Gilad Shalit has become one of the best-known hostages of recent years. Seized from (literally) under the feet of his comrades in an audacious attack from Gaza, this young soldier has spent five years in captivity somewhere in the Gaza Strip. His captors have allowed him no Red Cross visits and no contact with the outside world. A number of deals to secure his release have been set up and have collapsed at the last minute. Finally, however, it looks like he is coming home to his long-suffering parents and a rejoicing nation.
Except that not everyone is rejoicing! For Gilad’s release in exchange for 1,000 Palestinian prisoners, many with Jewish blood on their hands, is an illustration of a controversial national policy that Israel has stuck to since her birth; a policy that no Israeli soldier will be left behind in enemy hands or abandoned to the a fate at the hands of their enemies.
Many countries, like Britain for example, state clearly that they will not negotiate with terrorist hostage-takers and many hostages around the world have died in hidden hell-holes because this is the ultimate price of such policies.
Non-negotiating policies have a purpose; they prevent governments from being held to ransom, from being forced into bad decisions or policy changes; and they prevent those governments’ citizens from widespread harm and threats further down the line. These policies make terrorists think twice, knowing that they are unlikely to have their demands met. This is sad for a small number of suffering families, but it works out best for the nation in the long run.
Israel, however, is a small and vulnerable nation gathered from the nations of the world to her ancestral homeland after centuries of suffering and persecution. She has had to defend herself violently and boldly from enemies that surround her and outnumber her millions to one. The crux of Israel’s defence is her “people’s army” – the Israel Defence Force. Long after their compulsory military service, ordinary men and women are called on to defend their country, their families and their lifestyle in the most immediate way. Every Israeli defender can drive from their front door to their battle position in less than a day and every Israeli defender knows that their nation only has to lose one war for the dream of centuries to turn into a nightmare (again).
And so Israel has always adopted a policy that gives hope and inspiration to every soldier fighting for the existence of their tiny nation. It is a policy that says, “We will not abandon you if you are captured by your enemies. Somehow, as soon as humanly possible, we WILL bring you home”.
Sadly, the exchange of one soldier for 1,000 prisoners leaves many, many families of terror victims with wounds reopened and a sense of injustice, reawakened pain and bitterness that the men who killed their loved one(s) are free to kill again, free to return to their families, free to strengthen the morale and spirit of the Palestinians who hate them so much.
So, as Gilad Shalit is released over the next few days, don’t be surprised if some Israelis are not joining in the celebrations!