By HIRSH GOODMAN
The Schalit deal reaffirms the sanctity of human life and the commitment of the people of Israel to those who serve in its name and to their families.
Never have I seen a family persevere and fight with such tenacity to get their boy back home – and this without diminishing any of the heroic struggles by other parents to do so in the past.
This time, however, it was different.
For five long years, every day, every hour, they devoted all their energies to Gilad's release, traveling the world, beseeching heads of state, going to the UN, and even having to put up with Jimmy Carter's cold shoulder when they tried to get the former president to be more proactive on Gilad's behalf with his contacts in Hamas.
And then, after months of frustration and disappointments, the proclamation that few believed they would actually carry out: a vow not to leave the tent encampment they, and hundreds of volunteers, erected literally on the prime minister's doorstep until Gilad comes home.
And there they were, every day, day after day, sometimes alone, often with sympathizers and supporters. Slowly the encampment became a transpolitical national shrine of sorts. Busloads of school children from all over the country came to pay their respects; synagogues held Friday night services there, and often laid out a long table for Friday night dinner so the Schalit's would not be alone.
Then came the massive empty chair someone placed on the pavement in an act of solidarity with the missing soldier – something soon emulated across the country – and a white sheet was tied to a fence and within days covered with thousands of names, a tablet of sorts to show Gilad when he gets back tangible proof that even in his darkest hours, even when he may have thought there was no hope, thousands, tens of thousands, thought about him every day, and had come to leave their mark.
It is fair to say that though there were those who opposed the deal, getting Gilad back home enjoyed a national consensus.
So did concerns over the price Israel had to pay, 1,000:1.
There is undeniable logic that the horrendous imbalance ostensibly sends a message of weakness to Israel's enemies, and stokes fears that it could only encourage more kidnappings.
There are serial killers among those being released, who in many other democracieswould have lost their heads a long time ago, and who will now be technically free to plan more murders.
That is all true. But this is not about price, and Israel can well manage the potential threat from people we know intimately, who have been banished to lands far from here, and who will be on the radars of every intelligence service committed to fighting international terror – even unlikely allies, like Israel and the Saudis.
What it is about is that Israel never leaves a wounded soldier in the field, that its service men and women know – even if they are kept in the darkest dungeon, deep underground, no matter where – at home no effort will be spared to get them back. No price will be too high.
The country rallied behind the Schalits because that is what the country's moms and dads, soldiers and children about to be inducted want to hear. We are with you through thick and thin. What message could be more important for both parents and children in a country where there is universal (well, almost) service for all? And what stronger message of national strength and unity could Israel send? It is a fallacy to see the exchange as weakness.
Ask Hamas. Ismail Haniyeh, its leader, said in an interview that he saw Israel's dedication to getting its soldiers back as one of the country's greatest attributes. Sometimes one has to know how to take a compliment from one's enemy.
The Schalit case is, unfortunately, not unique.
We all remember similar exchanges in the past, albeit with smaller ratios. Gilad's case, however, is a re-affirmation of the principle of the sanctity of human life, the commitment of the people of Israel to those who serve in its name and to their families, in the mostfundamental sense.
In December 2009, and I say this responsibly, an exchange was on the table that would have had Gilad back in return for the release of some 460 prisoners, some of whom would have been banished. At the last minute the prime minister pulled back, mainly because of vociferous opposition from some in the security community, notably Meir Dagan, then the head of the Mossad.
In the summer of 2011, when serious negotiations were renewed, the "price" was over 1,000, and growing.
There also was no military option. It was not a question of intelligence. Even if Israel knew exactly where Schalit was being held (and one assumes Israel did, as Gaza is a very small place) according to someone who I guarantee knows these things, there was no chance of extricating Schalit alive and without Israel sustaining serious casualties in the effort. Those who claim there was such an option, are being knowingly disingenuous. It was never seriously there. Failure was guaranteed.
This is a country where officers famously say, "After me."
If Schalit has been abandoned, more than a human life would have been thrown away. Israel's morality would have gone with it, as would the core of the military code that makes the Israel Defense Forces the fighting force it is.
Hamas could kidnap another Israeli soldier with or without Schalit incarcerated. The border with Sinai, which is a tunnel away from Gaza, is porous, and we all see soldiers waiting for lifts on the roads.
The price is not the problem.
The problem is with people like Moshe Ya'alon, a former paratrooper, head of military intelligence, chief-of-staff and now minister for strategic affairs, one of only three cabinet ministers who voted against the exchange.
What example, I ask, is he sending to young soldiers, or those about to be inducted, or their parents, or those he sent into battle on Israel's behalf? And this is the minister responsible for the long-term security of Israel.
Somehow I'm more worried about that, than not having to feed 1,000 terrorists three times a day.
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