What would you do if you were the Prime Minister of Israel? Would you exchange one of your own – Gilad Shalit, captured more than five years ago and imprisoned by Hamas – for 1000 known terrorists, some of them convicted murderers?
This was Benjamin Netanyahu’s dilemma and now he’s made his decision.
He presented a “serious opportunity” for Shalit’s release last night to his cabinet and they voted to accept the “opportunity.”
After the Feast of Tabernacles which ends on Oct. 20, the Knesset (Israel's Parliament) will convene to approve the deal. It’s expected they’ll approve it. Soon thereafter Shalit will likely be on his way home.
The collective sigh of relief in Israel on that day will be enormous.
Here’s why. It’s hard to overestimate the family feeling here in Israel. Nearly everyone serves in the military. Everyone knows the danger. The feeling that permeates Israel is that Gilad could be my son, brother or friend.
In the 1,935 days since his capture, Israelis adopted Shalit as their own. He became Israel’s son, brother, friend. Yellow ribbons, bumper stickers, t-shirts and flags publicized his ordeal.
Congressmen, presidents, politicians and celebrities pleaded for his release. People prayed. Songs were written about him. His parents set up a tent near the Prime Minister’s residence and vowed they would not leave until their son was released.
It looks like they’ll be going home soon.
The unfortunate thing is that no one knows the physical and, more likely, psychological scars Shalit will come home with. A doctor told us today he treated prisoners from the Yom Kippur War who had been incarcerated for six or seven months and suffered deep psychological wounds.
Gilad has been imprisoned now for more than five years. Who knows what scars he might bear?
The other side of the story Israelis are dealing with is, was the price too high? Historically, when terrorists have been released, many commit the same crimes they were imprisoned for.
One group says 180 Israelis have died by terrorists who have been released in prisoner exchanges. Who know if another Israeli family will suffer the anguish the Shalit family has gone through?
The arguments against the deal are powerful. Here’s how one Israeli writer put it:
"There are many very good reasons to oppose the deal for the release of kidnapped soldier Gilad Shalit. They include the fact that the deal is a surrender by Israel to terror; that it will spur Hamas on and weaken Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas and PA Prime Minister Salam Fayad ... the deal that saves the life of Gilad Shalit could cost the lives of many Israelis whose names and faces we do not yet know.”
Yet even this writer concluded the deal was right since it reinforced “the sense of mutual responsibility that its citizens and soldiers feel toward one another.”
As Israel celebrates the Feast of Tabernacles, they will be comforted to know one of their own will be coming home. But they also know there might be a price to pay in the near future. Right now they don’t know the cost.
It’s Israel’s dilemma.