The Unfathomable Value of One: Israel's Costly Gift
by Shira Sorko-Ram
Tuesday morning. The people of Israel rose at daybreak – from bed to the TV screen.
Today was different. Israel doesn’t have 24/7 news yet, but by 6:00 a.m. all of Israel’s TV stations, (and for that matter, international media) were buzzing with reporters spread across the nation. Waiting. At the Gaza-Egyptian border. The Egyptian-Israeli border, and a small village in Galilee.
Gilad Shalit was coming home.
He was a 19-year-old soldier pulling guard duty with two other soldiers on Israel’s border, when nine Hamas terrorists appeared out of nowhere, killed the other soldiers, and then kidnapped Gilad, dragging him back through a three-kilometer tunnel they had dug under the Gaza-Israel border.
That was five years and four months ago.
This day the tension was excruciating. Would Hamas blow up the deal to release Gilad at the last moment?
It was also ironic. Though we stared at the TV, the whole nation had been instructed by our leaders that there would be no interviews. No one would ask him any questions. Not the press. Not the army. Not the prime minister. Not his parents.
Not a single Israeli – including Israel’s famed Mossad – knew of his physical or mental condition, nor even where he had been hidden for 1,942 days. But the public was instructed over and over again by the government and military, by psychologists and therapists, that Gilad must have complete quiet – even though in his home village in Galilee there were thousands waiting to just get a glimpse of “their son.”
Obviously the nation desperately wanted to hear what only Gilad could tell them. But former Israeli POW’s told his mother and father, “Just hug him and ask him what he wants to eat!” And because Gilad had become every Israeli family’s son, the nation truly wanted only the greatest good for Gilad – to be mentally and physically healthy.
Yet we had to see him! Gilad’s pictures on posters carried around for years by thousands – tens of thousands – of Israelis were five plus years old. How would he look now?
Finally after what seemed an eternity, the Israeli news anchors announced with great excitement that the kidnapped soldier had just arrived in a small white pickup at the Gaza-Egyptian border crossing. At that instant came the first pictures of a pale thin figure wearing civilian clothes and a baseball cap. He was led out of the vehicle by Hamas gunmen.
And then totally unexpected, the Egyptians whisked him off to a room to be interviewed by a famous Egyptian personality, Shahira Amin on their state TV. The interview had not been coordinated with Israel and delayed the schedule by an hour. The Israeli officials were furious.
Meanwhile, all Israel stared at the reality show coming from Egypt. Stunned. Anxious.
Gilad, who was still in the hands of masked Hamas operatives together with the Egyptians, was clearly frightened. Breathing heavily throughout the 12-minute interview, he carefully chose his words.
He was asked absurd questions such as, “During all that time of captivity, you did just one video to tell the world and your family that you’re alive,” Amin told the soldier. “Why just one? Why didn’t it happen again?” She forgot to ask, “Why didn’t the International Red Cross visit you even one time?" (Not allowing the ICRC to visit prisoners of war is against international law.)
At that moment, Gilad’s Hamas minder who was translating his answers from Hebrew to English, stopped the interview and an argument broke out in Arabic on live TV between the Hamas translator and the journalist.
Then Amin continued, “Gilad, you know what it’s like to be in captivity. There are more than 4,000 Palestinians still languishing in Israeli jails. Will you help campaign for their release?”
The Israeli nation could hardly breathe. What kind of question was that? After five years and four months of solitary confinement and malnutrition, he was being asked whether he would work to free Palestinian prisoners? Was Gilad emotionally strong enough to withstand the pressure to become an advocate for Palestinian murderers?
After a few stunned seconds, an obviously exhausted Gilad spoke – in Hebrew for all Israel to hear: “I’d be very happy if they were released,” he replied very softly, “providing they don’t return to fight against Israel.”
The Israeli TV anchors, hearing the live interview in Hebrew with the rest of us, nearly jumped out of their seats. This was the first sign that Gilad was clearly in control of his mental faculties. His response was the wisest and truest answer an Israeli could give.
