No, I’m not going to do now what I refused to do during the time Elie and Shmulik were in the army. I’m not going to put in words a mother’s greatest greatest fears. You have to know what they are, or at least most of them. There’s one more that is there – has always been there that I can write about. I could do the research and find out who was the first Israeli soldier captured or kidnapped. But at this moment, it doesn’t really matter. Whatever his fate was, whether he was blessed enough to return to us or whether he was forever lost, has little to do with today.
I can tell you that I remember when Ron Arad was captured – and that was more than 2 decades ago. We each carry around this type of history, from our first experience with it, to the last. It was horrible – the pictures of Ron Arad. A man who was so young, his beautiful wife, his baby daughter. His face was frozen in time…so much time…as the years past and that baby grew into a poised young woman. All without her father. There was proof early on that Ron Arad was alive but over time, hope began to fade. When his mother died, never having seen him again, I began to believe, really believe, Ron would never come home.
There were the three soldiers captured in 2000. Staff Sgt. Binyamin Avraham, Staff Sgt. Binyamin Avraham, and Staff Sgt. Omer Sawaid. They were returned in coffins to a nation in mourning. Then there was Eldad Regev and Ehud Goldwasser. Hizbollah played with our emotions to the very last day when Israel as a nation gasped as their coffins came into view.
Then there was Gilad Shalit – for five agonizing years we knew he was alive and worried about his condition. What would be left after Hamas captivity. It was almost impossible to believe he’d come home and if he did, that he’d be much more than a shell of what was taken. Gilad was captured before Elie went into the army, and was still being held when Elie was discharged from the standing army and moved into the Reserves.
And then Gilad came home and surprised us all – he smiled and became a hero – not for surviving the captivity, but for surviving it whole, if not entirely healthy. His arm needed an operation, he was badly malnourished and had been starved not just of food but of sunshine. He was quickly overwhelmed by the number of people surrounding him after years of almost solitary existence.
But he’s been working his way back to health – eating better, playing basketball, talking, walking, being normal. And Israelis have let him get on with his life; the media cooperated. We hear little bits; see brief images. Each tells us he is well and getting better and better. And deep down, we trust that he’ll appear, some time in the future when he’ll announce he’s getting married, and then fade back into his privacy. Maybe when he has a son or a daughter, they’ll put it in the newspaper but he’ll live his life as normally as he can. He is the unusual one; the one who returned from the hell of captivity. Most don’t.
And so why this recollection, this journey into the painful past? Today in the news there was an announcement that since the beginning of the year, there have been 20 attempts to kidnap soldiers. Twenty…and it is only May. Five months since the beginning of the year. An average of four a month…an average of one a week. Twenty attempts.
The next time you hear of check points – these are the people we are trying to stop – the ones who would kidnap a soldier and pass him to Gaza where he would become the next Gilad Shalit. Except unlike Gilad, the next one may never return. Ron Arad didn’t; the others never will. There are ripples that cross Israeli society every once in a while – most don’t make it to the press. There are rumors that a soldier is missing and the army shifts into gear. Every soldier must report to his commanding officer. Every commanding officer must report to his commanding officer. That officer reports to his commanding officer and up the line of command as the army reaches around to make sure it is still whole. It can start from the top down or the bottom up, but either way, the army is checking – where are you? Are you supposed to be where you are? More than once, I remember Elie getting a phone call. “I’m with my mother,” and he told him the place where we are.
“What happened?” I asked Elie. They’re just checking, he replied – only later I would hear that there had been a claim by one of the Palestinian groups that they were holding a soldier.
And while this is happening – the roads go crazy. For no reason, you are stuck in a traffic jam that is barely moving. Nothing on the radio; nothing on the Internet. And then you finally, finally, finally come to a stupid army truck or a few stupid police cars blocking the road and letting car by painful car go past. And you want to shout at them – don’t you see what you are doing? You’ve jammed everything up for nothing! Why! I’m an hour late to my meeting! Forget trying to get to that bat mitzvah party! No, my mother won’t be able to get to her appointment now! But something holds you back because deep down you know – there’s a reason.
So you drive away annoyed because they picked YOUR road to jam up…until a few days later when some local news channel reports the arrest of a terrorist cell that intelligence knew was driving a certain type of vehicle or was in a certain area. We may find out or we may never know; but there might be a reason. Twenty times this year, there was a reason. One time each week for the last five months.
And you are grateful, so very grateful to that so smart soldier and so smart policeman because their perseverance paid off and all our soldiers are where they need to be. I’ve learned over time, to be grateful for those traffic jams, no matter how frustrating they may be. I’ll take one of those over one of our greatest fears any day.
Twenty times they tried and twenty times they failed. I’ll try to find comfort in that – that constant failure they have and I know that there are many reasons for those failures – our vigilance, the dedication and watchful eyes of our soldiers, the intrinsic sophistication of our military intelligence and above all else, the Great Force, the Holy Defender that watches over Israel.