One Soldier Representing A Nation

October 11, 2011

Political Theory

Today (October 11, 2011) it was reported that Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit would be released from Hamas custody.   To many who are unfamiliar with this story this may seem insignificant, but to members of the Jewish community this day will be celebrated for years to come because of the identity that Jews share not only with Gilad but also each other.

Gilad Shalit had been captured by Hamas, and he had been kept in prison since 2006. Numerous efforts have been made by the Israeli government to free him.  People had held vigils, created petitions, and made videos. Gilad became the Jewish face of the Israeli Palestinian conflict.  Until today none of these efforts to free him had been successful.

The Jewish people have been persecuted many different times throughout their history: The Romans, The Russian Pogroms, and The Holocaust.  I believe that this has created a sense of unity among the Jewish people.  As Jews we identify with those who came before us. It is my opinion that Jews identify themselves with a greater Jewish nation.  There is a famous Hebrew saying “Kol Yisrael averim zeh ba-zeh,” which translates to “all Jews are responsible for one another.”  Jews believe that it is their job to help a fellow Jew in need.  Today, that Jew in need finally received his freedom.

This is why I believe that the release of Gilad Shalit is being widely celebrated.  As I Jew I believe that I identify not only with Jews in America but Jews around the world because we share the common bond of religion.  Since the announcement of Shalit’s release over 30 of my friends on Facebook have posted on the subject.  Friends of mine are posting comments such as: “Welcome Home Giald!” and “Great Day for Israel!”

I have a great deal of pride for my religion.  During the summer I work at Jewish summer camp.  I have learned about the story of Gilad Shalit through Hebrew school and through camp.  This summer my fellow counselors and I held a seminar for the campers.  We explained to them the story of Gilad Shalit and how we hoped that one day he would be freed.    On campus at Michigan I am involved in Hillel, and I hope that one day I will have the opportunity to visit Israel  I identify very strongly with my Jewish heritage, so when an occasion like this comes around, I cannot resist the urge to celebrate.  Even though I and most American Jews do not know Gilad personally, many of us feel that we just got our friend back.  I believe that this outpouring of joy is evidence of the strength of the Jewish identity among Jewish people.

Gilad’s freedom did not come at no cost to Israel, they will have to release 1,000 Palestinian militants.  I think that this is a remarkable showing of Israel’s solidarity and pride.  By looking at this move, it seems that Israel would be willing to do anything just to see one of its own released. I agree with what Israel did, but does anyone think that the trade of 1000 for 1 was not worth it?


About adamstillman2011

Student at the University of Michigan

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8 Comments on “One Soldier Representing A Nation”

  1. ksaukas Says:

    Well congratulations to Giald, and to Isreal!!! This seems, to me, to resemble many other cases we have seen in history of people recognizing similarities between one another and forming a bond based upon that recognition. This seems very much like the stories of Jessica Lynch (the American soldier who was POW in the Iraq war and was rescued), the 52 hostages that were rescued from the overrun U.S. embassy in Iran after being held for 444 days, or maybe even more relevant Operation Entebbe where Israeli special forces rescued 102 civilians (many of them Jewish) from a hijacked plane that landed in Uganda.

    It is not far fetched for the majority to identify with an individual in the lime light because it is easy for ourselves to have been placed in their shoes. I recently just turned 19 (the same age Giald was captured) and many of my friends from back home have joined the armed services. It is impossible for me to comprehend what it must have been like for Giald to go through this ordeal, but I feel like I understand (probably like many people do) what it was like for him when he was my age and in the service. Yet Giald isn’t the first person people claim to have felt a shared identity to.

    Many people have said they felt like they could identify themselves with Kurt Cobain, Princess Diana, and John Lennon when they passed away. Our identity it seems is largely influenced across spectrums that are very broad it seems. What I mean is very few people knew Kurt, Diana, John, or even Giald; but we know what it is like to be misunderstood, come from a an unspectacular background, to believe in peace, or to be young and in a tough situation.

    I’m glad when I hear stories like this because it gives us a chance to reflect upon the fact that we are much more alike than we are different.

    • ksaukas Says:

      for some reason all of my Gilads turned into Gialds…please forgive my stupidity…don’t judge me I had 2 exams today alright

  2. danieltarockoff Says:

    I was waiting for a post about this. What an incredible day. The story of Gilad Shalit is incredible for so many reasons, a lot of which you covered in your post. For one, Gilad was originally captured from Israel itself, which has further contributed to the sense of connection all Israelites and Jews in general have with him. It is extremely rare, in any case, for someone to be captured for so long and remain alive. In fact, two others who were captured with Gilad have already been killed. There is actually even some speculation as to whether Gilad is still even alive and whether Hamas will ensure his safe return to Israel. With all doubts aside, however, this is an incredible feat for Israel and will surely go down in history books, provided his safe return.

