Mental Debate: Two Sides of Fence, and a Mirror

There is a debate going on in Israel now – two sides, each in agony.

There are those who say Gilad Shalit has been in captivity too long. We have to do all, we owe all, to bring him home. More than three years, Hamas has gotten away with violating international law by denying Gilad and his parents their basic right of contact with their son. For more than three years, Hamas has refused to allow international representatives such as the Red Cross, to even see Gilad, confirm he is well treated, safe, healthy. Unimaginable agonies, unbearable torture. His parents have lived with all of this, traveling the world, begging them to listen, to do something for this boy who grew into a man without them. He was 19 when he was taken, as my Elie was 19 when he entered the army. Today, Gilad is 23-years-old…his parents have missed so much in those years. It is enough.

There are those who say that leaving Gilad in captivity breaks all that we hold dear. We don’t leave a soldier behind; morale will fall among incoming troops if they can’t believe their country will do all to bring them home.

All this, in varying degrees, might be true. That is one side of this great divide. They will agree to release 1,000 Palestinian prisoners, their identity and crimes almost unimportant, for the one son that Hamas holds. Yes, they smile sadly, the numbers are absurd, but what can we do? We can’t leave Gilad there; would you leave Gilad if he were your son? Look now, in the mirror and answer that question for yourself. If it was your son…your son…the one you love so so much…could you, would you, leave him there?

On the other side of this great divide, are those who say that though they want Gilad home, it cannot be at any price. We must think of the future, says this group. We must think with our heads and not our hearts. Hearts are for feeling, for rejoicing and for mourning – the head is what we must use. These 1,000 – beyond the absurdity of the equation – are murderers, terrorists – convicted security prisoners who were not strolling on the beach when they were taken into custody. Some have murdered and the blood of their victims thrills them. They yearn for more, promise there will be more.

It was Hamas and the Palestinians who created the concept of proportionality. Look, said Hamas – yes, we shot 124 missiles into Israel in November, 2008 and even more in December, 2008 – but look what Israel did in January, 2009. Our missiles mostly missed and hit open fields. We only killed a few, maimed a few, traumatized a lot, but really, how much actual damage did we do? Israel – they hit their targets; the artillery smashed the buildings from which we launched rockets and even if the buildings were attached to others that fell too…look at the damage. Proportionality! Where, says this group of Israel, where is the proportionality in releasing 1,000 for 1?

Within this group that agonizes over Gilad no less than the first group, are Arnold and Frimet Roth – two nice people who never wanted to do more than raise their children in Jerusalem, in Israel, in a place they love. They raised their children here to be free and gentle and loving…and their daughter, Malki was friendly and outgoing. I know, though I never met her, because we are friends with a young woman who was Malki’s friend and was on her way to meet Malki on a beautiful August summer day in Israel.

But this young woman never got there. She got a call from her father telling her to come home NOW…and even before she had switched buses to go home instead of meeting Malki, she heard the news. Sbarro Pizzeria had become the latest suicide bombing…15 people, including young Malki and seven other children, died that day. Murdered by two terrorists, the man who carried a guitar filled with explosives, and the young, smiling woman on his arm to give him cover.

There is a great divide in Israel – do we release Malki’s killer, who served but 5 years of 16 consecutive life sentences, who to this day, wishes she had killed more. She said, in an interview just a while back, “I am not sorry for what I did. I will get out of prison and I refuse to recognize Israel’s existence…”

This woman helped murder 15 people…destroy families forever. She is one, only one of 1,000.

Those who are against the prisoner deal include huge numbers of soldiers in the standing army. There is no loss of morale there. They worry about Gilad; they want Gilad home; and they tell their parents – if it was me, don’t allow this deal. Don’t let them release 1,000 for me.

I haven’t asked Elie specifically what he thinks. I know he is against it. I know he views it as a weak deal, no bargain at all. They asked for 1,000 three years ago…if we were going to release this number, why did we wait until now? Silly, stupid deal, Elie would tell me.

And where am I on this great divide? I am sitting on the fence, with the third large group of people. We on the fence are in unspeakable agony. Our hearts aching, our eyes filled with tears. We are parents who cannot for a moment imagine the horror, the agony, of years slipping by with each day knowing our child needs us and we can’t answer that call. We are Israelis and Jews – so incredibly proud of our country, our army, our people, for worshiping life and not death; for having values that focus so much on a single life that we would even consider the absurdity of trading 1,000 for a single life.

One day, I am for the deal – not because I believe it is just (it isn’t); not because I believe it is in Israel’s best interests (it isn’t), but because I just can’t bear the suffering any longer. I can’t face another day of knowing I can talk to my son…and Noam and Aviva Shalit can’t do the same.

