Gilad with his father, Noam, and Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu. Photo: PMO/AFP/Getty Images
The deal that brought Gilad Shalit home to Israel after being held captive for five years by Hamas is well-known – more than 1,000 terrorists were released from Israeli prisons in exchange for Shalit’s freedom. By any calculation, common wisdom has it, it is a terrible price to pay for a nation which has no doubt that at least some of those released will attempt to kill again. It is a horrific price for the survivors of those who were killed by these people’s hands.
So why did Israel agree to this deal?
I know nothing of the inner diplomatic machinations that brought this deal about. But I believe that what was deemed to have mattered most was something far more basic: the love of parents for their son.
Noam and Aviva Shalit worked tirelessly for their son’s release from captivity, even while they were obviously tortured by his absence. But in thinking about the dilemma posed to them and the state of Israel by the conditions for Shalit’s release, I had to reflect on two things: our recent prayers on Yom Kippur, and the laws of our hearts as parents.
At the end of Yom Kippur, we chant the Avinu Malkeinu: “Our Father, Our King,” and implore God to have mercy on us. The title of the prayer reveals much about the Jewish people. In saying Avinu Malkeinu, we’re not just composing a fancy salutation to ingratiate ourselves. God is our King, but in the very first word out of our mouths, we appeal to him not as our ruler, but first, as our father. A parent, the prayer suggests, would and should have more compassion on someone than would an emotionally-removed king. A king’s loyalty is to rules and hierarchy; a parent’s hierarchy, however, is one of the heart.
As a parent, we can never be completely emotionally detached when it comes to our children. We know that we can’t, and we don’t want to be – the depth of our love is testament to our depth as people. Our love makes us human. As parents, we would do anything to get our children back if they were forcibly taken from us. Anything – however odious or illogical. Love triumphs over reason, and mercy over justice.
The state of Israel became that parent to Gilad Shalit. Israel has a long-standing policy of never leaving one of its own behind, to the point of even negotiating to retrieve corpses of its soldiers from behind enemy lines. Shalit’s own parents, Noam and Aviva Shalit, insured that Israel would become a third parent to their child. They sat outside in a tent, not allowing them or their son to be forgotten. They showed Gilad as they knew him – not only as a person and soldier, but as a brother and son. Shalit is a man – but to parents, he was their son and child. To them, he was priceless.
And at the end, the state of Israel became a parent rather than a king. Israel opted for mercy rather than justice. Most would acknowledge, whether in public or private, that justice was remarkably ill-served in this bargain. Hamas was allowed to bargain with the life of an Israeli, and to bargain successfully, with no punishment or sanction for having kidnapped a man for five years. People who were found to have helped murder civilians were released from prison to victory parades in Palestinian streets. It was not fair.
But today’s truth lies in the embrace of parents getting their child back from the jaws of an unimaginable fate.
Gilad Shalit is home.