    What really comes to mind when reading this post though is the nation of Israel and how they deal with political situations. This also makes me think of the general relationship between Israel and Hamas. Israel is an amazing country, which I have great respect for and find pride in the fact that Judaism goes hand in hand with the nation. However, Israel is not always portrayed as “the good guys” through the media. This is actually one of the strongest reasons why I feel resentment toward the way things are represented in the press. Israel has always been a nation fully dedicated to its people’s safety. They have traded Palestinians in the past for dead bodies, just so that they are able to receive a proper burial. I’m not even sure if America would do such a thing. However, due to the constant fighting in the Middle East, Israel has received lots of bad press. The thing is, however, that Israel doesn’t care. As bad as that sounds. They don’t care the way outside sources view them because they know they’re doing right. They are a country of strong morals and there is rarely controversial corruption. When surrounding countries such as Palestine get involved in wars with Israel however, it often ends up looking bad for both parties. I’m not saying that Palestine is always wrong by any means, but Israel doesn’t necessarily have the amount of terrorists and extremists that exist in surrounding countries. Hamas actually further prove Israel’s values through their horrific actions; there have been times when Hamas soldiers have actually used children as human shields just because they know the Israeli army won’t shoot. You can view this disturbing act on video here: I know that Israel has its problems, but I believe their integrity and decision making will be revered once the entire mess in the Middle East finally comes to an end (hopefully soon).

    Until then, we should still rejoice in the imminent return of Gilad and be thankful that Israel is willing to give up 1000 people just to ensure his safe return. He deserves his life back and Gilad will always act as a symbol of the unity present in Israel.

    • ianbaker2041 Says:

      I really have to disagree with you on Israel’s integrity and morality. If you take a look at my comment below, I think that you might see a few of the instances when Israel has not acted in the most morally praiseworthy manner.

  3. ianbaker2041 Says:

    This is a really interesting post, and although I had not heard of this issue, I’m all for the release of this man. I think what’s really at stake here is not a POW situation but actually the existence of the state of Israel itself.

    Now, I have to say, I’m not Jewish, and I have very, VERY mixed feelings on Israel. On the one hand, Israel is our only Middle Eastern ally that does not fund madrasas that produce Islamic fundamentalists (it’s no coincidence that 15 of the 19 9/11 hijackers were from Saudi Arabia) and isn’t on the verge of collapse (Pakistan, I’m mostly talking to you). Israel has been able to create prosperity out of a really quite poor area of the world, and we must give props to them for that. This, however, has not come without a price.

    Since its inception, Israel has violated UN resolutions and has engaged in conflicts in the name of “national defense” that are not really to that end. In 1947, the UN passed Resolution 181, creating a two state solution to the Arab-Jewish conflict and outlining the boundaries for both sides. On May 15, 1948, however, an Arab coalition attacked Israel, starting the 1948 Arab-Israeli War. Although history (and the Jewish population in Israel) seems to remember the IDF as the underdog David conquering Goliath, the reality is far different. Even in its early days, Israel was receiving huge military support in both material and training from an array of nations whereas the Arab armies were poorly equipped, poorly led, and grossly ill-trained. Israel used this attack as an opportunity to extend its boundaries beyond the original agreement, taking all but the West Bank and Gaza Strip. To make matters worse, militant Jewish groups within Israel began attacking Palestinian civilians, forcing them to become refugees and flee. In spite of all this, Israel got away with it, and Israel has yet to give the land back to the Palestinians that they took in 1948.

    Now, critics of this are going to say, “well, Israel needed to take these lands to buffer its defenses. It’s justified for national defense.” If this were true, I’d say “fair enough,” but the issue is that Israel does NOT need those lands to buffer its defenses. The IDF is by far the most powerful military threat in the region, and with Uncle Sam ready to lend a hand at virtually any moment, there is almost no chance of Israel’s collapse from a military defeat. Short of nuclear war, I just don’t see how it could happen given the disparity between Israel’s military capability and its neighbors’ COMBINED military ability. The taking of the lands can only be seen as a thinly veiled excuse for Israel to systematically conquer all of what was once Palestine. The fact that Israel refuses to come to the drawing board and offer up some land to pacify its Arab neighbors further reinforces this observation; after all, if Israel were REALLY committed to peace, they would be willing to talk.

