Shalit deal shows Israels resilience and moral strength, not surrender

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Israel’s decision to pay the difficult price necessary to bring Gilad Shalit home was made with open eyes and without illusion.

We understood with clarity the meaning of the release of 1,027 Palestinian security prisoners, many of them brutal, remorseless killers still committed to terror, and we noted the implications for our own personal security and that of our families.

The political ramifications were considered, including the likelihood of a temporary weakening of the Palestinian Authority and empowering of regional extremism. We knew with certainty that Hamas would portray Israel’s acquiescence as weakness, and that many of our enemies in the region would similarly misinterpret Israel’s motivation — just as they have misunderstood the withdrawal from Lebanon in 2000, the disengagement from Gaza in 2005, the 2009 building freeze and every subsequent effort made by Israel for peace.

Akiva Tor

In their mind’s eye they see weakening and surrender. In reality they are witnessing Israel’s enormous resilience and enduring strength.

We knew that not a few in the Jewish community would be upset by Israel’s decision. And frankly, it is to these friends that I would like to respond.

The decision was laden with emotion but arrived at through reason. For the last five years, the ramifications of a swap had been roundly discussed in the Israeli Cabinet and in the media, at Shabbat tables, in cafés and on street corners throughout the land. We felt the pain of Noam and Aviva Shalit, and of the families of the terror victims.

For many years, Israeli governments of varying political shades rejected the demands of Hamas. But given the present regional uncertainty and the sense that opportunity for an exchange might be fading, a hard but reasoned decision was made that it was time to bring him home — not whatever the cost, but despite the cost. Allowing Shalit to languish and die in captivity was unacceptable. We were determined not to repeat the fate of Ron Arad, which is not the model upon which we can educate the next generation of IDF soldiers.

The obvious maltreatment of Gilad Shalit, as evidenced by his gauntness and physical frailty compared to the robust condition of the Palestinians released, deeply angered Israel but also confirmed the rightness of Israel’s decision.

Solidarity and resilience are Jewish and strategic principles. Note that an essential training exercise of every Israeli army unit is the stretcher march. It expresses in modern Hebrew an ancient and abiding Jewish ethos: All of Israel is responsible for each other —the primary sentence used by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in relaying the government’s decision.

The fundamental principle of the stretcher march is straightforward. The stretcher must never fall, the load may become heavier or lighter according to circumstance, and the soldiers beneath the four carrying points must be relieved by the rest of the unit at regular intervals.

Gilad Shalit is escorted by his father, Noam (right), Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Defense Minister Ehud Barak (far left) at Tel Nof Air Base in southern Israel. photo/ap/israeli government press office

Gilad Shalit and his family had been carrying their stretcher for too long. The rest of society had to step in and help bear the burden. True, with the release of killers and strengthening of Hamas, the load has become heavier. But Israel can and will bear it aloft; Gilad alone could not and survive.

Israel, unique among nation-states, functions as a family with all the obligations, heartbreak and mutual assistance thereby implied. Some may view the lack of alienation and private partitions as weakness. I believe it is the core source of Israel’s strength and a model that Western states should not shy from, but one to which they should aspire.

Upon hearing of the imminent prisoner exchange, I called my aunt and uncle in Tel Aviv. Their granddaughter was badly wounded in the Sbarro bombing and underwent numerous reconstructive surgeries. The woman who transported the bomber to the restaurant that day was about to be released.

My aunt told me she was joyful, but she opposed the deal. My uncle told me he had struggled with the issue, but he favored the deal upon understanding that halachic authority supported it.

I agree with my uncle. In situations of unbearable moral decision, we are wise to seek guidance in the deep, accumulated wisdom of our tradition; the redemption of captives, a most practical expression of communal mutual responsibility, resonates through the ages.

This Hoshana Rabbah, the Day of Great Salvation, Israel has much of which to be proud. In bringing Gilad home and facing up to the requisite challenges, we have been both moral and true to our nature. We have achieved a great salvation, not only for Gilad and his family, but for all of Israel.

Akiva Tor is consul general at the Israel Consulate in San Francisco.