However, guess what? The Hamas interpreter translated Gilad’s answer like this: “I’d be very happy if they were released so they would all be freed and could return to their own families and their own land.”
That was it. Somehow the phrase, “providing they don’t return to fight against Israel,” was lost in the Hamas translation, replaced by a new phrase.
The blaring omission and addition was repeated by the BBC’s translator though he too was independently interpreting from Hebrew in real time. In fact all of the TV stations we listened to later in the day – CNN, Fox, France24 and of course the Russian stations and Al Jazeera, dutifully repeated Hamas’ version.
I admit I was angry. Hamas? Of course they will lie. But why would journalists representing Western democratic values go along with a deliberate act of dishonest translation?
WELCOME HOME GILAD!
And then, the scene changed to Gilad walking from an Egyptian vehicle towards his own people. As we all waited, he underwent a medical check up, showered, and donned his army uniform. The army brought along three different sizes of army uniforms, unsure of his weight. It’s a good thing they did for he was a gaunt 110 pounds.
He saluted Prime Minister Netanyahu, who then gave him a big hug. After several other officials greeted him with salutes and hugs, he was in the arms of his father.
Asher Intrater, founder of Ahavat Yeshua Messianic Congregation in Jerusalem, expressed Gilad’s return like this: “In the 20 years I have lived in Israel, I have never seen the hearts of the people so touched, so softened, so unified. Gilad is certainly not the Savior. Yet there was something in his appearance and demeanor reminiscent of the image of the suffering servant of the Messiah Himself.
The deep pain in his eyes; his broken body that struggled to stand erect; his need to grip the handrails as he came down only a few stairs… and yet the clarity of thoughts; the stature of elegance and nobility; the raising of his hand in a military salute when he met the Prime Minister… there was not a dry eye in the country.
He was led out of captivity by Ahmed Jabari (head of the Hamas terror wing) and by Raad Atar (who engineered the kidnapping); he looked like a lamb who had been led to slaughter. And yet there was no hint of complaining. His brave and childlike little smile said to all, ‘I'm going to be all right.’" (www.revive-israel.org)
DRIPS OF INFORMATION
Each morsel of information gleaned, either by the Egyptian interview or a few terse words from the medics were dissected and analyzed over and over again by the Israeli media.
He had been locked in a windowless room – or dungeon – with very little human contact. He told the Egyptian journalist Shahira Amin that he was glad to be with people – with people to whom he could talk.
The medical authorities who had given him a preliminary examination reiterated that Gilad "needs his time to transition after this very long period – almost five and a half years without sunlight," saying that he's suffering from a medical condition because of the lack of exposure to light.
He had been without glasses for five years – which meant he had been unable to read anything.
At some point he was allowed TV and radio, so he knew Benjamin Netanyahu was the Prime Minister of Israel. He told the Egyptian journalist he believed one day he would be freed, but he thought he might have to wait many more years.
The nation was captivated by this son of Israel, this amazing human being who had been redeemed at such an extravagant price.
Prime Minister Netanyahu summed it up in his announcement that Gilad was back in his own country.
“The State of Israel is different from its enemies,” Netanyahu said. “Here we do not celebrate the release of murderers. Here, we do not applaud those who took life. On the contrary, we believe in the sanctity of life. We sanctify life. This is the ancient tradition of the Jewish people.”
Israelis, agreeing to release 1,027 terrorists, affirmed the sanctity of the life of a single soldier, a soldier who spoke so simply and eloquently of the Jewish people’s yearning for peace.
THE PALESTINIANS CELEBRATE
The contrast between the rejoicing of the Palestinians and Israelis was as far as the east is from the west. 1,027 terrorists had been released. The 1,027 terrorists had collectively killed more than 800 Israelis.
They came back to their families as well-fed, robust and proud as ever. Many had received a college education while in prison. Some even had conjugal privileges with their wives. The International Red Cross had regularly visited the prisoners. They had access to amenities that many Israeli citizens do not have.
