Zvi Bar'el / Barak Acting as if Shalit Just an Embarrassment

Israel's Spartacus castigates weaklings who blink at Qassams and quail at the thought of military cemeteries.

"The state cannot ensure your well-being, your life, or that you won't be captured as a soldier. You are going into the army to fight. This is not Western Europe. Here, only those who do not blink in the face of Qassam rockets, abductions and military cemeteries will survive."

What prose, what poetry. One hopes that quick-thinking master sergeants have already ordered their soldiers, the potential fatalities and abductees of the Israel Defense Forces, to hang these words in big, blue bold print on the mess hall walls, next to - preferably, instead of - such gems as "Tough in training, easy in battle" and "Let every Jewish mother know" [that the fate of her sons is in the hands of worthy commanders]. The author's name could be given in parentheses. Barak, Ehud. This well-fed man of awe-inspiring talents who still cannot grasp how it is that the public does not really believe him, did not follow him or view him as a leader, this man now spouts penny philosophy to a high-school student. The Israeli Spartacus is castigating the weakling subjects who blink at Qassams and quail at the thought of military cemeteries.

"The time has come to say bluntly, "Combat troops and soldiers arrive with the knowledge that the task of fulfilling their missions entails a willingness to risk their lives," he continued with his poetry the following day. It is as if we really were born in another country altogether. As if military cemeteries are not filled with thousands of bodies of fallen soldiers who knew they were going to risk, and sacrifice, their lives. As if Israeli soldiers are the only ones who know how to die in battle. Indeed, "Europeans and Western Europeans" as well as Americans are killed in wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, while English-speaking soldiers are also abducted. Yet no other defense minister censured his fellow citizens, no other leader reminded his soldiers that they must die with honor and should not embarrass cabinet ministers.

"When did Arab governments organize mass demonstrations to press for the release of Arab captives, or to win the release of some of the citizens who are jailed in prisons around the world?" Arab journalist Faisal al-Qassem of Al Jazeera asked in the summer of 2008. "Has anyone heard of any Arab state rallying to the cause of freeing a prisoner from the ghastly Guantanamo Bay facility? Of course not. Arab states are as silent as the grave."

The public and government-led campaign for the release of Gilad Shalit fired his imagination and roused his fury against Arab leaders. Yet now he can rest assured. Barak is joining a long list of leaders in the region, a part of the world that is not "Europe or Western Europe," in which an abducted soldier is nothing but a nuisance.

Gilad Shalit also knew that he could die in battle. But he did not know that were he to remain alive and be captured and tortured, he would become a huge problem in the eyes of Barak, the leader of a public chorus of whining, responsible for crushing the proud backbone of the Jewish nation. This is because he does not live up to the cruel ethos of "victory or death." He's just a captive soldier.

"A worthy price," is the term coined by Barak in naming his price for the abducted soldier. "Worthy" for whom and for what? For the government's saving face? The prestige of the state? Worthy in the eyes of Shalit's parents and the thousands of soldiers serving in the IDF now and in the future? Was the launching of Operation Cast Lead, which failed to bring Shalit home, also a worthy price? What about the brutal siege against 1.5 million Gazans, that did not eliminate the necessity of negotiating with Hamas? Is that also a "worthy price"? After all, we are not in the early stages of the negotiations, when questions over the release of terrorists with blood on their hands are inexplicably debated. We know very well the asking price, even if it does not meet Barak's approval.

The only thing remaining is prestige; can we portray the deal as a victory? For this, Shalit continues to languish in a pit. For this, Barak, our educator and teacher, sternly lectures the public.

"Gilad's army of friends" is not a public relations gimmick. It is an expression of the outcry of a public that knows the government cannot guarantee the lives of all its soldiers or citizens. Yet the public is not ready to sit idly by as a living soldier waits for three years while the tender issued on his life reaches "the worthy price."