Aviva and Noam Shalit, parents of kidnapped Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit
Last night, my husband and I watched Israeli news as PM Ehud Olmert announced that negotiations with Hamas over Shalit's release had broken down. Olmert's face, during the announcement, only filled about a third of the streen. The rest of the screen showed the faces of Noam and Aviva Shalit, Gilad's parents, as they listened on headphones. Noam bent forward, his face characteristically stoic-- affable, yet unreadable. Aviva pulled her sweater closer around her body. She glanced up at the camera a bit wearily, as if it were another sympathetic face when she would prefer to be alone. Just another hope dashed.
I cannot pretend to understand what it feels like to know (or at least hope) that your son is alive, imprisoned by captors who had this to say on January 11: ""Shalit may have been wounded [in the recent Gaza operation], and he may not have been. The subject no longer interests us. We are not interested in his well-being at all, and we are not giving him any special guard since he is as good as a cat or less." (Wikipedia)
When I was in America, I knew the name "Gilad Shalit" and thought I understood: a soldier had been kidnapped by Hamas. Let's bring him home! How? I probably would have said something vague like "increase pressure on Hamas," or perhaps I would have imagined an Entebbe-style rescue operation. (Israel has already tried this, carefully--kidnapped soldiers have been killed during botched rescue operations-- and failed. But it's not easy to find a soldier bunkered among millions.) I cared about Shalit's return in the same abstract way that I cared about saving Private Ryan or Jessica Lynch. He seemed fundamentally different from me. I wanted Israeli "strength" to bring him home-- without really thinking about what this "strength" would involve.
Now that cost of "strength" means more to me, I'm hesitant to fly a "Bring Gilad Home" flag. How many other soldiers' lives do we risk to bring Shalit home? Can we hinge a ground invasion on Shalit's return? How many terrorists--many of whom would have received the death penalty in the US-- do we return for this one innocent boy? In even calling for Gilad's return, do we raise the horrible price on his head? Does the trade of terrorists for an innocent soldier mean that more soldiers will be kidnapped in the future? (Hamas has promised this, on a full-color, professionally-designed poster picturing Shalit and promising that there will be more like him.)
But when Israelis watch Gilad Shalit on television, they see something different, something I won't really understand for decades. They see that Gilad could be their son, who also dressed in military green, smiled at the camera, and went off to serve his tour of duty. He could be the little sister who just left for basic training. He's the cousin who just signed up for combat duty. He's the bride who left to fight in Gaza hours after her wedding. "Soldier" is not an abstract profession in Israel, it's a rite of passage. And Noam and Aviva, sitting there fidgeting as they hear more bad news, could be you.
Looking at them, I cannot pretend to know what is the right course of action or whether any price is too high.
Gilad has been gone for 997 days.
May G-d protect Gilad and help us choose the wisest means to bring Gilad home alive.
My husband and I (and our cat Zeus) made aliyah to northern Israel in April, 2008. In Israel, we adopted two street kittens who have proceeded to make up for kittenhoods of deprivation by growing remarkably fat and shiny. In October of 2011, we welcomed our first daughter, Nitsah. Moving to a new country demands both a sense of wonder and a sense of humor. In this blog, I'll try to share both! DISCLAIMER: I actually can't tell you how to be Israeli, because I'm still working on it myself. But at least we can muddle towards Israeli-ness together!