There was something unsettling about seeing Gilad Shalit smiling and back in the arms of the family — and country — that has been awaiting his return for over five years. For those of us who have heard pleas for his release and safety in synagogue every week, who only know him from that one snapshot on posters, buttons, and websites, seeing him in the flesh felt like watching a mythical character come to life.
But Shalit was no myth. He was a mother’s son unwittingly enlisted in a terrorist group’s propaganda war. That war continues, despite his release, with bizarre claims by Hamas and its supporters that the asymmetrical deal that brought about his release was somehow just and balanced.
The BBC devoted a full half hour of its morning world TV broadcast to his release, running long segments from his interview on Egyptian state television and live coverage of PM Netanyahu’s news conference. For an Israeli’s reaction, they turned to Einat Wilf, an Israeli MK representing the Independent Party.
If the BBC thought they would hear a discouraging word from an Israeli leftist, Wilf refused to follow the script. She reminded the interviewer that there was no comparison between the Palestinian mothers awaiting the release of their prisoner sons and Shalit’s parents. The former are parents of terrorists who had no compunction about targeting civilians and children; the Shalits’ son was kept in captivity and incommunicado by infiltrators who seized Gilad in a cross-border raid (in other words, he was a noncombatant) and then flouted Red Cross conventions for the five years of his captivity.
Nothing refutes the false moral equivalence of Hamas so much as the words Wafa al-Bass, one of the freed Palestinian prisoners. Al-Bass was in prison since 2005 when, pretending to seek treatment at an Israeli hospital, she brought a suicide belt through the Erez crossing. Al-Bass told reporters this week that Palestinians should “take another Shalit” every year until all Palestinian prisoners are free.
Israel’s Right and Left divisions are deep, but partisan distinctions among Israelis have disappeared, for a short while at least, in the wake of Shalit’s release and the impossible decision their government was forced to make.