A solidarity that powers Israel

By Uri Dromi, October 19, 2011
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Bibi: tough call

Bibi: tough call

The news that, after almost six years in the hands of his Hamas kidnappers, Sgt Gilad Shalit would return home as a free man sparked a spontaneous celebration in Israel.

However, as always in our country, joy was quickly mixed with gloom.

In exchange for Shalit, Israel will release 1,000 Palestinian prisoners, some of them responsible for the deaths of hundreds of innocent Israeli citizens, slain in vicious terrorist attacks. Since the record of releasing Palestinian prisoners shows that many of them return to their macabre business of murder, the life of Shalit may have been saved but the lives of many other Israelis will now be threatened.

Indeed, while people hugged and kissed the parents of Shalit at the tent in Jerusalem, others were upset. Not far from the jubilation in the tent, Benzi Ben-Shoham was protesting against what he felt was the surrender of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to the terrorists.

Ben-Shoham had a personal stake in this painful issue: he was carrying the picture of his sister Limor, who had been killed in 2002 when a suicide bomber blew himself up next to her while she was celebrating her 27th birthday at Café Moment in Jerusalem.

It is at such moments that one is reminded how small Israel actually is. The tent of the Shalits is just few yards away from Café Moment.

Netanyahu, when he was in the opposition, used to sit with his wife, Sarah, in Café Moment. Their private home is just few steps away. Now, as Prime Minister, when his official mansion is even closer, he cuts a deal with the people who sent the suicide bomber on his mission. In Jerusalem, then, everything connects: life, terror and a government that has to lead us through these awkward deals.

Nobody envies Netanyahu today. The decision he made is contrary to everything he believed in. In the books he published and in the speeches he made, he has always been closer to the US position: zero tolerance of terror, no talks with the terrorists.

Even when looking at the way Israel dealt with terrorists who held Israeli hostages, he would certainly prefer a rescue mission: a glorious Entebbe raid rather than a 1985 Jibril swap, when 1,150 Palestinians were exchanged for three Israeli soldiers.

If there was a chance, the IDF would have tried to rescue Shalit. It seems, however, that either there was not enough intelligence about his whereabouts or the assumption was that his captors might kill him instantly when attacked. This was the case with Nachshon Waxman, an Israeli soldier held by Hamas in 1994 and killed the second the Israeli soldiers stormed in.

In the meantime, Gilad Shalit was rotting in his cave - not in Entebbe but in Gaza, close to his Israeli brothers and sisters, who couldn't rescue him. And this is the crux of the matter: Israelis are not used to this kind of helplessness. If all other options were exhausted, they reason, let's do something, anything, to save the boy.

The critics of this deal are right, and in my head I share their reservations. Hamas may be strengthened, and murderers will be left to roam free. In my heart, however, and in the heart of every Israeli, there is a renewed feeling of solidarity. We are still willing to sacrifice a lot in order to bring one of our boys home. Armed with this solidarity, we will prevail.

V The news that, after almost six years in the hands of his Hamas kidnappers, Sgt Gilad Shalit would return home as a free man sparked a spontaneous celebration in Israel.

However, as always in our country, joy was quickly mixed with gloom.

In exchange for Shalit, Israel will release 1,000 Palestinian prisoners, some of them responsible for the deaths of hundreds of innocent Israeli citizens, slain in vicious terrorist attacks. Since the record of releasing Palestinian prisoners shows that many of them return to their macabre business of murder, the life of Shalit may have been saved but the lives of many other Israelis will now be threatened.

Indeed, while people hugged and kissed the parents of Shalit at the tent in Jerusalem, others were upset. Not far from the jubilation in the tent, Benzi Ben-Shoham was protesting against what he felt was the surrender of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to the terrorists.

Ben-Shoham had a personal stake in this painful issue: he was carrying the picture of his sister Limor, who had been killed in 2002 when a suicide bomber blew himself up next to her while she was celebrating her 27th birthday at Café Moment in Jerusalem.

It is at such moments that one is reminded how small Israel actually is. The tent of the Shalits is just few yards away from Café Moment.

Netanyahu, when he was in the opposition, used to sit with his wife, Sarah, in Café Moment. Their private home is just few steps away. Now, as Prime Minister, when his official mansion is even closer, he cuts a deal with the people who sent the suicide bomber on his mission. In Jerusalem, then, everything connects: life, terror and a government that has to lead us through these awkward deals.

Nobody envies Netanyahu today. The decision he made is contrary to everything he believed in. In the books he published and in the speeches he made, he has always been closer to the US position: zero tolerance of terror, no talks with the terrorists.

Even when looking at the way Israel dealt with terrorists who held Israeli hostages, he would certainly prefer a rescue mission: a glorious Entebbe raid rather than a 1985 Jibril swap, when 1,150 Palestinians were exchanged for three Israeli soldiers.

If there was a chance, the IDF would have tried to rescue Shalit. It seems, however, that either there was not enough intelligence about his whereabouts or the assumption was that his captors might kill him instantly when attacked. This was the case with Nachshon Waxman, an Israeli soldier held by Hamas in 1994 and killed the second the Israeli soldiers stormed in.

In the meantime, Gilad Shalit was rotting in his cave - not in Entebbe but in Gaza, close to his Israeli brothers and sisters, who couldn't rescue him. And this is the crux of the matter: Israelis are not used to this kind of helplessness. If all other options were exhausted, they reason, let's do something, anything, to save the boy.

The critics of this deal are right, and in my head I share their reservations. Hamas may be strengthened, and murderers will be left to roam free. In my heart, however, and in the heart of every Israeli, there is a renewed feeling of solidarity. We are still willing to sacrifice a lot in order to bring one of our boys home. Armed with this solidarity, we will prevail.

Uri Dromi is a columnist based in Jerusalem

Last updated: 11:49am, October 19 2011