This past Wednesday, a public demonstration of solidarity was organized in the south of the country to mark Gilad Shalit's 22nd birthday. During the rally, a young reserve army officer, a first lieutenant who also happened to be Shalit's commanding officer, lashed out at the country's civilian leadership, or to use his exact words, "the politicians." The reason Gilad has yet to be released and is not at home with his family, the officer claimed, is not Hamas' cruel, extortionist tactics, as reflected in its unreasonable demands. Rather, it is that "the politicians" are too busy "with their own personal matters" and have neither the time nor inclination to address the issue of bringing Gilad back home.
Every fair-minded person in the State of Israel knows there is not one iota of truth in such a foolish statement, which borders on incitement. As an aside, that same first lieutenant did acknowledge that members of the government do at times show concern for their fellow man, though he thinks this only applies to Arabs.
If this were just one person expressing his opinion or an isolated incident, the issue would not merit further attention. Yet this statement, and the poisonous atmosphere in which it was uttered, repeats itself time and again with the encouragement of the electronic media.
During a rally held the next day in the Galilee village of Mitzpeh Hila, Gilad's mother spoke movingly and in a much more restrained way. Yet she also managed to add a grating tone to her words. Nobody is going to cast aspersions against Aviva and Noam Shalit, two dignified and courageous people who have suffered tremendously. Nonetheless, statements along the lines of, "My son is not a real estate transaction," which garnered headlines in the press, are regrettable and do not contribute anything toward bringing Gilad home. It would have been best had it never been uttered at all.
The sole reason Gilad Shalit has yet to return home is that the Israeli government is ill prepared - and in my view and the view of many others, rightly so - to agree to Hamas' demands to release 1,000 terrorists, perhaps more, among them some of the most dangerous offenders. A prisoner exchange hasn't been struck not because somebody is equating it with a "real estate deal," or because the prime minister and defense minister are preoccupied with "their own personal matters," but because the Israeli government knows that such a deal endangers the lives of dozens, if not hundreds, of men, women, and children in the State of Israel.
One is permitted to hold a different opinion. One may claim that the state must bring back one soldier even at the cost of risking the lives of many others. This is not customary in Judaism, and I believe that a government that adopts this thinking will seriously harm Israel's security. The debate is a difficult and poignant one, and it is legitimate, but it must be waged in a level-headed manner devoid of personal incitement, baseless claims and statements that are patently untrue.
The writer is a senior research fellow at the Institute for National Security Studies.
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