By Ari Bussel and Norma Zager
2,700 hundred years ago, the Prophet Jeremiah described a mother, lamenting her sons, for they were gone, and with them she had no hope for the future, for her end of days, for continuation.
It was a time of deep sorrow and mourning, describes the Prophet and says that God will turn it into immense joy and jubilation.
He promised that the mother’s sons would return to their borders from enemy land. This can be the cruelest torture of a parent, who is weeping bitterly, exasperated from sorrow and the inability to bring home one’s sons, but Jeremiah is devoid of any doubt. He comforts the mother, promising—there is reward to your actions, your sons will return.
If you are the parent of a POW or MIA soldier, how much faith is required for you to take the next breath-as you feel choking-for you to smile, even though each cell in your body wants to explode with despair? How much faith is required not to lose your sanity and continue believing in this promise, that the soldier missing or captured will be returned, alive, breathing, walking, able to talk, sane.
It is this phrase from Jeremiah 31:16 that has become so commonly recited in Israel. It is a silent promise whispered by a hurting and haunted parent. It is a vocal shout heard by one and all, young and old, religious and secular, “Right” or “Left.”
Israel is yearning for the return of her son, Gilad Shalit, held in captivity by Hamas for the past five years.
Shalit is one of six Israeli soldiers who are missing or captured, including one who is a Druze (not Jewish).
It was on June 25, 2006, that seven Hamas terrorists entered Israeli territory via a tunnel they dug from Gaza. They attacked an army base, wounded five soldiers, murdered Staff Sergeant Pavel Slutzker and Lieutenant Hanan Barak and abducted then-Corporal Gilad Shalit to the Gaza Strip. His condition (is he still alive?) and his whereabouts (Gaza, Egypt, Sudan, Iran) are unknown.
Gilad Shalit, now a Staff Sergeant in captivity, is denied even the most basic humanitarian right—a visit by the Red Cross. There is a short video of him, from two years ago, holding a newspaper, that was used for a ransom demand from Israel, but nothing else.
His family has been camping in a tent in Jerusalem outside of the Prime Minister’s residence, demanding Israel do everything it takes to bring him home.
Like the mother the Prophet Jeremiah describes, the Shalit family has done everything possible, from protest to traveling the world. Their lives are a non-stop mission, to bring their son back home. Like them, every Israeli Prime Minister has done everything in his power to bring the kidnapped soldier back home, and apparently the task is not feasible. With all its technological advances, military might and intelligence, Israel does not know where Shalit is being held.
Benjamin Netanyahu, like his predecessors, was willing to release up to 1,000 terrorists held in Israeli prisons in exchange for one Israeli soldier who was 19 when he was kidnapped. Gilad will be celebrating his 25 birthday in two months, if he is still alive; if he is still healthy, if he is still sane.
The responsibility on the Prime Minister’s shoulders is immense. It was in 1955 that David Ben Gurion said:
Let every Hebrew mother know and have faith that she handed her son to commanders who are deserving and worthy.
Except, that Hamas plays the cruelest game of all. They know Israel will stop at nothing to bring her sons back. Israel went to war in 2006 to bring back Israeli soldiers kidnapped by Hezbollah. She later released hundreds of terrorists, including those who committed most barbaric acts, in exchange for the body parts of the two soldiers. (One of those terrorists took a young child and smashed her head against a stone. Why? Because she was Jewish and Israeli.)
It was Hamas that saw how successful was the ploy of entering Israel and kidnapping Israeli soldiers. The implemented the lesson immediately, resulting in Gilad Shalit, the most successful action against Israel in recent history. So much so that Hamas advocates, trains and prepares to kidnap more Israeli soldiers.
Hamas keeps increasing its “ransom” demands, and did not bother acknowledging Netanyahu’s willingness at the beginning of this year to meet their demands almost in full.
Netanyahu’s willingness comes with a very heavy heart. Experience shows that most of the terrorists released by Israel return to commit even more heinous acts.
The terrorists, incidentally, are guaranteed success whatever happens to them. If their missions succeed, they go to their heaven where they enjoy the services of 72 virgins (I am not sure what is promised female homicide bombers, perhaps eternal servitude?). Their families receive monetary rewards and their names and photos appear in music videos, annual ceremonies and in town squares or school playgrounds.
It is a whole official “state” industry of memorializing and idolizing the terrorists.
If, however, they get caught, they are promised a vacation the likes of which they do not even enjoy in their own towns. They do not have to work for a livelihood. They get wonderful meals prepared for them. They have Internet access, televisions and radios and, yes, cell phones. They can worship at will and even study and complete their Master or Doctoral programs. They spend time in the gym or accepting visitors.
Yes, they have the time of their lives, an early retirement, even some pocket money, all compliments of Israel. It is called being held prisoner in Israel.
They know that even if there are multiple consecutive life sentences against them (there is no death penalty in Israel), they will not remain in prison for long. There will be a soldier abducted for whose release (alive or in body bags) hundreds and hundreds of them will be released, so they can go back—better educated, stronger, with even greater conviction and skills than in the past—and commit even more hideous attacks.
It took five long years and one public outcry after another for the Israeli Prime Minister to announce this week during the Israel Presidential Conference in Jerusalem that he has decided to change the policy for terrorists held in Israeli prisons. “There will not be any more students for murder and doctoral students for terror” he announced.
This was in direct response to Hamas saying it will not provide any detail of the status of the captured Israeli soldier and will not allow the Red Cross to visit him.
The Hamas Spokesperson in Gaza immediately claimed that punishment steps against the Palestinian prisoners are unjust, unjustified and a breach of international law. How comical are these people? Did they learn terrorism watching Jackie Mason on Ed Sullivan?
As with everything else today, it is Israel who is at fault for Gilad Shalit being held in captivity for five long years, 1,826 days, 43,830 hours, 2,629,800 seconds.
Imagine your loved one missing for a day, a week, or a month. Did something happen to him, you ask yourself. Will he ever come back alive? Is there anything else I can do? Is there anything I have not done already?
French President Sarkozy and German Chancellor Merkel this week called for Hamas to release Gilad Shalit, supporting Netanyahu’s call of a month ago: “The entire civilized community should join Israel and the United States and all of us in a simple demand from Hamas: Release Gilad Shalit.”
This is the time for all the human rights organizations to stand up, for American Jews to stand united, for every sane human being to leave rhetoric aside and send a simple message: LET SHALIT RETURN HOME.
Possibly Israel should change its method of operations and capture each and every Hamas leader, in Gaza, Syria, Egypt and Iran, and hold them until such time that Israel’s 24 year old Staff Sergeant is sent back home.
We return some 2,700 years back to Prophet Jeremiah’s words:
“… and they will not add to sorrow any more … So said God: A loud voice be heard, the bitter weeping of Rachel lamenting her sons. She refuses to be comforted on her sons, for HE IS NOT. So says God, avoid your voice from crying and your eyes from tearing, for there is a reward for your actions, so says the Lord, and they would return from enemy land. And there is hope for your end, so says the Lord, and SONS WILL RETURN TO THEIR BORDERS.” Jeremiah 31:11-16
May Gilad Shalit and the other five Israeli soldiers return soon, very soon, home to Israel and to those who love them.