    Israel also has to contend with another issue. Based on some reports I’ve read in books about the Middle East (which is my favorite area of study in terms of modern politics), Israel will not have a Jewish majority certainly within the next 30 years, probably 20, due to the rapid rate at which Arabs absorbed into Israeli territory are reproducing when compared to the Jews living there. Israel will have to find a way to continue to define itself first as a Jewish state even if Jews aren’t actually the majority. I don’t know how to do this, but for Israel to maintain a hold on its position, it’s necessary. After all, if Israel wasn’t Jewish, then it wouldn’t have much of a claim to Jerusalem and would likely have to pull back its expansion some.

    I’m not trying to go on an anti-Israel rant. They are a very key strategic ally, and while I do think we (the US, I mean) give a lot more than we get in the relationship, we nonetheless need them. Israel seems to be a promising ally, and the stability of the state contrasts sharply with that of its neighbors. It’s important, however, to remember that Israel isn’t just a wonderful, lovely, happy place where everyone gets along. A lot of people around the world take issue with the Israeli position on Palestine, and there’s good reason for that.

  4. aclieb Says:

    I agree with ianbaker2041 that there have been instances in Israel’s brief history where it has not acted morally. However, and this is by no means an excuse, I think it would be difficult to find any country that hasn’t done something immoral of any kind throughout its history. Saying that, I feel it is necessary when discussing this topic to note that both Israelis and Palestinians have committed immoral acts. In addition, you mentioned how if Israel were truly committed to peace it would be willing to talk. I believe Israel is committed to peace and they have been and are willing to talk. Feel free to look at the 30:45 mark of this video of Israeli Prime Minister, Benjamin Netanyahu.

    As far as the original question of the post, I think that’s nearly impossible to answer. We (or at least I) do not know what exactly is at stake here. For example, was releasing the 1000 Palestinian militants a serious threat to national security for Israel? I feel if it was, Israeli would not have agreed to the exchange. But once again, I don’t know. Perhaps the reason on Israel’s point was to send a message. Maybe Israel wants the Palestinians and/or the world to know it is fully committed to its citizens and will do anything in its power to get them safely home. That is actually something the author of this post mentioned as a possibility.

    This is a tremendous story and hopefully it is a sign of things to come in regards to the Israeli/Arab struggle. Ideally this is a jumping point for the two sides to agree on more contentious issues that have dated back to more than a century ago.

    • ianbaker2041 Says:

      Just because Netanyahu says that he’s willing to talk in front of the UN does not necessarily mean that anything will happen. Israeli-Palestinian peace talks have broken down before, and I think that the same thing may well happen again. I really hope that it doesn’t for the sake of both Israelis and Palestinians, but I am cautious to say that Israel really wants to talk peace and talk about giving up some land just because Netanyahu says it.

  5. madisonkraus Says:

    The problems in the Middle East are very hard to understand from an outside perspective. Until this summer, I always had mixed feelings on the way that Israel deals with military issues. As a Jewish person, I always supported the protection of a Jewish state, but it’s hard to justify some of the things that take place in the Middle East. However, after travelling to Israel and spending a lot of time talking to Israeli teens and citizens, I gained a new perspective. Because of their physical location and their tumultuous history, Israeli citizens have a fierce sense of nationalism. They are proud of, and defend their country and its actions in almost all cases. This nationalism creates a very strong connection between each and every Israeli citizen. They realize that as a small population in a dangerous geographical position, everyone has to look out for everyone else.
    During one of our organized discussions in Israel, our group leader posed a series of questions to us about if we were in charge of some of the political decisions encountered by Israel, how would we act. The questions all applied to taking a huge risk in order to protect individuals. Overall, the differences between our (American UM students) responses and theirs were incredibly large. For example, when asked the question, “Should Israel send aid and resources to search for a hiker who went missing in South America? They are not an Israeli citizen, but they were born Jewish.” The majority of Americans responded that we shouldn’t get involved because they’re not a citizen of our country, and we have other more pressing issues that we need to use our resources on. However, all of the Israeli students replied that we would have a duty to help find the person. Because Israel considers all Jewish people to have a right to Israeli citizenship, they believed that the state of Israel is responsible to help any Jewish person in need. Although to me, this does seem like a difficult and possibly illogical policy, it is in example of how much their culture values the safety of individual people.
    According to Jewish belief, to save one life is to save the whole world. I believe this philosophy exemplifies the way Israel is willing to make sacrifices to bring one soldier home. Although they are taking a large risk by releasing 1000 militants, to them, to save one Israeli citizen is worth that risk. Because Israeli culture is so different from our own, it is difficult for Americans to understand the way Israel conducts affairs such as this. However, if we look into the religious and cultural beliefs of the state of Israel combined with their geographic situation, many of their actions are more understandable.

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