The next day, I am against the deal because I know that what we release today, will sneak back in to murder and kill again. There will be more funerals, more pain – unspeakable, horrible agony. Lives crushed, families torn apart and so many more parents who will mourn like Frimet and Arnold Roth. They will mourn forever, without even the glimmer of hope that at least their child is alive somewhere.

On those days, when I am against the deal, I want to point out the simplest of truths. What we should do is call up Hamas and the German mediators who are working to close a deal that probably easily could have been closed three years ago if we are to release the same numbers anyway. So, we call them up and say:

Good morning and thanks for your efforts…really. But, no thanks. We realized that despite all, this is a bad idea. A really bad idea because these terrorists and murderers will just come back and kill and kidnap again. So, let’s stop and think. Part of our religion includes the concept of redeeming hostages. It is, as you clearly know, very important to us that Gilad comes home…but we are also commanded not to endanger lives, not to choose between harming an innocent person in order to save ourselves or another. So, here’s the deal. Pick one prisoner – any one you want. We don’t care how despicable, how inhumane this person is. We’re willing to release the most vile creature who has done the most horrible things. Hey, we released a child-killer last time…so why not another. Pick one, knock yourself out. You know what, because, like you, we realize the value of Gilad compared to what we are holding in our prisons – so have a great day. Pick two.

That’s right – go ahead. Pick two. You want that Ahlam Tamimi, disgusting woman that she is – may she rot from the inside in horrible agony…she’s all yours. You want Marwan Barghouti, murderer and uneducated thug that he is, he’s all yours. Take them both – take some others. We don’t care. That’s our deal. It’s a bargain really – two for one. We can have them at the edge of Gaza within 5 hours, just say the word and we can make this really easy. We’ll even send them with sheets and blankets because we wouldn’t want anything they’ve touched anyway.

Oh, by the way, we forgot to mention something. If you don’t want this deal; Israel is finished with negotiating. Tomorrow morning, we are shutting off OUR electricity that we have been pumping into Gaza all these years. We are also stopping shipment of OUR fuel that we have been shipping in to Gaza. We are closing all deliveries of everything but food and medicine…and even that will be searched carefully. Turkey, who has condemned Israel for just about everything – they have tons of water. A ship from Turkey takes how long? 12 hours? Okay, so here’s the rest of the deal. We are shutting off OUR water that we have been pumping in to Gaza. Tell Turkey to fill the tankers and start shipping in their water…they certainly have more than we have. After all, a few years back, we contracted to buy shiploads full of water from them. We even paid for it and just as it was arriving, there was a huge earthquake in Turkey and we turned around and donated the water right back. So, we’ll give them 24 hours to begin shipping water to Gaza. Plenty of time to fill the tanks and get the ship.

So, there’s our deal – two Palestinians for one Israeli, and we keep supplying you with fuel and electricity and water as we have for years…or, no deal, no electricity, no water, no fuel – oh, and your sick people…the ones who travel regularly to Israel for medical treatments…tell them we wish them luck. Maybe you can get them to Cairo, although their medical care isn’t anything near as good as ours, but hey, that’s your problem, not ours.

So, do let us know and please, please tell Gilad that we love him and we are doing this for him too because hopefully, one day soon, he’ll come home and marry and have children. And Gilad’s children should grow and be healthy…and not have to worry about being kidnapped or blown up in a pizzeria. So for Gilad and for all the people of Israel, we aren’t going to release 1,000 for one…we’re going to be more than reasonable. You have 24 hours to decide…2-1 sale ends and the electricity, water, and fuel stops.

And to answer my own question across this great divide…would you leave Gilad if he were your son? Look now, in the mirror and answer that question for yourself. If it was your son…your son…the one you love so so much…could you, would you, leave him there?

I can’t look in the mirror; I can’t answer the question. I can’t imagine that it was Elie because if I did, I don’t think my heart could continue to beat, my head continue to think, my lungs continue to breathe. I sit here on the fence, shamed that I can’t at least move to one side. I understand both sides so clearly…I can see what they are thinking, know what they believe. The only thing I can’t do is get myself to look in that mirror.

18 Comments on Mental Debate: Two Sides of Fence, and a Mirror

  1. Amazing post that sums up our impossible choice…

  2. Thank you for this post. As a person living in South Africa, I also feel this anguish. You’ve summed it up so eloquently!

  3. It is CRIMINAL to release terrorists before their sentence is up. Why bother holding them in the first place? Where is Israeli justice? Why is Israel making a fool out of itself? Are these murders just “political prisoners” as bargaining chips, or are they actually criminals and murderers that must serve their sentences?

