Gilad deserves better than this

By Chas Newkey-Burden, April 5, 2013
Follow The JC on Twitter

When details of Gilad Shalit's conversations with military investigators were published last week, a vocal minority criticised him. One Israeli commentator even called for Gilad to stand trial for "negligence". I was disappointed but not surprised by these responses. During the years I spent campaigning for Gilad's freedom, I encountered relentless negativity from some friends of Israel.

I was told that campaigning was futile, as Hamas would never release Gilad, except in a coffin. When the wonderful day came that he walked free, the doom-merchants changed tack, telling me that Hamas would have tortured him daily for five years, so he would be "as good as dead".

Whenever I questioned these claims, I was told I was hopelessly naïve. "You don't get it," they told me, employing the condescending catch-phrase so beloved of the more cultish members of our movement. Thank goodness enough of us did "get it" and never gave up.

Since the fuller account of Gilad Shalit's experiences has emerged, some say he was too weak or passive on the day of his kidnap. It's easy to criticise from afar, isn't it? None of us can know how we would have reacted. These armchair heroes remind me of the fat old men you see at football matches, who wheezingly berate the young athletes on the field.

They would almost have preferred tales of brutality

Uglier still was the palpable sense of disappointment at Gilad's revelation that he was not tortured, other than "slight annoyances" in the first days. So caught-up are some in the quest for anti-Hamas propaganda that they would almost have preferred tales of brutality. Gilad is merely a pawn in the political cause of such Israel "supporters"- just as he was for Hamas. It's very sad when people on both sides place ideology ahead of humanity.

Many missed the real revelation of the story: Gilad Shalit's commendable honesty. He could have claimed convincingly to have forgotten the circumstances of his abduction, or presented a more flattering account. Instead, he told the story in all its uncomfortable truth. This speaks volumes for his character.

I was already familiar with his admirable character, as I spent a day with him earlier this year. We had tea with his family and then strolled between London landmarks.

He is a sensitive, kind and observant young man, aware of and grateful for the enormous efforts so many made on his behalf. It was wonderfully surreal to walk down London's South Bank, discussing European football with the man who was for so long a hostage, a face on thousands of leaflets and news bulletins. How surreal freedom must be for him.

The deal for his release came with a price: more than 1,000 prisoners were set free. Although I was in favour of the exchange, I understand the perspective of the people who opposed it. It would be good if those who continue to feel bitterness over the deal could move on and leave their resentment behind, or at least channel it towards those who struck the deal, rather than at Shalit himself, who had no part in the negotiations.

So he didn't act like an ice-cool Spartan on the day of his capture? These things happen when you push everyone into national service. Even the bravest of IDF troops are not guaranteed reward or respect, as the Mavi Marmara commandos discovered last week when Netanyahu sold them out with his apology to Turkey.

Israeli soldiers are criticised enough by opponents of the Jewish state. Friends of Israel should not be adding unwarranted judgments of their own.

Chas Newkey-Burden is an author and journalist. He blogs at oyvagoy.com

    Last updated: 10:45am, April 5 2013