I received the following article in my inbox this morning. It is written by Rebecca Caspi, the JFNA Senior Vice President and Director of the JFNA Israel Office, on the recent release of Israeli Defense Force Soldier Gilad Shalit.
A Personal View from Jerusalem
Oct. 18, 2011
Gilad Shalit is finally home! Welcome back Gilad! I cannot even begin to express how long I have been waiting to write those very words. I know, of course, how closely people across our Federation movement have been following his story, how much this support has meant to his family. This is a uniquely Israeli story. You just can’t imagine the joy, the pain, the pride, the loss – the tumultuous swirling emotions that have enveloped the nation.
There is no other story in the media, there is no other discussion around people’s Shabbat tables and I’d even go as far as to say that there is barely a song being played on the radio that is not dedicated to Gilad. The fact that Shalit, the IDF soldier captured by Hamas on June 25, 2006, the young man who has spent six birthdays in captivity, is being returned to the world of sunlight and freedom, is the only subject in town.
I think back to the milestones passed in my own family over the past five years, the past 1,940 days that Shalit has been held, in confinement, stripped of his human rights, denied even a visit by the Red Cross, paralyzed by the hands of the enemy. How many times did we let our minds linger too long on the matter to shake ourselves to action, affirming, Gilad is still alive, yes, Gilad is still alive. They say that Gilad is the son of all of Israel, that we are all responsible for him. As an Israeli, I really felt that.
How ironic that “Shalit” was heavily trending on Twitter this past week. Yet, Gilad probably has no idea what Twitter even is.
I don’t know how many times I have walked past the tent Gilad’s parents first pitched outside Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s house – just around the corner from JFNA’s Jerusalem offices – in March 2009, the 1,000th day of their son’s captivity. And how painful it has always been to look Noam and Aviva in the eyes, knowing that I could not – and did not want to – fully comprehend their pain. Yet, like so many thousands of others, I was with them and I wanted to show that. And today, Tuesday, I am smiling along with the rest of the country. We’re simply so happy he’s home.
Religious and secular, left wing and right wing – all have campaigned for Gilad’s release. For the past long five years, psalms were read in synagogues for his safe release, youth marched, bloggers posted, politicians campaigned and everyone dreamt of this day. A large group of Chasidim danced through the night on Thursday to celebrate Gilad’s return.
Whether it is just or not to release 1,027 prisoners for one man, whether Israel’s security will be able to withstand these terrorists’ attempts the second time round, it is clear that all of Israel has rallied together in support of Gilad in a way that they did not for any other cause.
No other country in history has ever paid such a high price for one man’s life; Israel is sending a message to its citizens, its soldiers, that Israel will take responsibility for all people.
Of course, like all Israelis, I have very mixed emotions.
It was with a terrible pit in my stomach that I read the list of the 1,027 terrorists being released to their homes (in some cases, only a matter of miles from where I live) to be welcomed back as heroes. I remember where I was when the Sbarro pizza restaurant was exploded by a suicide bomb in 2001, murdering 15 people and brutally injuring 130. The woman who drove the car for the bomber, and was closely involved in the planning is being let out. This same woman, when imprisoned, declared she had no regrets and anyway, she knew she’d be let out in a prisoner swap sometime soon and when out, she’d carry on. When asked on television whether she knew how many children had been killed in that attack, she replied that she did not. On being told that the number was eight, she allowed a big smile to break out on her face- all in front of the camera, for the whole world to see.
Dalia Cohen’s daughter Kinneret was murdered in 1989 by terrorist Abed al-Hadi Ganaim when he took control of a public bus and drove it off a cliff. “On the one hand, I am happy that Gilad is coming back to his mother,” says Dalia. “I am also a mother and I know what it’s like. I know how much I would want to get my child back. Everybody is happy around me but I cannot rejoice. Abed al-Hadi Ganaim was set free today. I feel like I am betraying my daughter. I feel like she is screaming, her blood, her ashes are crying out to us and I cannot do anything to prevent it.”
President Shimon Peres, in praising Netanyahu for his actions, says: “The safety of each soldier is no less important than the safety of the nation as a whole, and the anguish of a family who lost loved ones to terror is also the anguish of the nation.” In the words of the 3,000 ‘welcome home’ banners plastering the country, ‘Gilad, it’s good to have you back home’. We are with you.
And the whole country is once again shedding tears of happiness and pride; pain and fear; and, above all relief and hope. Welcome home Gilad. We’ve missed you.
Rebecca Caspi, JFNA Senior Vice President and Director of the JFNA Israel Office
Please also see these breaking news reports from Israel:
Jerusalem Post — Schalit reunites with parents, PM welcomes him to Israel http://www.jpost.com/DiplomacyAndPolitics/Article.aspx?id=242250
Ha’aretz — Gilad Shalit reunites with family at IDF base following return to ISrael http://www.haaretz.com/news/diplomacy-defense/gilad-shalit-reunites-with-family-at-idf-base-following-return-to-israel-1.390719