Netanyahu Shalit
Aviva and Noam Shalit with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his wife, Sara. Photo by Avi Ohayon
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Keeping a promise can entail a terrible choice. Which is why Israelis' outpouring of support for a prisoner exchange for Gilad Shalit deserves profound admiration, even wonder.

In driving their leaders to accept the deal, in supporting Benjamin Netanyahu for having assented to it, Israelis by the millions are gambling their very lives, and those of their loved ones. And all just to keep a promise.

On the face of it, the exchange is preposterous, in some ways, borderline suicidal. On the face of it, agreeing with Hamas to the release of more than a thousand Palestinian prisoners, many of them to this day proud of having committed heinous murders of innocent people in premeditated acts of terrorism, makes little sense.

Israelis know that the exchange will bolster the recently flagging popularity of Hamas, in particular its more militant figures. It could seriously undermine Palestinian moderates, foster a return of large-scale terrorism, and deal a telling blow to the Palestinian Authority, in the process eroding the security of Israelis on both sides of the Green Line.
The deal to bring Gilad Shalit back to his family is painful to Israelis bereaved by terror. It is, by any measure, chillingly dangerous.

And it was the right thing to do.

The deal is a remnant of an Israel which is fast disappearing. It is a remnant of a particular brand of quiet, exceptional courage. It is an expression of a national character that goes generally ignored in a media environment which prizes the extreme over the honorable. It is evidence of a people true to values which time and sectarian agendas may appear to have diluted and erased.

The deal for Gilad Shalit is a remnant of a promised land that – to those everyday people who donate their very youth, their very lives, in order to defend it – still believes it important to keep its promises.

The first of those promises is a simple one. When they draft you and process you and inoculate you and arm you and begin to use you, they spell it out, to you and your family both: If you are lost on the field of battle, we will get you back. Whatever it takes.
Whatever it takes. Even if it takes much too much.

The list of the terrorists being released is unendurable. The numbers are beyond understanding. Until you consider that this is how it's always been.

In Israel's nine prisoner exchanges with Arab enemies, dating back to the first, 54 years ago, Israel has freed 13,509 prisoners in order to win the release of a total of 16 soldiers. An average of well over 800 for each one. This is the price.

It is said that the people on the list for the current deal have been directly responsible for the deaths of 599 Israelis. Had Israelis waited longer for a deal, however, Gilad Shalit might well have made it 600.

On Tuesday morning, Israelis by the millions, heard a sentence that allowed them, at long last, to begin to breathe again: Gilad Shalit is no longer in Hamas hands.

There is something still extraordinary about the core of these people, the Israelis. In the summer, when hundreds of thousands marched in the streets for social justice, they roared their endorsement of a deal such as this to free Gilad Shalit.

In perhaps the most exceptional expressions of backing, even some of those most personally and deeply wounded by the terrorists to be freed, have come out in support.

"From the standpoint of a mother, I'm in favor of the price that's been paid in order to bring Gilad Shalit home," Sarit Golumbek, who lost her son Zvi 10 years ago in the bombing of the Sbarro restaurant in Jerusalem, told Yedioth Ahronoth last week. "My heart is with the Shalit family."

There is no understanding what Sarit Golumbek has been through. There is no understanding what Israelis as a people have just done, in keeping that kind of promise, displaying this depth of compassion, taking this kind of risk, to bring home one of their own. Someone they never knew until it was too late.

But Israel being what it is, many, many of them came to know the Shalit family personally, on their walks the length and breadth of Israel, or in the tent by the prime minister's residence in Jerusalem, the protest tent that was their home until the news came that their son was finally to be freed.

Bravo for the people who brought Gilad home. Bravo for these people, these Israelis, who held a part of their breath for five years and four months, waiting for news of someone they did not know, but who could just as easily have been their own.

Bravo, as well, for Benjamin Netanyahu. He did what the people of Israel wanted. That is his job. He did not do the bidding of a raucous, vicious minority. He took courage in a courageous people. That is why he is there.

He did the right thing.