A four-day cease-fire between Israel and Hamas appeared to take effect on Friday morning, paving the way for an exchange of Israeli hostages for Palestinian prisoners held by Israel. By 9:30 AM Israel time, there had been no reports of fighting for more than two hours, and 60 trucks carrying aid had entered Gaza from Egypt. Israel reported that eight of those trucks contained fuel and cooking gas — a small but significant amount for a territory that has all but run out of fuel, except of course, for the 200,000 liters kept in reserve by Hamas for military activities.
Both developments were signs that the cease-fire was firming up. Under the terms of the cease-fire, a large increase in aid is expected to enter Gaza from Egypt and Israel. Cease-fires in the region often require some time to take hold. Air raid sirens sounded in southern Israel roughly 15 minutes after the truce was scheduled to take effect at 0700, suggesting incoming rocket fire from Gaza. But two hours later, all fighting seemed to have subsided.
Under the deal, Hamas will return 50 people, specifically women and children, taken hostage during the October 7th massacre that set off the fighting, and Israel would release 150 Palestinian prisoners being held here, similarly women and children. The exchange will occur across the four days of the cease-fire. Thirteen hostages were scheduled to be released this afternoon at 1600 via the Rafah border crossing into Egypt and then flown to Israel.
Israel has said that it would extend the cease-fire by one day for every 10 additional hostages released by Hamas, but both sides have insisted that the fight was far from over. Despite the truce, Hamas said “Our hands will remain on the trigger.”
This update is being written at noon on Friday and, so far, all the plans for the pause of hostilities remain in place and holding. All of Israel is looking forward to 4 PM this afternoon local time when the first of the hostages are to cross into Egypt through the Rafah crossing, and then taken by ambulances to Israeli military helicopters for the short flight back to central Tel Aviv where they will be examined and meet their waiting families. Sadly for some of us, that will all take place after the beginning of the Sabbath here so many of us who are Sabbath observers will need to wait until after sundown on Saturday to see the videos of what will be incredibly emotional moments for the hostage families.
There is little more to say about all of that at this point in time. So, permit me to share some thoughts on Israel’s decision to accept Hamas’ offer to return about 50 hostages to Israel and the price Israel agreed to pay.
I have heard from many of my blog recipients and, as well, from some friends here, who think this is a bad deal, that Hamas can’t be trusted, that during this four day hiatus in the fighting Hamas will re-arm and regroup, that our morale and that of our troops will be negatively affected and on and on. I have no way of telling how much of this will eventuate, how bad or good the deal may be nor whether it was the right decision to accept the offer. What I do know is that I have the privilege of living in this incredible country for 40 years and continue to be impressed by the people here and their values.
- Values represented by the fact that during the recent callup of reserves, 130% of those receiving official notices actually showed up…..that is people who were not officially called up came forward anyway.
- Values represented by the fact that in the first two weeks after October 7th over 200,000 Israelis living abroad returned to Israel causing such a crush on ELAL airlines that the company allowed people to sit on the floor of some flights when there were no seats available.
- Values represented by the volunteer mobilization, within 36 hours of October 7th, of a few million non-combatant citizens providing needed assistance to the war effort in every way imaginable.
It is those values that come into play at a time like this and allow us to put the rescue of hostages over and above other logic that might make some view this decision as irresponsible.
The Talmud implores us to do all we can to redeem captives while concomitantly warning against paying an unreasonable price to do so. But what is an unreasonable price when you are a parent who has no idea what happened to your child except to know that for 47 days the child has been held captive by animals who are capable of killing, butchering, raping and setting afire 1,200 people in the south of Israel in just a few hours?
For those parents, grandparents, siblings, and children there is hardly any price to pay that is unreasonable. And so, all other logic aside, our government, which is fully responsible for not heeding the signals coming from Gaza in the runup to October 7th, did what our tradition, our culture and our values demand and took the risk that we may actually be enablers of Hamas’ regrouping, in order to bring 20% of the hostages back home.
Personally, I have no idea what the downside of all of this will be. But those of us who believe in and have faith in the One above, can’t help but think that today He (generically) is proud of his children and that, as a result, we will be blessed once again by his countenance. May it be so.
Am Yisrael Chai….The People of Israel live and may it be a shabbat shalom for all.