The power of one tent
A large majority is prepared to take an extra security risk for Shalit, which proves that, despite all the complaints and the criticism of Israeli society, it is still a society of solidarity.
After 16 months of sitting in a tent near the prime minister's residence, Noam and Aviva Shalit have vanquished Benjamin Netanyahu. So it's nice to hear the compliments the prime minister is now getting about his courage (? ), and it's interesting to listen to the contorted explanations about the impact of the Arab Spring, but the truth is much more basic: Netanyahu simply buckled.
Without the tent that gave him no rest, without the elegant harassment of Noam and Aviva Shalit, who spent the holidays on the sidewalk near his home, and without the demonstrations of tens of thousands of Israelis, Gilad Shalit would still be in a Gaza basement.
There's no alternative: Politicians only understand pressure. They have so many problems, so many tasks, so many fires to put out that they only act when the pressure becomes unbearable. And Netanyahu is the champion of procrastinators. He doesn't solve a problem today that he can put off until tomorrow.
And so, if Aviva and Noam Shalit had put up their tent right after the abduction, apparently they would have seen their son earlier. But at first they believed then-Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, and then Netanyahu, who told them they were doing everything for Gilad. But Olmert rejected a swap similar to the one that's now been accepted and Netanyahu decided not to decide. Until the tent went up and the pressure did its job.
It is quite strange to hear the praise now being heaped on Netanyahu. After all, he betrayed his worldview and all his beliefs. He is "Mr. Terror," a politician who has based his career on lectures and books that preached to the entire world not to give in to terror, no matter what. So what is he being praised for? For doing a spectacular backflip?
It's quite irritating to hear people who criticize the deal saying that murderers with "blood on their hands" should not be released. That is a hollow slogan that ignores reality. Who does not have blood on their hands in the long and accursed war here? What's the big difference between a person who committed murder with his own hands and someone who sent others to carry out an attack? And what's the difference between them and politicians who decide on an assassination, a military operation or an aerial bombardment that sheds blood? Having "blood on the hands" is the very essence of war.
It is also irksome to hear right-wingers who are against the swap talking about its "high cost," "shameful surrender," "humiliation" and "prize for terror." Because the truth is just the opposite: The cost is low and it is not surrender, but rather a victory.
The cost is low because out of 1,027 released prisoners, only 200 are significant and so will neither substantially increase nor decrease the danger of terror attacks and abductions; another 1 percent will not matter much. The Qassams will continue to fall, there will be attempted infiltrations from Gaza, and only recently an attempt was made to kidnap Israelis through the breached border with Egypt.
And even if there were a certain increase in the level of risk, that is precisely the price the Israeli public is willing to pay. A large majority is prepared to take an extra risk for Shalit, which proves that, despite all the complaints and the criticism of Israeli society, it is still a society of solidarity. An unwritten agreement of mutual responsibility still prevails among its citizens. And that is the reason that most of us feel great relief today: We did not betray a captive soldier, we did not abandon him, we did not let him die alone. Therefore this is not a surrender to terror, but a great victory for the Israeli ethos.
It is also clear that leaving Shalit to his fate would have weakened the Israel Defense Forces. Because how could a soldier go to battle and how could parents support combat duty for their children knowing that if they are captured, no one will come to free them?
All those who oppose the deal must also concede that, if it had not been implemented, one day all signs of Shalit would have disappeared and doubts would have arisen about whether he was still alive. But he would have remained an issue, demonstrations for his release would have persisted and the wound would have continued to bleed, causing huge damage to our morale and endurance.
That is just what happened with Ron Arad. He could have been saved, but the government wanted a better deal. The cruel truth is that the death of Arad paved the way for Shalit's release.