Ron Arad, Gilad Shalit, Ehud Barak and Israel

I’ve been thinking a lot about Gilad Shalit for many months which. considering he’s been held by Hamas for more than three years, isn’t unusual. Gilad Shalit’s situation is every soldier’s mother’s nightmare. Only death can be worse than what the Shalit family has endured and there are times when I wonder if even death is worse.

So many say to me, “Come on, you don’t really believe he is alive, do you?”

I have to confess, I do. I have no evidence, no strong believe, no facts on wish to base this presumption. I recognize that it is an emotional decision – it hurts to much to think that once again this is only the twisted tortured workings of Hamas, though I know that they, Hezbollah, have done this very thing countless times so successfully.

It is Hamas that continues to violate international law without punishment or even large-scale condemnation from anyone but Israel and a few stragglers. Certainly the Red Cross has taken no action; the UN has predictably done nothing. Silence reigns from the majority of European leaders. To their collective shame, no international representative has been allowed to see Gilad, to check on his condition, to demand regular contact with his family. And worse, no sanctions, no demands, no punishment, no real consequences have been levied against Hamas for this indecency.

This is so different from how Israel treats Palestinian prisoners, so different from the college degrees many of them are earning, so different from the regular visits they receive with their families. And yet, Israel is afraid to trigger the anger of the world by even temporarily suspending the rules that Hamas has systematically and completely ignored for years. Why does a Palestinian sitting in our jail for security crimes, even murder, have the right to see his family, to hear of his children and his parents, while Gilad gets nothing, sees nothing?

The case of Gilad Shalit reminds us too clearly of Ehud Goldwasser and Eldad Regev, and yet the differences are startling and have to be mentioned. There was clear evidence that at least one of the two soldiers had died during the cross-country attack on the Lebanese border, and that the second would have been, at best, in critical attention. Knowing how the Arabs, Hamas, Hezbollah, whatever, focus on causing injuries rather than healing them, it was always doubtful that any surviving soldier would have received the necessary treatment to survive.

Beyond all corruption, beyond all hatred and friction they caused in our society, I find no forgiveness for the simple failture of the Olmert government to prepare us, the people, to accept the very real possibility that both soldiers had died in the raid and all the moment when we would be faced with bodies and not live soldiers. The army and government only really tried to make us believe this towards the end, almost two years and a war later. By then, we were no longer ready to really accept it. A humiliating prisoner “exchange” was agreed upon and there was a collective gasp, when Israel first saw the coffins and realized we had been praying and hoping for two years – all in vain.

All indications are that Gilad Shalit was taken alive. Common sense says the conditions under which he has been held have likely been barbaric, that Hamas certainly is not interested in his comfort. Bargaining tool or not, Gilad remains a soldier of Israel, a child of our hearts. And herein lies the second worry I have. There is a scene in my mind that I know Hamas will never let us play out.

It is of the tens of thousands who would line the streets to welcome Gilad home, the outpouring of a nation, the tears of all mothers. What wouldn’t we do to have Gilad home…and doesn’t Hamas know this.

In the days before Purim and Passover and the High Holidays each year, we know that our enemies will attempt to launch an attack. Our joy is an insult to them, our happiness their undoing. They will not want us to celebrate Gilad’s homecoming and they will do something, anything, to prevent that. More than what Gilad has endured in the last three years, the next few weeks and months may well determine his condition.

And that brings us to Ron Arad. This is the other extreme. We know he was taken alive; we know he survived in captivity for some time. Just as we failed to bring Gilad home, we have failed Ron Arad and his family. Today’s news report that Arad died in captivity, some 9 years after his capture, feels like a knife to the heart. Deep in my soul, I doubted that he could have lived this long, and wasn’t even sure I wanted to imagine a life time of waiting to come home for him. And yet, thinking of him dying alone and seemingly abandoned brings no comfort either.

I am not an advocate of releasing prisoners at all cost. Returning Ron or Gilad in exchange for future kidnappings and more terrorist attacks has never called to me. But where each Israeli government has failed is in the effort to make the world fight this battle.

Magen David Adom should not be part of the International Red Cross and no representatives should be allowed to visit or work in Israel until they make an effort to see Gilad – a real effort that includes threatening the Red Crescent with expulsion and a cessation of all aid and work in Gaza. People say this is collective punishment – has not our nation been collectively punished by suffering three years without Gilad?

The United Nations should not be allowed to continue operations. Immediate work by UNRWA should be stopped immediately until Gilad is brought home. Let the schools close, the camps shut down. No food, no medical aid. Nothing. The world will say this is unfair but what has been done to Gilad and his family is not fair either.

International leaders want to meet with the Palestinians – they should refuse to do so until it is clear that the Palestinian leader is ready to release a statement against violating international law – including the one that requires Hamas to have Gilad examined by international representatives.

Finally, I’m left with sadness when I think of Ehud Barak’s recent words. Ill-timed though they were, insensitive to be sure. Ehud Barak is correct – we cannot pay any price for Gilad Shalit. But his mistake is in talking to Israelis when he should be talking to the world. He said, “We are not in western Europe or North America.’ This was his way of saying that Israelis must deal with living in the Middle East and the enemies that we have. He is correct – which is why he SHOULD be talking to the Europeans and Americans.

We know where we live and it is natural to agonize for our missing son. Noam Shalit said it best – stop talking, Defense Minister Ehud Barak – at least stop talking to us. Tell the Europeans to stop sending in aid, until Hamas sends Gilad out. Tell them that we understand a prisoner deal must be made and we are ready.

Not to release murderers – because we aren’t asking for a murderer. Not to release terrorist masterminds, as we too are not asking for this. We will release as many innocent prisoners as we can – those who perhaps violated the law by being where they were not allowed to be and perhaps those of that sort – all in exchange for Gilad.

No, it won’t be thousands, possibly not even 450. But it will be like for like, as is the only way to ensure future kidnappings aren’t encouraged. No, the Arabs won’t be happy with this but they will accept it – because they need UNRWA schools which should be closed; they need Red Cross assistance, which should be stopped; and they need money from the European Union, which must be delayed. They will not risk international isolation over the life on one soldier, one boy. Gilad isn’t worth that much to them – only to us.

Gilad Shalit is not Ron Arad…not yet. But he could be if our governments fail to demand that the world recognize what we already know. We are dealing with an organization that does need international support. Shut it down or force it to comply be refusing any more aid and support now…and Gilad will come home.

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