Jewish groups worldwide congratulated Israel and the Egyptian and German mediators Tuesday for safely bringing home Israel Defense Forces soldier Gilad Shalit after 1,940 days in captivity.
While they said Shalit's return was reason for celebration, the groups emphasized the bitter-sweet nature of the Israeli-Hamas prisoner exchange agreement that will see the release of 1,027 prisoners in return for Shalit.
AJC Executive Director David Harris thanked the Egyptian and German mediators Tuesday, and commended Netanyahu and his Cabinet on making "one of the most difficult and heart-wrenching decisions ever faced by a political leader."
“Israel made a decision of extraordinary nobility, choosing to risk future dangers at the hands of an implacable enemy to save one human life today. Jewish tradition teaches that 'He who saves one life has saved the world," said Harris.
Harris acknowledged the risk involved with exchanging Shalit for more than 1,000 convicted prisoners, but commended the Israeli government for taking an action that "speaks to the highest values embodied by the Jewish State."
"Although the coming days will inevitably witness grotesque celebrations, as murderers return to joyous mobs in the West Bank and Gaza, we will also witness scenes of a relieved Israeli public that would not rest until their son, Gilad Shalit - and he was viewed as the collective son of Israeli society - was freed. The juxtaposition of these respective images will speak volumes," he said.
B'nai B'rith International also welcomed Shalit home on Tuesday, saying his release was long overdue and deserves to be celebrated, but expressed outrage over the conditions of the IDF soldier's captivity.
“The terrorist group Hamas ignored all international entreaties for proof of Shalit’s wellbeing over the years. The group should not be praised for this much belated and cynical action,” said B’nai B’rith International President Allan J. Jacobs.
B’nai B’rith had initiated a petition to the International Committee of the Red Cross, urging the committee to press for visits with Shalit. But Hamas, defying all international laws, refused to allow the ICRC, or any other group, to visit the soldier during his captivity.
Jacobs said that although Shalit's safe return is reason for celebration, it is important to point out that Hamas released him "only when it was politically advantageous to them.”
"The released terrorists are being met with celebrations in Gaza and the West Bank. The continued call for Israel's destruction by Hamas, and the failure of the Palestinian Authority to educate its population for peace, speaks volumes about the challenges Israel has, and is facing, as it seeks to live in peace," Jacobs said.
The European Jewish Congress (EJC) thanked European leaders for their help in Shalit's release.
"The German mediator Gerhard Konrad was obviously instrumental in securing the deal for Shalit's release and the German government deserves our gratitude for this important assistance," EJC President Dr. Moshe Kantor said.
"Moreover, the strong messages of support from various European governments, specifically the French and the Italian, for the release of the Israeli soldier were important morally and kept the issue on the front burner in European capitals during these five long years."
Kantor took the opportunity to call on European officials "to use all their influence to promote those who seek peace and reject all those oppose it."
The World Jewish Congress (WJC) praised Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu for his "brave decision" to sign the deal with Hamas, and complimented Egyptian and German mediation that led to the deal eventually being sealed.
“Despite the enormously painful price that only Israel would consider paying, Jewish communities across the globe stand side by side with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his cabinet’s decision, and they salute Noam and Aviva Shalit [the soldier's parents] for their courage," said WJC President Ronald Lauder. "Their relentless struggle has finally paid off.”
“Prime Minister Netanyahu deserves much credit for taking a brave decision. Despite the heavy price that Israel will pay to Hamas, it was right to conclude the deal,” Lauder said, adding that “Hamas fights for the well-being of terrorists much more that it fights for the well-being of ordinary citizens.”
The WJC highlighted the "substantial" risk involved with returning hundreds of Palestinian prisoners, "including many directly involved in some of the worst terrorist attacks in Israel’s history," to Gaza and the West Bank, and called upon the world community to support Israel in inspecting potential arms shipments from Iran and elsewhere attempting to supply Hamas with advanced weaponry.
Jerry Silverman, President and CEO of the Jewish Federations of North America rejoiced over the release of Shalit, saying that the North American Jewish community had been hoping and praying for his freedom and return.
“From my own personal meetings with the Shalit family in the tent where they anxiously awaited this day, I am elated that they will be reunited with their son and mourn for the other Israeli families that have paid a painful price in this conflict,” he added.
The Jewish Council for Public Affairs also commended the return of Shalit on Tuesday, saying that while the nature of his release is complicated, the release of Palestinian prisoners in exchange for his freedom was a courageous decision by Israeli leaders.
In a joint statement, JCPA President Rabbi Steve Gutow and Chair Dr. Conrad Giles said: “Today’s exchange marks the end of a painful episode for Israel. We wish Gilad, his family, and all Israelis, peace and pray that this will be an opportunity for new beginnings.”
New Israel Fund CEO Daniel Sokatch called the release of Shalit a historic day for the people of Israel on Tuesday, saying that the NIF joins with all of Israel to celebrate his freedom.
Sokatch lauded the tens of thousands of Israelis, led by Shalit’s parents Noam and Aviva, who tirelessly worked to secure his release. “Their actions demonstrate that mutual responsibility remains a core value of Israeli society,” he said, adding “today, we all join together to welcome one of Israel’s sons home.”
The Anti-Defamation League celebrated Shalit’s return, while sharing in the sorrow of families that lost loved ones at the hands of prisoners that were freed in exchange for the captive soldier’s release.
“Our joy is tempered with the sober recognition that there are hundreds of Israeli families who lost loved ones at the hands of the Palestinian terrorists released from Israeli prisons as part of the agreement for Shalit’s release,” Robert G. Sugarman, ADL National Chair and Abraham H. Foxman, National Director said in a statement.
“The images of Palestinians celebrating the release of terrorists from Israeli prisons – many with blood on their hands – are painful,” the statement added.
Sugarman and Foxman emphasized that Shalit’s safe return home is a demonstration of some of Israel’s most inspiring qualities: “its embrace of life, its sense of community and family; its tenacity; and the great lengths to which Israel is prepared to go to fulfill its commitment to the men and women who make up its citizen army”.
The leaders of the Union of Reform Judaism, the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism and ARZA received the news of Shalit’s return joyously as well.
“The vigil that the Shalit family, the Israeli people, and the Jewish community worldwide have kept for all these years, praying and hoping for Gilad's safe return, now comes to an end,” a joint statement said on Tuesday, saying that his homecoming is indicative of the high regard Israel has for each IDF soldier’s life.
“Gilad's release brings to a close this painful chapter in Israeli history. We call on Hamas and Islamic Jihad to renounce violence so that no family ever again knows the pain of the Shalits or the horror of terror,” the statement said.
Jewish Voice for Peace welcomed the return of Shalit, saying that the deal that secured his release proves that the group’s call for Israel to talk with Hamas valid. The group also commended the release of Palestinian prisoners in exchange for the return of Shalit, lamenting the fact that approximately 20% of the Palestinian population has been imprisoned at some time.
The Jewish rights group then went on to slam Israel for holding Palestinian prisoners in inhumane living conditions, saying that it supports the 2,000 prisoners currently on hunger strike demanding humane treatment.
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