Welcome Home Gilad

October 18, 2011


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”



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8 Comments on “Welcome Home Gilad”

  1. jacobdockser Says:

    I was thinking about this morning when I saw the news that Gilad was finally coming home. I also found myself quite conflicted over this prisoner swap.

    In its simplest terms, this is obviously a 1,000 person trade for 1, Gilad. This seems like a wildly high price for one man. Why did Israel agree to this? Is Gilad so special that he is worth letting hundreds of dangerous terrorists run rampant in Gaza? Will this make the situation between Israel and the Palestinians more stable? Will peace follow?

    There are so many questions that really cannot be answered at this time. While to the faraway observer this seems like an unfair trade, I believe that it was worth it for Israel. During the years that Gilad was being held hostage, he became a symbol for the fight for justice and peace in Israel. For the Israeli government, and jewish people all around the world saw Gilad as a person who needed their help.

    If there is one thing I have learned in my 18 years studying Judaism, it is that a Jew will always help another Jew. This is why I was not in the least bit surprised that the Israeli government agreed to these terms. People look out for their own, no matter what. When Gilad was released, the country rallied around each other, it, at least at the time, didn’t really matter that hundreds of terrorists were free in the West Bank.

    It is this idea of rallying around your own that reminds me of another example of a nation caring more about their wellbeing of their own rather then the price of their safety. Last July, shortly after the United States uncovered 10 Russian spies on American soil, a trade was worked out for 4 prisoners being held in Russia. It was another case of unfair terms. 10 Russians for 4 Americans (or American Sympathizers). Just why did the Americans agree to this 2.5 for 1 deal? Because at the end of the day, a group will do what it takes to ensure the safety of their own.

    Whether the release of Gilad will lead to peace and stability in the Middle East is unclear, however the ability of both sides to agree on SOMETHING is promising.

  2. Brandon Baxter Says:

    According to a Yediot Aharanot poll 79% of Israelis support the prisoner exchange for Gilad Shalit. While we can be enthusiasic about Israel’s “national son” returning I agree we have every right to question the motives of the current Israeli government (Likud). Why swap now? Why give up prisoners that are guilty of murdering civilians in terrorist attacks? However, that is if you define Hamas as a terrorist organization. Tom Segev, an Israeli academic and commentator for the left-wing newspaper Ha’aretz states that Hamas is not a terrorist organization, but rather a religious nationalist movement. In that case terrorists were not being released by Israel, but soldiers or resistance members.

    Khaled Mashaal (leader of Hamas) spoke on Damascus TV, Saturday 15th, after brokering the exchange deal with Israel and stated, “our position is that of resistance until the Zionist regime is defeated… First we should free Palestine and then establish a country in it… Palestinians must resort to resistance no matter how costly it is, until Palestine is free and Israel is destroyed.” A large majority of these prisoners are returning to Gaza under Mashaal’s rule and he is encouraging them to return to armed struggle. A good portion of the prisoners returning refused to sign an agreement with Israel that they will not return to their old ways of resistance, and many of those who did sign are now stating that they are changing their minds and that they want to return. Is this not putting Israel at risk? If Israel does indeed respect the equality and sanctity of life for all citizens is she not in a very serious moral bind with this decision? By trading Gilad Shalit with over one thousand terrorists/resistance members, many who desire to return to the struggle, Israel is putting other Israeli civilians in harms way. Israel is in-effect putting Gilad Shalit on a very high status, and will have to follow suit in the future. If another soldier is abducted will Israel swap another thousand prisoners, or will his or her parents have to just accept that Israel cannot continue this unsustainable practice?

    We can only imagine how Galid Shalit feels. He is a soldier and he dedicated a portion of his life to defending his country from the very enemies that are being released. Would he agree to this swap?

    We can also not ignore that Benjamin Netanyahu has an election coming up. What a great way to gain national support and raise his poll numbers.

  3. Matthew Bernstein Says:

    After five long years in captivity, Gilad Shalit has finally been set free. Throughout these five years, Shalit became a symbol of the struggle that Israel has perpetually had with Hamas and the Gaza strip. The essential question that comes out of this recent news, as addressed previously, is that of: Is it worth freeing 1,000 Hamas supporters/terrorists for the freedom of one IDF soldier.

