Steven Aiello

Appeal for Humanity: The Families Have Suffered Enough

I was opposed to the Shalit trade. Partly for macro-considerations; the trade emboldened our enemies and weakened us, it incentivized future kidnappings, making us all potential targets, and it released 1000 prisoners, among them murderers and violent offenders, few if any having been deradicalized.

But I was also opposed to the trade on the micro-level. For all that he endured, Gilad Shalit didn’t deserve to see his freedom come at the price of releasing 1000 criminals and their collective menace. If he went through hell, it would be nothing to think of the psychological harm of finding out that one of those released had permanently maimed, killed, or savaged, another innocent life. Thus I rationalized, and thus I feared for the Shalits and for Gilad.

Don’t get me wrong; I don’t blame or judge the Shalits for their efforts. They did what most parents and siblings would do to bring their missing son/brother home: virtually anything. Their behavior was human to a fault. The onus is on national decision-makers, not a broken family.

It’s been fewer than three years, and those fears have now been realized. The murderer of Barukh Mizrahi, the father of five killed earlier this year, is allegedly a former prisoner released to free Shalit. The driver is believed to be his son, embroiling another generation in conflict. The IDF has reported that 1/7th of the arrests made in Operation Bring Back Our Brothers were of prisoners released in the deal.

Gilad Shalit did nothing to deserve this. He had no say in whom, if anyone, would be traded for him; he was neither privy nor party to the negotiations. No one asked his opinion, and he deserves his freedom. Yet he will be haunted for the rest of his life by the price of his release, and by the accompanying fears.

The Frankel, Sha’ar and Yifrach families have no chance to see their sons again. Their hopes have been dashed. They suffered through two and a half weeks of torture to reach the day they dreaded and prayed never to reach.

Throughout the entire ordeal, they have acted with humility and nobility. They have represented Israel internationally and they have spoken to Israelis throughout the country. They have called for restraint, for rule of law and for moderation. For all that these families have suffered, it would be unthinkable to put them through more pain.

Yet once again I fear, this time for three more families. National solidarity has broken. Prayer rallies, rare moments of political unity (or rising above politics) and hope have given way to anger and angst, bigotry and racism, which in turn have begot violence, perhaps even death. It will be of small consolation to the Abu Khdeir family to know why their son’s life was taken and by whom. But it will mean a great deal to the already mourning Jewish families. They don’t deserve to have their sons’ innocence marred by lawless vengeance and wanton violence. Gilad Shalit doesn’t deserve to go through life haunted by those who may die for his freedom, and these families certainly do not deserve to rebuild their lives haunted by further loss of life, perpetrated in their sons’ names.

The thugs and vigilantes bringing violence upon innocent people due to accent, race or religion are thugs and vigilantes. Appealing to them about the lives of innocent Arabs may be futile. Pointing out that they are fueling a cycle of hatred may not matter to them. But perhaps, if they truly claim to feel the pain, they will do it for the bereaved families. The Frankel, Sha’ars and Yifrach families have lost their sons, but kept their humanity. The least we can do is to follow suit for their sake, if not ours.

About the Author
Steven Aiello is the Director of Debate for Peace (, and a board member of the NGO Committee on Sustainable Development NY. He has a BA in Economics, MA in Diplomacy and Conflict Studies, and MA in Islamic Studies. He teaches Model UN for schools throughout Israel. Among his other hats he serves as Regional Coordinator for Creating Friendships for Peace, and Dialogue Officer at Asfar. Steven has also served as Chief of the Middle East Desk Head for Wikistrat, interned for the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs and the American Islamic Congress. His writing has been published in the NY Daily News, Jerusalem Post, Iran Human Rights Review; Berkley Center at Georgetown;, and the Center for Islamic Pluralism. He can be reached via email at