Like many of the millions of people who kept vigil, I am glad that Gilad Shalit is home after being held hostage by Hamas for nearly six years. As the father of a son who serves in the Israel Defense Forces, I am especially happy for and grateful to Gilad’s parents. They created an international vigil for their son from the day he was abducted. Even when his homecoming seemed as distant to them as Joseph’s did to his father Jacob, they turned hope into action and held politicians to their word. And now, on the eve of Simchat Torah, the holiday celebrating the conclusion of the reading of the Torah, Gilad is reunited with his family and his people.
To be sure, there is near universal debate and doubt about the merit of releasing a thousand Palestinian prisoners, some of whom committed the worst terrorist acts in Israel’s history. My son had reservations too. But (as I quickly pointed out to him!) prisoner exchanges are part of the diplomatic currency in the Middle East and Israel has made them in the past to get soldiers and spies home whether they were alive or dead. Many rightly viewed the deal as keeping faith with Israel’s pledge to never leave a soldier behind. As veteran intelligence reporter Hirsch Goodman wrote: “If Shalit had been abandoned, more than a human life would have been thrown away. Israel’s morality would have gone with it, as would the core of the military code that makes the Israel Defense Forces the fighting force it is.”
Moreover, such deals are part of a broader policy of rescuing or defending Jews through military action when it is possible, though risky, because it would not only endanger Israeli lives but also possibly “trigger” reprisals. It has included the Entebbe Raid, the bombing of Iraq’s Osirak nuclear reactor in 1981, the attack on Syria’s nuclear facility in 2007, and the Mossad’s 2008 assassination of Imad Mugniyeh, a top Hezbollah leader and mastermind of the 1994 Argentinean Jewish Center bombing that killed 85 people.
In this regard, while Gilad’s return was not a foregone conclusion, Israel’s “friends” and the international community made both his rescue and homecoming more difficult and unlikely than it should have been. Gilad’s captivity was long and brutal thanks to the willingness of the media and of other nations to treat Hamas as the victims and Israel as an occupying nation guilty of war crimes. The price for his return only went up after the Obama administration pressured Israel to drop demands for Shalit’s release in exchange for the reopening of border crossings in Gaza.
Gilad’s ordeal was perpetuated by the refusal of Israel’s “friends” to acknowledge that in returning land it won in battle and releasing prisoners who did it harm, Israel has sought to balance the need for security, the sanctity of life, and the desire for peace. Such isolation is the result of Israel being surrounded by those who regard the Iranian-backed terrorists who kidnapped Shalit as victims deserving a state of their own.
It is offset by this consolation: Many Americans and Christians who have stood by the Jewish state gathered yesterday in Jerusalem with Jews and Muslims to celebrate Gilad’s parents and welcome Shalit home. They know that his homecoming is yet another z’man simchatainu — season of rejoicing — in an enduring promise to a people and the world.