    As a Jew with extremely strong ties to Israel, it is hard for me to imagine a world in which the Israeli government would not do anything and everything to help one of its own, including this latest example of freeing 1,000 for the freedom of 1.

    The fact that the idea that Benjamin Netanyahu used this to garner support for his upcoming election is preposterous. This is extremely similar to some pundits believing that Barrack Obama finally went ahead with the capture and subsequent killing of Osama bin Laden solely to help his floundering poll numbers.

    These two ideas, although unrelated, are extremely similar and bring up a big question: Are politicians and elected leaders solely looking out for their own reputations when they try to enact policy? In the instances of Netanyahu and Obama, I believe that these two men saw an option to end a long suffering in their respective countries; Netanyahu freeing one of his own countrymen, and Obama providing some sort of closure to the thousands of families who were affected by the horrific terrorist attacks organized by bin Laden on 9/11.

  4. samyoovpolsci Says:

    How can one value the life of a man?
    When we simply look at numbers objectively and as a third person, exchanging one man for 1027 Palestinian prisoners seems wildly irrational and dangerous. Yet, this seems like the best decision morally and politically. For an Israeli, and for Gilad, this “irrational” trade shows that the government cares for its soldiers and the lives of its people. It creates a sense of trust for the government. Furthermore, Israel is one of the few countries that still practice conscription, and as Gilad was kidnapped during his service in the IDF, this trade further emphasizes Israel’s commitment and protection of its own soldiers. It would have also been politically and morally wrong to leave Gilad to stay a prisoner to the Hamas, as that would be the State literally abandoning its own soldier to the enemy.
    However, whether or not, this trade was a smart move in regards to international politics is still debatable. The greatest danger of this trade is that many of the prisoners released for Gilad were ex-terrorists, a potential danger to not only Israel but also the world. Hence, this trade, although probably was the right choice in the eyes of the Israeli’s and Gilad, could have put the whole world, or at least Israel in greater danger than before.

  5. lnk72792 Says:

    Ever since Gilad was captured by Hamas, I was always thinking about this exact question. Whether 1 life could equal multiple lives. I came to the conclusion that Gilad returning to Israel is not just a prisoner returning home, it is a symbol for Israel as a whole. No matter what, Israel will not leave a soldier behind. Every soldier risks his/her life fighting for Israel, and as a result, they know that Israel is behind them no matter what happens. It is a sort of psychological contract between soldiers and their beloved state. Even though these soldiers are forced to enroll in the Army, they still risk their lives and put their country ahead of themselves, something few Americans can say they’ve done.

    Looking at the other side, however, I believe it is unfair to families like Dalia Cohen. Her daughter was taken from her by a terrorist who was then captured and sentenced to prison in Israel. Dalia Cohen believed this was the way her daughter would get justice, by the terrorist spending the rest of his life in jail. Now, the prisoner is being set free to possibly kill again. I am sure it is extremely difficult.

    This is why this particular subject is one that has no “right” answer. As a leader of a country, Prime Minister Netanyahu is faced with many difficult decisions. It is part of the job that he signed up for. This was perhaps one of the toughest decisions he had to make. All I know is that I am very happy that Gilad is finally home.

  6. carweiss Says:

    I think this story brings up an interesting point because although I am extremely excited to have Gilad back home it makes me wonder if Hamas will continue to capture and torture Israeli soldiers knowing what they can receive in return. It puts Israel in such a difficult position because all they want to do is return Gilad but with what repercussions? It is such a complicated and sticky situation and while we can all be happy that he is home, we have to think of the safety of all of Israeli soldiers now.

    While Israel and Gilad’s family is full of joy, we also have to stop and think about how Gilad himself is feeling. He is solider and has dedicated his life to fighting for his country and with release, 1000 enemies were set free. Although there were no other clear alternatives to setting him free, this is very tough.

    Despite all of the repercussions that Israel could possibly face, I think getting Gilad home is such a huge step and I think it just further unites such a large part of Israel that cannot wait for the fighting to over.

    As said earlier, there is no right or wrong answer – there are consequences that come with both. I think it takes a step forward and a step back and almost leaves Israel right back where they started, but with a member of their country back home.