They bragged to the jubilant crowds awaiting them that they were ready to return to fight Israel until she was destroyed. Reuters News reported on one Wafa al-Biss, a Gazan woman who had received permission to be treated for burns at an Israeli hospital, but was caught carrying 22 pounds of explosives in her underwear. She was planning on blowing herself up in the hospital.
The day after her release Wafa was filmed telling cheering schoolchildren in the Gaza Strip that she hoped they would follow her example, and encouraged the children to be killers of Jews when they grow up.
Hamas’ leaders promised there would be many more “Shalit” kidnappings – until every Palestinian prisoner was free.
WE’LL STAY AS LONG AS IT TAKES
Gilad’s parents had traveled the world seeking their son’s release. Then 15 months ago, Noam and Aviva Shalit decided to move to Jerusalem and live in a tent in front of the Prime Minister’s home. Noam said they would stay there until their son came home.
They ate and slept in the tent through last year’s cold blustery winter, and through the heat of the summer. The people witnessed a father’s total dedication of his life to deliver his son from death.
A blogger who was one of the thousands who visited the tent wrote: “He is a soft spoken man with a broken heart but full of inspiration and energy to protest his son's release day in and day out. I cannot imagine the amount of energy it would take to yearn for your child as well as protest for years on end and give up your life to sit in a tent all day and night; this is something truly powerful and heart-breaking at the same time.”
Noam galvanized the nation behind him. Gilad became everyone’s son. And when that day came when Gilad stepped out of the Israeli military vehicle and into the hands of Israel’s Prime Minister and Defense Minister Barak, the nation wept.
THE SOUL OF ISRAEL
Even young Arab bloggers saw the uniqueness of the people of the Book. They asked on Facebook how it was that Israel would give up so much for one soldier when their own leaders thought nothing of murdering their own citizens.
The Jerusalem Post explained, “It’s not that we are insensitive to the feelings of past terrorist victims’ families and loved ones. Nor are we unaware that many, even most, of those who will be released will return to violent terrorism – and that by paying a ratio of 1 to 1,027 we are encouraging future kidnappings.
“It’s just that none of these potential future dangers seems to be able to trump the fact that right now an IDF soldier’s life is being saved.”
Indeed, the Israeli people, the overwhelming majority agreeing with the exchange, in a way are offering themselves as a possible sacrifice for this one son of Israel.
Yair Lapid’s analysis poignantly pointed out that in this affair the Israeli street had commandeered the leadership of the nation and demanded that this one soldier be brought home: “This role reversal between the people and its leaders may be very problematic, but at least on the Shalit front it entails a sense of poetic justice. After all, the one who shall pay the price of the deal is the very same street that demanded it.
“The same street where signs were posted is where buses will be exploding. The same shopping malls where petitions were signed are where suicide bombers will enter. The echoes of the gunshots will be heard in the same squares where the protestors stood.” (ynetnews.com 19Oct2011)
Israeli Defense Minister Barak expressed the extreme complexity over such exchanges. He said that a "life-loving country cannot continue" to release over 1,000 prisoners for a soldier. "This slippery slope has to stop,” he said.
Yet Barak could not help but repeat a foundational value of the Israeli Defense Forces. “We lived up to an unwritten code on protecting soldiers who went out on missions and find themselves kidnapped. We have a supreme obligation to them." (JP 24Oct2011)
For now, Israel is basking in the joy of seeing a soul heading for death returned to life. How well we Messianic Jews of Israel understand that if one life in this world is so innately noble and precious, how great is the worth of one soul who inherits eternal life. For this reason, we give our lives to bring the Good News of Israel’s Messiah to our people.
For your work shall
be rewarded, says the Lord,
For this we press toward the mark for the prize, the ultimate prize of God’s high calling in Messiah Yeshua, Savior of Israel.
Thank you for your fervent prayers,