Setting Captives Free
It was with a sense of great relief that most Israelis, and Israel lovers around the world, greeted the news that Sgt. Gilad Shalit, missing since he was kidnapped by Hamas militants in 2006, was finally returned to his family, and to the state that had assiduously sought his release for the last half-decade.
Israel has long paid tribute to its own extreme dedication to protecting its own soldiers, and in paying the price of freeing one thousand jailed Palestinians, including many convicted of murdering Israelis, the country has proved once more its profound commitment to preserving its soldiers’ well-being at all costs. Shalit’s had been a terrible absence in Israeli life, gnawing at the country’s conscience and plaguing its political class, who seemed powerless to effect any change in their missing soldier’s circumstances. By finally reaching an agreement with Hamas, their sworn enemies in Gaza, Netanyahu’s government has achieved a coup of political theater and providing a deeply satisfactory conclusion to an ongoing national crisis.
The irony, of course, is that in reaffirming its life-protecting philosophy, preserving the significance of a single human life, Israel has likely confirmed that yet more of its citizens will be killed. The swap has a future component that has yet to be fulfilled, and the merits of Shalit’s release will remain partially unknown until some years have passed, and the released criminals either integrate peacefully into Palestinian life or commit further crimes. Nonetheless, every society retains certain values that it chooses to maintain above all, even at the potential price of future uncertainty or insecurity. Israel has chosen today to protect its citizens above all, and for that belief in the value of a single human life, it is to be lauded. What it may cost, though, remains unknown.