this conflict, and that includes the Arabs whose orchards have been taken and the widows and orphans whose tragedy bears the name of Baruch Goldstein and the Jewish dead in the wars of ’48, ’67 and ’73. And the deaths of those who were sitting in cafes and were bombed and those who were riding on buses that exploded and those who became accidental victims in crossfires, bombings and missile attacks on both sides.
I think of Schalit at home at his family’s dinner table. His father cannot stop looking at him. His mother wants to touch him but knows that you don’t touch a grown man as if he were still a child. The nation wants to hear how he watches television and what his plans are for Hanukka. All this is good, but how much better it would be if we could come to an agreement that would end the war, allow Israel to abide with other nations of the world as a respected equal and let the Uzis be turned into computers.
Oh well, lions and lambs and all that.
The writer is a novelist and journalist living in New York.