For more than five years, I’ve been saying three Tehillim psalms every morning, praying for Gilad Shalit’s return. Today I didn’t have to say these psalms.
Shalit is back home, and like every Israeli I felt joy and happiness seeing him reunited with his family. Together with my children, we said the customary blessing upon hearing good news (הטוב והמיטיב). Only a heartless person would not have shed a tear yesterday, seeing Shalit and his father embrace awkwardly in front of an audience of millions.
I have my thoughts and opinions about the deal that secured Shalit’s release from captivity. Given the plethora of opinions from every Tom, Dick and Harry, the last thing I want right now is to repeat opinions I’ve written about before (here and here) or add to the cacophony of voices. So I will limit myself to one point only.
Whilst I don’t envy Bibi and the government for having had to make the tough choice of surrendering to Hamas’ demands, I don’t think it was really their choice to make. It was made for them already.
For good or for bad, Israeli society has an issue with how it views its soldiers. In a normal society, soldiers are there to protect civilians. In the last couple of decades, it seems Israelis have decided it’s the other way round for them. Civilian casualties are more acceptable than military casualties, and soldiers need to be protected lest they get hurt. Soldiers are commonly referred to as “sons” or “boys”, not surprising in a country of mandatory conscription. During the Second Lebanon War (2006) and Operation Cast Lead (2008), every injury and every casualty was immediately made public, fuelling a narrative that focused on the saftey of the “boys” rather than on whether they were performing their mission.
The Shalit kidnapping brought this upside-down world view to new highs. For more than five years, a relentless public campaign, backed by an unquestioning media, branded Shalit as “our son”, who had to be brought back at any cost. But Shalit was not a prisoner of war; he was a hostage, kidnapped for one purpose only: the release of Palestinian terrorists. Our enemies have learnt, long ago, about our national psychosis: Israeli civilians are willing to risk their lives to protect Israeli soldiers. Every demonstration, every march, every t-shirt, every TV ad – added to the price the Hamas have exacted from Israel. The business of kidnapping soldiers has become a very profitable business, so it was no surprise to see the masses in Gaza chanting yesterday: “we want the next Shalit”. October 18, 2011 marked the start of the countdown to the next kidnapping.
The coverage yesterday of Shalit’s release shows how deeply ingrained this distorted view is in Israel. Instead of owning up to this being a necessary surrender to terrorism and toning down the festivities, the government and the IDF both cooperated fully in the media circus, minute-by-minute, frame-by-frame. Just like Bibi, they had no choice but to succumb to the general mood and welcome our “boy” back. During a full day of non-stop coverage, only a few minutes were spent on images from Gaza and Ramallah. Why spoil the opiate fed to the masses with reports about the other side of the deal?
It might be too late to change things, but perhaps the shocking price of the Shalit deal will help. It’s time for Israel to decide that its soldiers are there to protect civilians, and not vice versa.
(Lest I be misunderstood. I don’t blame Shalit’s family for doing what they did. In their position I would do the same, and more. I told a friend this week that if it were my son in captivity, I would agree for the archterrorists to come live in my basement if that’s what it took to release him. But a nation cannot allow the personal will of individuals to impose on the decisions made by its leaders.)