Gilad Comes Home

The deliverance of an innocent individual who suffered only because he defended his country.

Editor’s note: Today, Frontpage presents our “Gilad Shalit edition,” which gives a platform to the different perspectives on this most difficult issue. While the article below supports the deal that freed Shalit, Steven Plaut’s piece in today’s issue, The “Prisoner Exchange” Absurdity, opposes it. Jacob Laksin’s Faces of Terror profiles the terrorists who were released for Shalit.

On Monday and Tuesday in Israel all you had to do to experience depths and peaks of emotion was watch TV.

On Monday, there were pictures of Abed el-Aziz Salha, the Palestinian who joyously held up his bloody hands during the lynch in 2000 of two Israeli soldiers in Ramallah. And of Amana Muna, the Palestinian woman who in 2001 used online impersonation and promises of romance to lure a 16-year-old Israeli boy into a fatal hail of bullets, also near Ramallah.

And of Abed al-Hadi Ganaim, the Palestinian who in 1989 forced an Israeli bus off a cliff, killing 16. And numerous others of that ilk—all of them, to the severe mortification of many relatives of victims, who appealed in vain to the Supreme Court, set to be released the next day to win Gilad Shalit’s freedom.

And on Tuesday, footage of transcendent power and beauty as Shalit—the soldier kidnapped by Hamas in June 2006—went from the depths of hell in Gaza, a solitary confinement in which his only “human” contact was his Hamas captors, to a brief sojourn in Egypt and then home to Israel. And this during Sukkot, an eight-day holiday that commemorates the Israelites’ long trek from Egypt to the Promised Land.

An enthralled Israeli public first saw Shalit whisked along by a burly, armed contingent of Hamas men and Egyptians, and then—gaunt, shy, and dazed—“interviewed” by a pertinacious Egyptian woman whose sensitivity to his condition was such that she tried to wring pro-Palestinian, anti-Israeli propaganda out of him. But from there Shalit left the zone of darkness and cruelty and emerged into light and kindness—first checked by the chief army doctor at a border crossing, then flown to the Tel Nof air force base to be received by the prime minister, the defense minister, the chief of staff, and his father in a scene redolent of the Bible’s most heart-wrenching reunions.

And then, in a gorgeous sunset over the Galilee, his air convoy bringing him to his home village of Mitzpe Hila while an ecstatic crowd waving Israeli flags and singing “Am Yisrael Chai” (The People Israel Lives) awaited him. And a glimpse of the overwhelmed Shalit stepping out of a van and giving the crowd a single shy wave before finally being taken into the quietude of his home.

And at that point the foreign news channels like the BBC, France 24, and CNN started their fancy split-screen stuff, commenting on what they perceived as a symmetry—the jubilant Israeli throng outside Gilad’s home on one side singing “Shalom Aleichem” (Peace Be Upon You), the simultaneous Hamas rally in Gaza on the other. A rally where the crowd chanted “The people want a new Gilad!” as they hailed the momentous arrival of murderers of men, women, and children, and where “a wall painting lampooned Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, depicting him with his face ground into the dirt by the boot of a gunman, signing a paper with the words ‘Swap deal’.”

And it wasn’t only Hamas and its fans; in the West Bank ostensibly moderate Fatah leader Mahmoud Abbas, sharing a stage with three Hamas men, greeted another set of released terrorists with the words: “We thank God for your return and your safety. You are freedom fighters and holy warriors for the sake of God and the homeland.” Abbas also expressed hope that senior Hamas and Fatah terrorist masterminds, excluded from the deal, would soon be released as well.

Yes, the price Israel paid for Gilad Shalit’s freedom is terrible, but just as the large majority of Israelis (including myself) who support the deal experienced difficult moments on Monday as they found out just who was being freed, presumably some of the deal’s opponents had second thoughts on Tuesday as they saw the profound scenes of deliverance of an innocent individual who paid in suffering only because he was prepared to defend his country.

And yes, the Gilad Shalit deal is a victory for Hamas, over both Fatah and Israel. Over Fatah, because it boosts Hamas’s popularity in that ongoing rivalry, winning Palestinians’ hearts with the “heroic” feat of obtaining the freedom of murderers. And over Israel, because the kidnapping of Shalit achieved its purpose of forcing Israel to disgorge these killers from its prisons.

But the victory over Israel is only a victory in a battle. The war will be won by the side that is infused with light.