After 1934 days in captivity, Hamas released Israeli Defense Force solider, to his home in Israel. Shalit spent six birthdays held hostage by the terrorist group while the world wondered if he was even still alive. Today, Shalit is set free, pale and frail, at a high cost to the state of Israel. In exchange for Shalit’s release, Israel freed 1,027 terrorists who have previously harmed their people and put their country at risk. Is this a fair trade? Is one life worth endangering the lives of the rest of the country? As an American, do we view this differently than a citizen of Israel? Is our opinion different from a person living in a Middle East nation?
Israel’s government differs greatly from that of America’s, although both democracies are founded on equality. Democracy entails freedom and liberty for all as well as equal rights to each member of society. Tocqueville wrote about the American democracy and the role of civil society compared to the role of the state. In Israel, these are not separate entities as there is no separation of church and state. Religion is often associated with civil society and blends with government and thus policies are frequently based on religious, in Israel’s case Jewish, values.
Such values, pidyon sh’vuyim, to free the captives, and, pikuach nefesh, to save one human life is like saving the world, are analyzed with the release of Gilad Shalit. Israel views equality for all citizens with the equal importance of every individual. One life has the same significance as a million other lives. Donniel Hartman, president of Shalom Hartman Institute, writes about Aristotle’s idea of the “Golden Mean,” finding the perfect balance of democracy between “vices and virtues.” He examines what is necessary for one man and what is right for the rest of the nation. With this policy, Israel felt it was in their best interest to protect their solider Shalit and ensure his return home to his family. Through this exchange, Israel highlights how important each citizen is to the country and that they are willing to pay a high price to ensure the safety of each life. On the surface, Prime Minister Benjamin Natanyahu and his Supreme Court have dismissed the threat presented by setting free terrorists who still have the potential to harm the Israeli people by dismissing opposition to this deal that was brought to the court by families effected by attacks.
One Israeli, Dalia Cohen, mother of a child killed in a 1989 terrorist attack by Abed al-Hadi Ganim, reflects, “On the one hand, I am happy that Gilad is coming back to his mother. I am also a mother and I know what it’s like. I know how much I would want to get my child back. Everybody is happy around me but I cannot rejoice. Abed al-Hadi Ganaim was set free today. I feel like I am betraying my daughter. I feel like she is screaming, her blood, her ashes are crying out to us and I cannot do anything to prevent it.”
Consider Dalia Cohen’s remarks, Shalit’s family’s emotions and the definition of democracy: Is Israel following democratic traditions in valuing the life of one solider at a price of a thousand terrorists? Is this setting a democratic precedent for future exchanges? Is Gilad Shalit’s release a time of worry or a time of joy for the state of Israel and all humanity?
As we reflect on the ideals of our country and Israel’s we can ecstatically say, “Welcome Home Gilad”