We all need to care about Gilad Shalit

I would like to draw attention to an issue in Israel which I feel very strongly about – and this time it is not religious pluralism, actually.

My husband and I got married a little over four years ago in June 2006. We returned back to Israel – this was less than a year after I had made aliyah (immigrated to Israel). The entire year, I told people that I had made aliyah but still, at the end of the school year, when my Israeli counterparts would meet me, they always asked, “What are you still doing here? Didn’t you go back with the rest of the American students?” And I would answer them with a bit of consternation in my voice, “No. I told you, I made aliyah.” And they would answer, “Well, we didn’t really think it was true.” Because no native-born Israeli expects Americans to be able to stick it out here. Two weeks after our wedding, the Second Lebanon War broke out, and my husband was called up for army duty. He was away from home for a month up in the North where the rockets were flying. Back in Jerusalem, I was invited to people’s homes for dinner – as I was alone most of the time – and I was told by my Israeli friends, “Now you’re really an Israeli!”

During this war, the young soldier Gilad Shalit was kidnapped by a Palestinian terrorist group on the border between Israel and Gaza. At the same time, two soldiers disappeared on the border with Lebanon. We all began to pray for the return of these soldiers. Ehud Goldwasser and Eldad Regev returned in body bags after they were traded for terrorists with Hizbolah. Gilad Shalit, who seems to be a gentle, unassuming young man, was seen in a video a few years after his kidnapping, so it is probably safe to assume that he is still alive today, four years sitting in captivity in the Gaza Strip.

The Shalit family, an ordinary, mild-mannered middle-class family, organized to try and save their son – wouldn’t you do the same if it was your son? They met with world leaders and especially the leaders of Israel several times. An organization was formed, logos have been branded, ads have been taken out in newspapers. A protest tent was set up on Aza Street (how appropriate – Aza is the Hebrew word for ‘Gaza’) right outside of the prime minister’s compound. I walked by that tent often on my way into town. I would always sign the petition. One day, I noticed a card that asked for people to volunteer. I said to myself, I can do my small part by sitting here once a month to keep Gilad Shalit in the national consciousness and perhaps help bring him home.

I sat in the early morning hours that no one wanted (with a two-year-old at home, I was up anyway). People of all backgrounds (secular, ultra-Orthodox) signed the petition. Some took a volunteer card like I had. The boys at the school next door would flood the tent at 1:30 when school let out and try to take as many bumper stickers as possible. A group of tourists from Thailand made their guide explain to them the whole story and wanted to photograph the tent. A regular passer-by would always stop and ask over and over, “Do you think sitting here will really bring him back home? No one in the government cares!” We would always strike up a camaraderie between the volunteers, and we would always part with the phrase, “May we not come back and meet here next month – may Gilad be free by then!” Sometimes, I would bring my 2-year-old son to sit with me – he would draw pictures or smile at the people going by. For me, this was my most powerful statement – because this could be him or anyone else’s son, and then what would we want our government to do?

A few weeks ago, the Shalit family staged a weeklong march from their home in Northern Israel down the coast, through Tel Aviv, and arriving in Jerusalem to the protest tent outside of the prime minister’s house. Noam Shalit, Gilad’s father, declared that they would stay in the tent until Gilad was freed (he has said this one previous time and did end up going home without a freed Gilad). I passed by the tent on the day that the number outside of the tent read “1500”, meaning 1500 days of captivity. I have put the yellow ribbon which has now become the symbol of the Free Gilad Shalit campaign on my car and on my bag. I see Noam and Aviva Shalit in the tent, speaking with people who have to sit with them and passers-by who are wishing them well. I see also the protesters across the street who are calling on the government not to trade Gilad Shalit for Palestinians who have ‘blood on their hands.’

The Jewish tradition teaches that captives should not be redeemed at any price. The reason is that if we are willing to pay any price, our enemies will be even more encouraged to kidnap Jews in order to take higher extortions. The Jewish tradition also teaches us that pikuach nefesh, the saving of a life, is the highest value we know.

I believe that Gilad’s life is worth a significant price. The price of a living person – a son, grandson, and a brother – is worth more than preserving the honor of the dead. Our tradition also teaches that when you save one live, it is as in if you have saved the world. I do have my reservations about the intentions of Hamas – I am afraid that they don’t really want to make a deal and will eventually just kill Gilad, and they are just using the issue as a PR stunt to suit their needs. But it is our job as Jews and as human beings to keep the issue of Gilad Shalit in the spotlight, to keep up the pressure on our own government, on Hamas, on the Red Cross to insist on a visit, and on governments of the world to bring this young man home, to live in peace.

Visit the web site for more information and tie a yellow ribbon to your car/computer/backpack.

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2 Responses to “We all need to care about Gilad Shalit”

  1. Stacey Says:

    I didn’t know about Gilad until now. I’m glad you’re working to raise awareness about him.

  2. mor@israel Says:

    first of all i have to say-i study in RRIS -maybe you know the place-it is mechlala in herzliya. and yes, we expect americans students to leave israel right after they get their degree-just coz work conditions are better in usa, so it is really great that you decided to stay here. second-i am curious if gilad knows how much do we love him, worry and wait for him, he is not allowed to be seen by red cross, he does not get messages from his family…

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