  7. yonni627 Says:

    When originally hearing about Gilad’s return, I was ecstatic. I couldn’t believe that after all this time he was still alive. 1027 prisoners being returned, however, seemed a little much to me. Why should an innocent man be exchanged with 1027 convicts? Isn’t that unfair? However, as I started thinking about the issue more I began to realize that this exchange means a lot more than a 1:1,027 ratio.

    As mentioned in the post, “pikuach nefesh”, saving of a human’s life, is one of Judaism’s most prized and important practices. Through my experience at a Jewish High School, where I studied various texts about “pikuach nefesh”, I came to realize that human life is not valued enough; people do not seem to understand that one life can impact thousands, or even millions of people. Gilad Shalit is a perfect example of someone who has, and will continue to impact millions of people’s lives. While 1,027 prisoners may be a ridiculous number, I think about the exchange from a different standpoint. After Gilad was captured, millions of people around the world were not only shocked, but were willing to help. Just as millions of people were there for Gilad and his family 5 years ago, they are still here for him today. Gilad brought unity, strength, and support to Israel and to the Jewish community around the world. The 1,027 prisoners might have been released, but did they really make an impact? Did they bring together a worldwide community? Looking at it from that point of view, the exchange ratio just went from 1:1027 to 15,000,000:1027.

    Another interesting idea to think about is how the role of Theocracy may play into a country. While Israel is democratic, it is heavily influenced by theocratic ideas. We see this in the government’s decision to exchange Gilad for the prisoners (the idea of following “pikuach nefesh”). In my opinion, I think this shows us that theocracy may not always lead to the problems that we have seen in the separation of church and state. Formulating decisions based on religious practices may actually evoke the ideal world that a given religion hopes to arrive at. Gilad’s arrival brought people together and showed the true colors of Israel and Judaism; “colors” that may be put into question as a result of anti-semetic, anti-Israel propaganda. In my opinion, the theocratic approach has not only been useful in acquiring Gilad, but also has been helpful in establishing Israel as a more peaceful and life-valuing country.

    Hopefully, as time moves on and more peace negotiations are made, we will never have to see a teenager captured and tortured again. But if we do, we now know that we won’t just leave our soldier to die. Welcome back Gilad, it’s been way too long.

  8. michellerubin Says:

    Personally as I watched the footage of Gilad Shalit returning home, my eyes were filled with tears. This was such a joyous and momentous day for Shalit’s family and for the state of Israel in its entirety. This is because Israel is its own form of a family. We sometimes forget that the nation of Israel is just barely bigger than the state of New Jersey. The Israel government makes a promise to protect each and every citizen of this small state to the best of their ability. Due to the fact that every citizen must serve in the Israeli IDF when they are 18, weather they are male or female, it is imperative that the parents and families of these children can rely on the fact that their state will do anything and everything to protect their child and if, in Galid’s case, they are captured, they will work endlessly to retrieve them, weather dead or alive. This is what the Israeli people expect from their family like state, and this is what they have received in Gilad Shalit’s case. This is so comforting to the families, and is what lets them hold such a high sense of patriotism in their nation.

    I spent two months living in Israel this summer and had the pleasure of partaking in “coffee talks” with other american college students and with israeli students who were about to enter the IDF this fall. This was such a rewarding experience because we were so similar in so many aspects, but in some controversial topics we differed so greatly just based on where we were raised. For instance, in one coffee talk we talked endlessly about Gilad Shalit and about the prisoner trades that had already been proposed at the time. Many of the Americans at the discussion automatically thought that the trade of so many prisoners would be so much more detrimental to the state of Israel than losing one soldier. Yet, every single one of the Israeli students at the discussion insisted that this trade was worthwhile and was what must be done and one of their main reasons was that they were soon entering the army and they wanted to be able to trust that if anything were to ever happen to them that they would be returned. By the end of the discussion, and my two months in Israel I too was convinced that the prisoner swap was a good idea because I too felt as I had become part of this Israeli family and understand where they were coming from.

    However, I do worry that this will set a precedent for the state of Israels future with Hamas and that they will believe that they can get what they want simply by holding captive more Israeli soldiers. The main point is that the Israeli people value their citizens lives so much that they will pay this price. I also sympathize with cases such as Dalia Cohen. Yet, one must think that if her daughter were still alive, she would do

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