Sunday 28 June 2009

Misguided Criticism

The newspapers last week were cautiously reporting the possibility that a prisoner exchange deal may have been struck between Israel and Hamas to allow for captured Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit to be moved to Egypt. This would be the first stage of his ultimate return to Israel. Whilst Israel is denying any knowledge of this, the news is nonetheless more optimistic than it has been for some time. Along with this optimistic news is a related, and much less welcome story that has been published in a number of Israeli newspapers. The second story is one which essentially criticises the Shalit family for not having done enough to win Gilad's release. This criticism is, in my view, severely misguided.

Since his capture three years ago, Gilad Shalit's name and his image have become known and recognised by every citizen in Israel. His face has been plastered on billboards up and down the country reminding citizens that he is still alive in captivity. Stickers have been stuck on cars and T-shirts worn by schoolchildren showing the image of the captured soldier. Prayers have been said for him in synagogues throughout Israel. Many tens of meetings with government officials were held. Numerous and lengthy protests have been staged in all parts of Israel including outside the Prime Minister's residence. His parents have met with heads of state, representatives of the United Nations, the International Committee of the Red Cross and numerous other international officials who may have been able to help to influence Gilad's release. His name has not been absent from the national press for even one day. I believe that his family has acted in a concerted, yet respectful manner to ensure that nobody can forget their beloved son. And all this has been undertaken during a time of real stress and suffering for them. There are others who may have been inclined to adopt a more traditionally Israeli approach which contains heightened levels of aggression. I don't believe that this would have added anything to the efforts that this family has undertaken.

I wish to take my argument one step further. Let us assume for a moment that the criticism of the detractors was justified. What if the Shalit family had not undertaken all of the above activities in the pursuit of the release of their son? Would criticism of this fact help anybody? Whose responsibility is it to ensure that Gilad is returned alive to his family? He was captured by virtue of his service in the Israel Defence Forces, not because somebody had something against him personally. Surely, any criticism should be directed at the government and the IDF, if at all. The truth is that we really need to stand united as a nation at this difficult hour. We need to show as much support to this family as we can. There is enormous stress in suffering the report and counter-report about Gilad and the current status of the negotiations to release him. Surely now is not the time for criticism and division, but for support and unity.

In a country where national service is compulsory, and each and every boy and girl is expected to serve in the IDF, one has to remember that such a calamity could befall any family. Gilad is as much the son of each citizen of Israel, as he is the son of Noam and Aviva Shalit. Every parent with a teenage son or daughter in Israel could say "there, but for the grace of G-d, goes my child".

Now is the time for unity, and for unconditional support to this family that has suffered so much. It is our prayer that Gilad will be returned home alive and well to his family and to us soon.

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