Gilad Shalit: A Meditation on the Return of "The 1"
Chertok, Haim, Midstream
In Arad, the small city in the northern Negev where I've lived since 2008, the posters were taken down the very day after Gilad Shalit's release. For nearly four years, the greater part of his ordeal of incarceration and isolation, I passed the two outsized posters three or four times a week They hung on fences at either end of Arad's ORT High School. They had been displayed strategically the better to catch of eye of street traffic and passersby. Depicted on a field of blue and white was a stylized portrait of a boyish face. The only other prominent detail was an unfurled Israeli flag. The caption read "Gilad Adaiyin Chai"--Gilad Is Still Alive--and, in smaller letters, "www.gilad.org." Identical banners were fastened outside of Arad's junior high school and, indeed, outside of junior and senior high schools, at prominent roadside intersections, at shopping malls mad comparable public interfaces throughout the land. Nowhere were they more dramatically placed than those opposite the Prime Minister's residence in Jerusalem where Gilad's parents, Noam and Aviva Shalit, abandoning their family home in a village near the Lebanese border, had been living in all weather, in all seasons in a protest tent outside the Prime Minister's residence in Jerusalem for fifteen months. Nothing about the visual image announced that the young man was a soldier. That surely was intentional. Gilad was visually depicted as an iconic Israeli youngster, an innocent son of Israel who had been thrust into the lion's den but, lest it had for the moment slipped through our minds, was not dead ... not yet.
Behind that blue visage there loomed a veritable palimpsest of earlier poster portraits of our sons, of other ghostly faces. Staff Sergeants Zecharya Baumel, Zvi Feldman, and Yehuda Katz, all missing in action in a battle at Sultan Yakoub in the First Lebanon War--my war--in 1982; Major Ron Arad, captured in 1986 when his plane was downed over Lebanon; Guy Hever, abducted from his base on the Golan Heights in 1997; Druse soldier Majdy Halabi, last seen at a hitchhiking stop on the Golan in 2005. Then there were Ehud Goldwasser and Eldad Regev, Israeli reservists abducted near the Lebanese border in 2006. Few retain sober expectations that any of these MIAs, at least not in this world, will ever smile or embrace his family again. Nevertheless, this lost platoon still exercises a potent, lively presence in the Israeli imagination. They represent false hopes and illusions, perhaps a failure of imagination, almost surely lost opportunities.
And then there is 19-year Nachshon Wachsman, an Israeli soldier kidnapped in 1994 by a Hamas cell operating in central Israel and then imprisoned in a Palestinian village, one under Israeli control not more than fifteen minutes from Jerusalem. Wachsman was killed in the course of a failed rescue attempt. If the IDF could not liberate a young soldier from captivity when they knew exactly where he was located within terrain where they enjoyed total freedom of movement, what chance of success could there possibly be for an operation to extricate Gilad Shalit alive from Gaza?
Indeed, the last time Jewish captives were returned home with breath in their bodies was a year before Gilad Shalit was born. In May of 1985, in exchange for 1,150 Palestinian prisoners, none of them, at least technically, murderers, three Israeli soldiers were liberated. At the time it seemed a staggeringly disproportionate price to pay. After all, just a year earlier, for 291 soldiers, thirteen civilians, and 74 soldiers' bodies were recovered. Nevertheless, compared to what came after, these earlier exchanges looked like terrific bargains. The most recent previous exchange deal, prior to this past October, returned home six Lebanese terrorists and 200 bodies. That was in July of 2008. In return, we received the corpses of two Israeli soldiers. Four years earlier, Israel yielded 430 Palestinian prisoners and sixty bodies in return for one civilian mad three of our dead soldiers. …