Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Perspectives on Shalit

An attempt to show my outlook leading up to and immediately following the Gilad Shalit deal...

Rewind 10plus days ago: news sources from around the world report that Gilad Shalit will be released from the terrorist group Hamas' underground cell in Gaza.  The deal, mediated through Germany and Egypt, would include a swap of 1,027 prisoners for one Israeli soldier.  For the next several days, all Israeli media outlets (radio, tv, newspapers, internet) discussed was the impending deal (I too got caught up in it, sending out several tweets on the matter).  And soon the world media was covering it, too.  Here in Israel, it did not surprise me that the possibility of a deal actually going through demanded non-stop national attention.  For my first two months here, to the t, every official event of any sort that I went to -- no matter whether it was at the two massive social justice protest rallies I went to in Jerusalem and Nahariya, a Garin Tzabar ceremony, or my Garin's Declaration (where we 'declared' our permanent presence to the rest of the moshav/village with skits and movies), every event devoted time to bring up the hope and need to have Gilad Shalit return home as soon as possible. 

Although there was a vast majority of Israeli opinion in favor of the swap, there was also a minority who outright rejected any deal of this sort.  Hence, a significant part of the Israeli media coverage went towards families and friends of loved ones who were murdered in terrorist attacks, admittedly emotional and upset that the perpetrators of multiple heinous crimes would now be freed.  I empathized and thought of it this way, if convicted murderers serving several life sentences are all of a sudden let free, wouldn't you be upset?  How is that justice being served?  Especially if one of these people was directly related in killing your kin or good friend?  I would.  Especially after the list of the 1,027 names was released and their bios and crimes became available via a quick google search, this minority seemed to be making an incredibly powerful point: why release such a large number of people, especially when hundreds -- yes, literally hundreds, were directly involved with murdering innocents?  Needless to say, the names of some of the to-be-freed prisoners and the crimes they committed were also being flashed all over Israeli media in the days leading up to the deal.  I couldn't help but then scoff at the Al Jazeera Op-Ed that asserted that Israel was releasing "1,027 faceless Palestinians" and yet the whole world only cared about the one Israeli.  ההפך, the opposite!  When names like Ahlam Tamimi kept appearing, with her cold blooded testimonials and interviews explaining her acts of terror (and there are many other names out there with equally brutal story lines), it was painfully clear to each and every Israeli that this was not a "fair" trade in terms of actions done to merit imprisonment in the first place.  Every Israeli knows that not every prisoner on that list is an actual murder.  But to imply that because the world cannot name all 1,027 prisoners in one breath, Israelis and the world at large do not care who these people are is ludicrous.  We are acutely aware, and it is scary.  

[Re the Al Jazeera post, for a more balanced and much more biting piece that makes the Al Jazeera point, in a more (honest-and-thus) effective manner, check out this Op-Ed written by Syrian journalist Dr. Faisal al Qasim, writing in Doha, for the Gulf News.]

So, in the final days before the swap, there was considerable anxiety in Israel.  Would the deal actually go through?  Will Gilad Shalit, everyone's soldier, actually make it home?  Will we regret this decision in the months/years to come, if a) the freed prisoners commit more acts of terror or b) the release of the prisoners encourages more attempted kidnappings?  No matter what the particular political outlook on the issue, everyone in the country truly waited with baited breath...

Here are two articles that eloquently represent many of my feelings I had while justifying the exchange in my head.  The first is a Jewish legal approach to the issue, by Rabbi David Ellenson.  The second is an honest (and critical) piece from the increasingly hardened realist, Danny Gordis.  Ellenson hits the Jewish aspects right on, and Gordis is especially appropriate for me as incoming soldier of the IDF.  If you haven't read them yet, do it!

But at the end of the day, I think Rabbi Avi Weiss, writing in HuffPo, gets at the crux of it for me.  Though I quote below, the full article is short and well worth the read.  Rabbi Weiss writes:
"Ecclesiastes writes: 'everything has its season ... a time to weep and a time to laugh ... a time to wail and a time to dance ... a time to rent garments and a time to mend.' Ecclesiastes seems to be saying that there are distinct times for each of these emotions.
Yehuda Amichai, the great Israeli poet, understands it differently. He writes: 'Ecclesiastes was wrong about that ... A person needs to love and hate at the same moment. To laugh and cry with the same eyes ...To make love in war and war in love.'
Jewish law marks this phenomenon when it asks that at the height of our greatest joy, at a wedding itself, that we break a glass to remember the shattered Temples, the shattered human temples, that need fixing. [...]
Today, the heart wins out. But this is not a moment of euphoria. It is that moment under the chuppah (wedding canopy) when we celebrate joy and happiness only to firmly plant our foot on the glass and breaking it remembering the souls and the families whose lives are forever shattered."

Incredibly happy to see Gilad back in Israel; impossible to be happy enough to rejoice wildly in the streets.  Beautiful metaphor from Weiss...  

The Shalit saga has touched Jews around the world in different ways for over 5 years.  And now, after an anxiety filled, emotional roller coaster of a couple weeks, the prisoner exchange has happened.  Gilad is home, and it is time to let him sleep, let him be, and let him live with dignity and quiet as a free man once more.

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