Gilad Shalit's Fate Is in the Hands of IDF Reservists

Only when all the reserve soldiers cry out 'Gilad!' from the depths of the military service will he be saved.

Some people complain about this column, saying that it only sees gloom and doom everywhere. Moreover, that it looks at events as though the whole world were just one long tunnel. No more: Suddenly the light has come on and it is shining on Israel’s beautiful face.

Soldiers and officers in an elite reserve battalion who served recently on the Egyptian border received the “hot return” order: Namely, every infiltrator from Africa, every refugee from Sudan and from Eritrea, must be cast into the wilderness lest they multiply.

Unlike their predecessors and their replacements on the line, the reservists immediately identified the black flag: In the thermal cameras, at night, it is possible to see the death and rape awaiting those expelled across the border. Where others looked away, they saw.

There is no contradiction between conscience and obeisance. The soldiers refuse to define their decision as “refusal to obey an order” and prefer to call it “a dignified understanding achieved between the battalion commander and the brigade commander, who was wise enough to understand it was not worth entering into a conflict on this issue.” Soldiers are not pawns and they are not made of cast lead − especially not reservists, who are first and foremost civilians. They have influence, the power of which they are not always aware of, and regrettably they do not use it very often. In the past their maturity and life experience has spared unnecessary bloodshed. Consequently though, the army has been discouraged from calling them up en masse, lest they testify to what goes on under fire and trip up generals in their race to glory.

And indeed, here too, on the Egyptian border and after only three weeks, they were replaced by soldiers from a standing army battalion. “They do ‘hot returns’ all the time,” reports an informed reservist. “You have to ask what is happening there,” he adds. And we are indeed asking, only there isn’t anyone who is going to answer − or even anyone to ask.

Today Gilad Shalit also belongs to the reserve forces, though he is unable to report for active duty. His buddies, however, are still serving, having been demobilized, like him, three years ago. I am certain they always have Gilad in mind: He is still living in their memories.

Gilad’s grandfather, Zvi, accuses the prime minister of a cynical and cruel attitude toward the captive’s father and mother, calling the refusal to release his grandson at the stipulated price “equal to a death sentence.” This means Gilad’s buddies have no alternative but to fight even harder for his return while he still lives and breathes. If they don’t hurry, they are liable to be called upon to fire three volleys in salute and to listen to innumerable eulogies of disgrace.

Let us return to the reservists on the southern border: They also tell of a Sudanese family − men, women and children − whose entry to the base was prohibited. They sat them down in the freezing cold outside the gate. Hours passed and they were not removed. “We called the battalion and said that if within one hour they weren’t taken care of, we would contact the media to film them. Within half an hour a vehicle showed up.”

Next time you go on reserve duty, friends, tell your commanders similar things. If Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu does not show up within one hour − and Defense Minister Ehud Barak is invited to accompany him − and if he does not explain why Gilad Shalit is still an unrescued captive, why the casualty is still left bleeding on the battlefield, then you will call in the media to film Bibi, who seems to be everywhere you look but is absent precisely here. You aren’t Facebook. You are faces. It is necessary to talk to faces and you cannot be dismissed with an offhand “The government of Israel is doing everything.”

And at the end of the tour of duty, during your handover, pass the message along to those who come after you, who will be there in your stead. Only when they cry out “Gilad!” from the depths of the military service will he be saved.