The great ideological and civilizational confrontation of our time is played out, in large part, in the hearts and minds of the people of the world. Imprisoned for five years, contrary to international law in some dark hole only miles from the border of his country, Shalit’s return marks a joyful yet simultaneously painful, crucial moment in the conflict of civilization and barbarism that characterizes this millennium.
The deal which freed Shalit from the terror organization Hamas involved a lopsided trade of over 1000 Palestinian prisoners (over 400 of whom were known or convicted terrorists) for one Israeli soldier, Gilad Shalit. The world paused for just a moment it seemed when this deal was announced. Now that Shalit is back at home in Israel it remains to us to make some sense of this astounding turn of events. Though the key leadership of Israel was united in support of this prisoner swap, many critics and analysts now respond with harsh criticism. Such critics do not often attempt to understand the bitter calculus that Israel’s leaders must ply that lay behind this difficult and controversial decision.
There are now families in Israel who suffered gravely from terror attacks; they now suffer again as the perpetrators of these attacks return to Gaza to perhaps once again commit crimes against the civilians of Israel. The families affected by terrorism in Israel can only be approached with extraordinary compassion during this time which must be profoundly difficult for them.
In a larger sense, the 1000+ for 1 prisoner swap that brought Shalit back to Israel after 5 years of cruel and illegal imprisonment is a massive, much-needed moment of cognitive dissonance for the world. Israel demonstrated an astoundingly high level of compassion and bravery; trading 1000 known enemies for just one of their own. This is a demonstration of high civilization. Israel showed the world how deeply they value their own people and the painful sacrifices they will make (and have made in the past) to secure the freedom and safety of one Israeli captive. Nobody has suggested that any country or organization that opposes Israel would ever do anything similar.
Israel has shown admirable national strength and a total lack of fear. The message from Israel is that while they acknowledge the likely threat of the 1000 freed Palestinians, they do not fear it. Israel is strong enough to withstand any challenge that these 1000 or their colleagues might throw at them. This is a message of supreme confidence. There is a message of disdain, too. The 1000 for 1 trade suggests a comparative valuation between people of the opposing sides. Israel suggests that the comparative value of the enemy, even in large numbers, is minuscule in relation to only one Israeli. This is a message of defiance and self-worth.
Those who oppose Israel suggest that it is a war-mongering country with no interest in peace. Netanyahu was quite clear in his speech at the UN several weeks ago that there was nothing that Israel wanted more than peace. The 1000+ for 1 Shalit swap is sure evidence that he was speaking the truth. Israel will go to extraordinary lengths to secure peace. Their enemies do not follow the same path.
Critics suggest that the release by Israel of so many for so few will empower the terrorists and give them further motivation for kidnapping Israeli soldiers, rarely have so many owed so much to so few. The critics neglect the core point which is that terrorists and haters need no Israeli actions for their motives. The existence of Israel is their only motive. Without the Shalit swap the threat of terror continues With the Shalit swap the threat remains, but Shalit is a free man. There is no question that Israel made an incredible and possibly dangerous sacrifice in setting loose over 1000 Palestinian prisoners. Many critics and Israeli citizens are deeply troubled at what they view as an empowerment of an existential enemy.
There are so many strongly held views about this without basis. And they retain harsh and bitter feelings without cause. Too many hold to prejudices and hatreds entirely undeserved. There is a great and endless need for special moments of illumination that demonstrate for the people of the world who are the good and who are not. These special moments can shatter cognitive dissonance and bring a flash of recognition and humanity back to hardened hearts and closed minds.
When the excoriated, the maligned and hated demonstrates forgiveness, compassion, courage, fearlessness, confidence, and self-assurance, the hearts and minds of the world cannot help but be affected. The release of Gilad Shalit shatters the blackness and if, for only a moment, the truth illuminates that darkness, all the sacrifices will not have been in vain.