Monday's High Court of Justice session to deliberate on the petitions against the prisoner exchange recalled poet Yehuda Amichai's line about "the terrible contests of pain." Among Monday's contestants were the Shalits, and families who had lost loved ones in terror attacks.
"Noam Shalit's pain in no way resembles our pain," cried out Meir Schijveschuurder, who lost his parents and three of his siblings in the 2001 suicide attack at a Sbarro in Jerusalem.
"Is there a chance I could talk to my father, to my 2-year-old sister? As long as there's a chance [that the Shalits could see Gilad] maybe the interests of 7 million people should be put before his interests," Schijveschuurder said.
"Our hearts are with the bereaved families," Noam Shalit said in response. "We would gladly have Gilad released some other way, but unfortunately the State of Israel has been unable to create the kind of pressure that would bring about his release."
"Not implementing the deal will not bring back the victims, and on the other hand it would be a death sentence for Gilad," Shalit said. "Any delay, the removal of one brick from the agreement, could seal his fate."
It was obvious from the outset that this would not be a normal court session. Less than 24 hours before he was expected to welcome his son home after five and a half years in captivity, Noam Shalit sat in the front row, calm as always. He was surrounded by furious bereaved families.
Schijveschuurder's brother Shvuel, who last week vandalized the Rabin memorial in Tel Aviv to protest the exchange, shouted, "Put a black ribbon on the flag at your home in Mitzpeh Hila. This is a day of mourning."
One woman protected Shalit with her arm when another man moved his hand as if to strike him.
Yossi Tzur, whose son Asaf died in a suicide bombing on a Haifa bus in 2003, told Shalit he shouldn't have come to the hearing. "It's turning the knife in the wound," he said.
All efforts by the justices and representatives of the state to steer the discussion from the personal track to the judicial were in vain. Bereaved family members disrupted the session numerous times, but in a departure from standard procedure, no one was removed from the courtroom.
"Everyone here is in pain. This is not a public meeting," Supreme Court President Dorit Beinisch said. "We are among our own here. There's no need in an Israeli court to explain the dilemma to us."
One after another, petitioners spoke, raising practical, ethical and legal reasons to cancel the exchange.
Robi Damelin, whose son David was shot dead by a Palestinian sniper during army reserve duty in 2002, stood at the side. For three days she had mistakenly thought, because of media reports, that her son's killer was to be released. Damelin belongs to a group of bereaved parents who came to support the deal and the Shalits.
"On Thursday it was reported that my son's murderer was to be set free. Those were the loneliest days of my life," Damelin said. "That was a real test of my faith, but when I saw Aviva Shalit's smile, I felt it was all worth it."
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