I am writing this several days after Gilad Shalit was released, Muammar Gadhafi was killed and the Jewish people worldwide have celebrated Simchat Torah, which marks the end of Torah readings for one year and the start of Torah readings for the new year. First there was darkness, the Torah tells us, and then God said, “Let there be light.” We live in complicated times when light and darkness seem to mix.
Gilad Shalit’s release made me extremely happy. I was so excited the day of his release I stayed up all night watching the live broadcast from Israel. Seeing him walking on his own legs from the helicopter brought tears of joy to my eyes. No one could stay indifferent watching Gilad and his father, Noam, hug after Gilad’s 1,941 days in captivity. He had been denied basic human rights, such as being allowed to meet a Red Cross representative and to see the light of day.
Watching Gilad freed was a dream come true. I have never met him yet I feel as if he is a member of my family, a son or a brother. This strong feeling of solidarity, of arvut hadadit, mutual responsibility, or as we called it in the Israel Defense Forces, “One for all and all for one,” is what makes our people who we are.
The unwritten agreement between each individual and society is that we are required to risk our lives to protect Israel and our people. In return, we as a society are committed to do whatever is needed to bring a soldier safely back home.
Last week I also saw the horrible pictures of the lynching of Gadhafi by his own people. Gadhafi was a cruel and ruthless dictator; he perpetrated horrible crimes against his own people. Nevertheless, the murderous, crazy violence by the mob that attacked him seemed to be nearly inhuman. I could not avoid remembering another lynching, not of a dictator but of two innocent IDF reserve soldiers. Vadim Nurzhitz and Yossi Avrahami were brutally slaughtered by an angry Palestinian mob in Ramallah in October 2000. Their only crime was taking the wrong turn in their car, entering the area under Palestinian Authority control. I cannot understand such an extreme violent reaction. Nothing in the world could justify that level of cruelty. What kind of society will arise from such violent people? Could such violence ever lead to democracy or peace? Do we and the Palestinians really share the same values, the same perspective of the world, the same common sense?
Thinking of Gilad’s release, I noticed that a Palestinian terrorist who was part of the prisoner exchange was Aziz Salha. Salah was one of the leaders in the Ramallah lynching. He’s infamous for the photo of him raising his blood-covered hands in the window of a Palestinian police station with a proud look and a big smile on his face, showing the mob he had just slaughtered an Israeli soldier. The thought of this monster gaining his freedom is hard to bear.
Despite the pain of letting a cold-blooded murderer go free, I am proud of the Israeli government’s deal to release Gilad. It shows what it means to be one people, the Jewish people, the people of Israel, a free people in our own land. The deal to free Gilad proves our reverence for life and our respect for human rights. Seeing the huge difference between the Palestinians who were released, all well-fed with healthy appearances and Gilad who was frail and thin, clearly showed the difference in the conditions in which they were held. Welcome back to freedom Gilad, welcome back to the light of day. Welcome back home.
Guy Gelbart is Tucson’s community shaliach (Israeli emissary) and director of the Weintraub Israel Center.