    As you must be aware, Hamas is already advertising reward money for the next soldier captured. We are teaching the Arabs that what they are doing works. Do you want this to end, or do you want it to continue? Making these “deals” ensures that we face this dilemma time and time again.

    This MADNESS has to stop. If we approve a deal for Shaild, G-d forbid my family will be next.

    As painful as it is, there is no real choice but to REFUSE to make these deals.

    Israel should pressure Hamas and attempt a rescue. Should the attempt succeed of fail, it demonstrates that we will no longer play their sick games.

  4. Im right with you on the way things should be handled; “Lights out Gaza!”. Of course we are all desparate to see Gilad home but it does just show them that they only stand to gain by kidnapping our soldiers, and lets face it, we can not (try hard as we do) always prevent kidnapping.

  5. For all the bleeding and identifying, we just CAN’T. Hamas is already offering money rewards to replace Gilad with others. The booby-traps in Gaza were arranged with getting more kidnapping victims and there are various tries with tunnels and kidnaps of civilians all the time. If its not my son(yes, I’m also a soldier’s mother, its not an academic question)it will be somebody’s somebody.

  6. Such a powerful post. I as a mother, a Jew and a Zionist am so so haunted.

  7. Thanks to you all for commenting…I don’t disagree with anyone…isn’t that great.

    Yehudit – yes, it will always be somebody’s somebody. You are right. I’m trying so hard to get off this fence…and I’m pretty sure that if I do, it will be to the side that says we can’t afford to do this. I guess I’m just too sad about leaving Gilad’s parents and all the others there on the other side alone. I feel like if I sit up here on the fence…I’m at least offering them my understanding, if not my agreement.

  8. 🙁 It is a horrible horrible situation… but we can not continue along this self-destructive path. Someone has to stop the government from enacting this terrible plan.

  9. another soldier's mother // November 25, 2009 at 5:52 pm // Reply

    This is the simple truth: The Israeli people hold the lives of these murderers and terrorists to be more precious than those they murdered, than the people they terrorize, than the lives of our soldiers and police who fight against them, and than Gilad Shalit. There should be NOT EVEN ONE murderer or terrorist in an Israeli prison. They belong in the grave. Put them there. Problem solved.

  10. Emotions Vs. Logic

    Unfortunately the world tends to follow emotions, Torah, spec Halacha teaches us that we need to use our brains.

  11. Great post, that really explains both sides. And I love your 2-1 Utilities Proposal. Shame that it could never happen in this golus….

  12. I spoke with my soldier-son about this. Even he agreed that it shouldn’t be done. And yet your post shows SO well the wrenching heartbreak of that choice.

  13. Haunting, haunting post. As I, too, am a “soldier’s mother” (albeit far away), I understand very well what you say.
    Of course, if that policy were implemented, Gilad Shalit’s fate would hang in the balance: we could be condemning him to death; that is why I too am on the fence…

  14. I like reading your posts because of your personal, down-home, cut to the heart, perspective.

    Sometimes I wonder if it isn’t easier in regards to the US policy of not negotiating with terrorists. If I were a parent, I would want anything and everything done for the return of my child. As a child, I wouldn’t want my parents to go through the worry of me being in that position. My faith in a living God would give me comfort in knowing He is still in control…and I could only hope that He would be the comfort and strength for my parents as I know He would be for me.

    I have been watching the news with an eye on this story and I so hope that Friday the results are favorable.

  15. Your solution is wonderful but it’s what we should have done three years ago. To do it today would simply be signing Gilad Shalit’s death warrant, unless of course we add an additional clause that if Gilad Shalit is harmed in any way, then all bets are off and the IDF comes back in – this time with no holds barred.

  16. As always, thank you.

  17. As I write this my two sons are in milu’im (reserves.)

    Gilad Shalit would probably have been home now if we hadn’t been nice to the Arab terrorists in our jails, if we had told the RC that they don’t see those prisoners until they see Gilad and arrange his return home. He’s not the equivalant of a terrorist, and it’s dangerous for us and our kids for that formula to be accepted.

    If we hadn’t kept offering more and more, he’d probably be home in Israel already.

    If we’d acted strong and sovereign rather than weak, desparate and pathetic, he’d probably be home already.


  18. This is one of most brutally honest, raw posts I’ve ever read. Your so beautifully articulate both sides of this awful, awful dilemma.

    May the Holy One grant strength and wisdom to those who are burdened with making the decision for whatever path is chosen, it will be one fraught with dire consequences.

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