I’m thinking about Gilad Shalit…
Just a day or two before the beginning of Passover, the State of Israel announced that it had captured the two terrorist murderers- teenage boys- who had, in cold blood, slaughtered five sleeping members of the Fogel family in their home in Itamar. The news brought scant comfort to a bereaved and shaken country, not to mention to the surviving family members. But it did serve to affirm Israel’s commitment to bring to justice those who would commit such atrocities. In the face of wanton and brutal inhumanity, Israel remains a civilized country, and will never allow such acts to go unpunished.
As I contemplated these arrests over the holiday, I couldn’t help but think about Gilad Shalit, the young Israeli soldier who has been languishing in a Hamas jail since his kidnapping some five years ago.
Deprived of all conventional norms of appropriate prisoner treatment, he sits in a prison with little reason to hope for his release. No Red Cross visitors to make sure he is being treated well, no contact with his family, no nothing. While the world fixates on whether or not Israel’s settlements are impediments to peace, Gilad Shalit remains a prisoner of one of the most brutal and oppressive regimes on the face of the earth… and no one in the western world seems to care. Surprise, surprise…
Gilad Shalit’s imprisonment has created an impassioned conversation in Israel about what should be done to secure his release. It is a core doctrine of the Israel Defense Forces not to leave a soldier behind in the field, and I think it safe to say that there isn’t a person in Israel who isn’t sickened by the current situation. The only question- and it is a serious and wrenching question- is how far Israel is willing to go to secure his release.
For many years, Israel’s policy has been that it would trade hundreds, even thousands of political prisoners for even one captured soldier- but not prisoners with "blood on their hands."
The distinction is not a subtle one. It’s one thing to release from prison people who were arrested for participating in activities that Israel deemed inappropriate, or even harmful to her security interests. That is painful enough. But whether or not anything- even the release of an innocent soldier languishing in jail- is enough to justify the release of prisoners who organized and orchestrated the murder of innocent civilians…. that is an entirely different question.
Does, for example, GIlad Shalit’s release justify releasing the perpetrators of what is known as the coastal road massacre in 1978, when thirty-four innocent people were killed? Would it be appropriate for Israel to release others who have trained suicide bombers, or planted bombs in Machaneh Yehudah in Jerusalem, or clubbed to death two boys on a hike in the Judean desert? If I were Gilad Shalit’s father, I would regard it as my sacred obligation to answer those questions with an unqualified "yes." If he were my son, and I spent every waking hour wondering if he was alive, or in pain, or perhaps worst of all, thinking that I had abandoned him and left him to rot in jail, I would not give any member of Israel’s government a moment’s peace.
But I am not his father. Actually, I’m an American Jew, and in that context, I’m not at all sure that I should have any voice in this awful decision. But for what it’s worth, I can’t help but think that people like the murderers of the Fogel parents and children should never again see the light of day, and by extension, all the others like them who are in Israeli jails.
This surely has to be among the worst and hardest decisions that an Israeli Prime Minister has to make, and I would support him or her no matter how the decision came down. But when all is said and done, there are some sacrifices that are too great even for a society that treasures its soldiers and their sacrifice. And that is why we are not
"them." That is why Israel- for all of its faults, and they are many- is still special, despite the world’s concerted efforts to brand her as an outlaw state.
An outlaw state… can you imagine? A country that struggles with its conscience about what price to pay to save the life of a single soldier, and opposed to a culture that romanticizes slaughtering innocent civilians, and kidnapping young soldiers and holding them for years.
I’m thinking about Gilad Shalit….
Rabbi Gerald C. Skolnik is spiritual leader of The Forest Hills Jewish Center, a Conservative congregation, and vice president of the Rabbinical Assembly. To read more "A Rabbi’s World" columns, click her