The Big Debate

First posted on June 27, 2008 – reprinted from A Soldier’s Mother

The Big Debate

Far removed from Elie and his daily life, is a discussion that is breaking Israel’s heart and challenging both soldiers and parents of soldiers. What is the worth of a son? The answer, of course, is everything. What would you not do for your son? The answer, of course, is nothing. And yet three families in Israel are challenged, as is the nation.

Gilad Schalit is only 21 years old, the same age as Elie. For the last two years, he’s been held captive in Gaza, with no communication from his parents (and they only received a few letters and a video). Enough to torture, barely enough to reassure them that he is alive and well.

Ehud Goldwasser was a newlywed when he showed up for reserve duty almost two years ago. His wife celebrated their first wedding anniversary alone, not knowing if Ehud was even alive.

Eldad Regev, whose face and eyes haunt us, was captured by Hizbollah, along with Ehud. Their fate is not known, but evidence and statistics give a strong indication that they did not survive.

The big debate in Israel revolves around what we can and should do to get them back. For Gilad, Hamas is demanding no less than 1,000 prisoners, including those that we classify as having “blood on their hands.” These are terrorists and murderers – and the Palestinians want them back. There is little doubt that if we surrender these thousand, as we have hundreds before them, many of them will return to the lives they led – attack, terrorize, murder. We might be able to save Gilad now, but more Israelis will die in the future.

This is the price we are being asked to pay, and already, a majority of Israelis are willing. We can’t afford to let these terrorists go…and yet there isn’t a single parent who could imagine saying no. We will deal with attacks in the future, we tell ourselves; bring Gilad home now.

For Ehud and Eldad, the price is also in the hundreds of prisoners, at least. But the price is even higher. Hassan Nasrallah of Hizbollah has played this game before, and played it well. The last time, we exchanged hundreds of prisoners for three dead bodies and a drug dealer. This time, they are demanding Samir Kuntar.

Of all the attacks in all the years we have been a state, there have been those that stand out in our minds and continue to haunt us, even decades later. The Munich Massacre is remembered because it happened where it shouldn’t have – at the International Olympics, games of peace. It was a time when our team should have been safe.

Ma’alot – when dozens of teenagers were taken hostage and ultimately 16 were murdered. On the backs of children, Golda Meir explained in a broken voice, we cannot fight.

The Sbarro Pizzaria was another tragic attack. The terrorists entered on a beautiful summer day in August when families were relaxing and murdered, in cold blood. These were innocent people, in the center of Jerusalem, enjoying their lunch and their families.

The murders of Koby Mandell and Yosef Ishran stand out for their utter brutality. Palestinians took these two young teenagers (each just 13 years old), and beat them to death in a cave, just a few hundred meters from their homes. Their blood was smeared on the cave walls, their bodies left there.

And the murders of Danny Haran and his young daughter Einat, only 4 years old. Samir Kuntar broke into their homes after having infiltrated from Lebanon and murdering a policeman. He dragged Danny and Einat down to the beach, where he shot Danny Haran at close-range and threw his body into the sea. He then bashed Einat’s head on the rocks and hit her with his rifle, killing her instantly.

When caught and brought to justice, Samir Kuntar was sentenced to four life terms for his brutal crimes. This is the price that Hassan Nasrallah is demanding and the choice facing Israel.

If Eldad and Ehud were alive, most Israelis would probably not hesitate. Kuntar has served 28 years in jail. Certainly, he deserves more but if you believe, as I do, that there is justice in the end, no amount of punishment we give him in this world will be enough and his true and lasting punishment will come from God.

But if Eldad and Ehud are not alive, as many Israelis are coming to believe, should Israel still exchange Kuntar for their bodies? This is the big debate taking place now. I spoke to Elie about this. He believes the price is too high and that other soldiers will pay in the future as we continue to show that we will pay any price for our sons’ return.

But Elie isn’t a parent. Elie cannot imagine the agony of not knowing, the worry, the pain. When we are young, we have little understanding of how precious a child is and how there is nothing we would not do.

When I’m angry, I think of telling Nasrallah that we have no problem returning Samir Kuntar in exchange for Ehud and Eldad – with one catch. We will return Kuntar in the same condition that you return our soldiers – alive and well, or dead.

When I have a moment to think, I realize that there are areas of our mind that we cannot afford to explore if we want to stay sane and be able to function. We can handle this moment and we can handle the plans we know about, such as where Elie will go in a few weeks and in a few months after that. But we can’t handle the unknown. The thought of being told the Elie is hurt…or God forbid worse…the idea of a kidnapping. It’s too much to think about, too great a fear. We prefer never knowing.

For two years now, Eldad and Ehud and Gilad have been kept from Israel and from their families. For two years now, the unknown has haunted them and tortured them. Whatever Israel decides to do, whatever the fate of their sons, what must come out of all this is the belief that Israel did everything it could do to bring them home. The big debate in Israel is nothing compared to this.

May the One Who blessed our ancestors, Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Moses, Aaron, David and Solomon, bless the kidnapped and captive soldiers, including among them Gilad ben (the son of) Aviva Shalit; Ohed ben Malka Goldwasser; Eldad ben Tova Regev; Guy ben Rina Hever, Ron ben Batya Arad; Yekutiel Yehuda Nachman ben Sarah Katz; Tzvi ben Penina Feldman; and Zecharia Shlomo ben Miriam Baumel.

May the Holy One, Blessed be He, watch them and save them from all trouble and oppression and from all evil and injury. May He be filled with mercy for them, to cause them to recover and to heal them, to strengthen them and to invigorate them, and to bring them speedily to freedom, to return to the embrace of their families. May they merit long lives and years of much strength and peace.

In the merit of our forefathers, may the descendants be saved and fulfill through them the verse, ‘Release my soul from imprisonment to praise Your Name’ (Psalms 142:8), swiftly and soon, and let us all say Amen.”

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