This post is by Daniel and LeahWhen people ask us what it’s like to live in Israel, the answer is almost always the same: “It’s complicated.”
Over the past five years one of the most unifying issues in Israeli society has been the desired release of captured Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit, who was abducted by Hamas in 2006 at the age of 19. On all sides of the political spectrum, the objective was clear—bring Gilad home. It was an issue that everyone could stand behind.
Tuesday morning, Gilad returned home. After five years of solitary confinement, no humanitarian aid or contact with the outside world, a gaunt and pale Shalit was returned to Israel and his family.
On a day which could have been marked by joyous celebration, the mood in Israel is decidedly heavy. Gilad’s return has come at quite a cost. In exchange for Shalit’s release, Israel agreed to return 1,027 Palestinian prisoners. It’s not the disproportionate 1-for-1,027 ratio that’s most troubling, but rather the résumés of the Palestinian prisoners who went free this morning. Among them are men and women convicted of terror attacks and murder. These people were not held in captivity for Israel’s diplomatic gain, but for committing serious crimes.
So how are we to feel on a day that is both joyous and somber?
On the one hand, we are overjoyed at the release of Gilad Shalit and his reunion with his family. The images of the boy being embraced by his father after five years of separation stir tremendous empathy. For Gilad, his family, and supporters around the world, this is the day they’ve been dreaming of.
On the other hand, how can one rejoice when murders and terrorists are being let free? After the deal was brokered, there were indeed many Israelis who protested the prisoner swap. Family members of terror victims petitioned the high court to stop the exchange. However, fearing that the window of opportunity to bring Gilad home wouldn’t stay open long, the court rejected the petitions and the exchange went forth as planned. For these people, whose lives have been ripped by terror, this is the day they’ve been dreading.
World leaders are hailing the exchange as a step in the right direction for the stalled peace process. Many are hopeful that this exchange will show that with hard work and negotiation, progress can be made. Indeed, both Israel and the Palestinians are hailing this day as a victory.
But one has to worry that “victory” may be too strong a word. In Gaza this morning, crowds lined the streets to celebrate the prisoners’ return. “The people want a new Gilad!” the crowd chanted, the implication being that if Hamas abducts more Israeli soldiers, Israel will be forced to release more convicted Palestinian prisoners. To the crowd, Shalit was not a human prisoner but a diplomatic bargaining chip.
So the question becomes not “How do we feel?” but rather “How do we reconcile these conflicting feelings?” We’re at once joyful and mournful, hopeful and skeptical. It is impossible to erase one emotion to simplify the day.
It seems that the new developments in the Gilad episode reinforce our recurring motto: “It’s complicated.” And there’s no simple solution. The best we can do is learn to be comfortable with our discomfort, and continue to work and hope for a day when Israel and its neighbors can live together in peace.