Free(d) Gilad Shalit

I have been seeing posters about Gilad Shalit for years.  Nearly 6 of them.  There are websites that enumerate the number of days he’d been held in captivity.  There are banners for your web page and bracelets for your wrist and billboards near the UN that put out the call “Free Gilad Shalit.”  Since the people publishing those things tended to be on the right side of the political spectrum, often “Israel’s right and everybody else is a danger to us,” I assumed they would be overjoyed when he was finally freed, as he has been this week.

Instead I’m discovering that there’s a lot of controversy about the release of over 1,000 Palestinian prisoners, many of whom have blood on their hands, in exchange for his release.  Some Jews are condemning it outright as a capitulation and a terrible precedent to set.

Which it may be.  I don’t know what will happen, and neither do they.

But it feels a bit disingenuous.  Was Gilad Shalit as a symbol of Hamas inhumanity more useful than Gilad Shalit alive and at home?  It’s a cynical view, I know, but it did occur to me.

For me this has been an opportunity to affirm that Palestinians also have mothers and fathers who will be overjoyed to see their sons and daughters again.  Those parents and children are also created בצלם אלהים/B’tselem Elohim, in God’s image — even when they are not behaving like it.  Even the one who was responsible for planning the reprehensible attack on a Passover seder in Netanya in 2002, who was released by Israel this week.

What’s fascinating is that only in HaArets, Israel’s left-leaning daily paper, have I found reference to Palestinian outrage that some of the biggest “names” among Palestinians were not included in the deal.

Responding to Palestinian disapproving voices, Hamas officials said that the group was not even able to secure the release of some of its own top prisoners – such as Abdullah Barghouti and Hassan Salameh – having realized that an insistence on their release would kill any chances for a deal to be reached.

This is comforting.  As much as they got, they didn’t get everything they wanted either.  I think that’s the definition of successful negotiation.  As someone once said about Jews from multiple backgrounds meeting at Hillel on campus, “If anybody gets everything they want then something is out of whack.”  (Perhaps Yitz Greenberg or someone else from CLAL?)  There’s more suggestions that Hamas agreed to this deal under pressure here.  (Also a picture of Palestinian mothers or wives or aunts or grandmothers awaiting the return home of their relative.)  Interesting idea: Israel has released prisoners prior to this.  That didn’t procure the desired release.  This deal, brokered by the new Egypt, did.

פדיון שבויים/Pidyon shevuyim “Redeeming the captives” is one of the 613 מצות/mitzvot Jewish commandments, or religious obligations.  It’s not one we have the literal opportunity to carry out often.  But in our history of redeeming captives, ransom has always been required.  Paying off kidnappers and extortionists does put others in danger.  No question.  But we do it.  We couldn’t live with ourselves otherwise.

Still.  Call me naive.  It never occurred to me that the strident Jewish voices calling for Shalit’s release would be angry when it happened.  What did they think, that Hamas was going to do it out of the goodness of their heart?

The irony is that Israelis overwhelmingly back the deal.  See this blog from the Daily Forward with links to many other sources.  Not everybody supports it, particularly the parents and families of Israelis killed in attacks orchestrated by Palestinians just released from prison.  But way Israelis support the swap than American Jews do, I’ll bet. (Not unusual, for the Diaspora community to be more hawkish than the homeland.  Consider Irish Americans and the IRA.  Sorry I don’t have a link about it off-hand.)

This Shabbat we begin reading the Torah all over again.  The Haftarah for this week, from Isaiah, imagines God has having permitted Israel to be taken captive as a consequence for bad behavior (typical biblical theology), and details the “prisoner exchange” that will now free them.  If it’s good enough for God to do, and it’s one of our מצות/mitzvot religious obligations, then I think we — Israel — did the right thing.

Isaiah Chapter 42

5 Thus said God the Lord,
Who created the heavens and stretched them out,
Who spread out the earth and what it brings forth,
Who gave breath to the people upon it
And life to those who walk thereon:
6 I the Lord, in My grace, have summoned you,
And I have grasped you by the hand.
I created you, and appointed you
A covenant people, a light of nations —
7 Opening eyes deprived of light,
Rescuing prisoners from confinement,
From the dungeon those who sit in darkness.

22 Yet it is a people plundered and despoiled:
All of them are trapped in holes,
Imprisoned in dungeons.
They are given over to plunder, with none to rescue them;
To despoilment, with none to say “Give back!”
23 If only you would listen to this,
Attend and give heed from now on!
24 Who was it gave Jacob over to despoilment
And Israel to plunderers?
Surely, the Lord against whom they sinned
In whose ways they would not walk
And whose Teaching they would not obey.
25 So He poured out wrath upon them,
His anger and the fury of war.
It blazed upon them all about, but they heeded not;
It burned among them, but they gave it no thought.

Isaiah Chapter 43

1 But now thus said the Lord —
Who created you, O Jacob,
Who formed you, O Israel:
Fear not, for I will redeem you;
I have singled you out by name,
You are Mine.
2 When you pass through water,
I will be with you;
Through streams,
They shall not overwhelm you.
When you walk through fire,
You shall not be scorched;
Through flame,
It shall not burn you.
3 For I the Lord am your God,
The Holy One of Israel, your Savior.
I give Egypt as a ransom for you,
Ethiopia and Saba in exchange for you.
4 Because you are precious to Me,
And honored, and I love you,
I give men in exchange for you
And peoples in your stead.