On June 25, 2006, Hamas terrorists tunneled under the Gaza border and attacked a small Israeli Defense Force post. They killed two of the Israeli troops and kidnapped a third, 19-year-old Corporal Gilad Shalit.
Shalit spent the next five years in captivity, while the Israeli government tried to secure his release with both diplomacy and commando raids. The IDF went as far as buzzing one of Bashar Assad’s palaces with fighter jets, on the grounds that the Syrian dictator was a patron of Hamas. They might have succeeded in rattling Assad’s cage, but unfortunately it wasn’t enough to unlock Shalit’s cage.
Shalit was held in flagrant violation of those international laws you hear so much about, when the topic is Guantanamo Bay. He was held incommunicado, and denied access to the Red Cross. It’s been several years since Hamas released the last video evidence that their captive was still alive.
A prisoner exchange was finally arranged, and today Gilad Shalit finally returned home as a sergeant, after being promoted twice while in captivity. He’s five years older and many pounds lighter, as reported in the Washington Post:
Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit returned to Israel Tuesday morning after five years of captivity in the Gaza Strip, gaunt and frail-looking but apparently healthy.
His release by the militant Palestinian group Hamas launched a prisoner swap that ultimately will include the release of 1,027 Palestinian prisoners from Israeli jails. A total of 477 prisoners were freed Tuesday, after Shalit was returned to Israel.
Although Israelis are nervous about releasing so many terrorists, Fox News reports that polls show deep public support for the deal that secured Shalit’s release:
A poll published Monday showed an overwhelming majority of Israelis — 79 percent — supporting the deal. Only 14 percent were opposed.
The poll was carried out by the Dahaf Institute and published in the daily Yediot Ahronot. Pollsters interviewed 500 respondents, and the margin of error was 4.4 percentage points.
The BBC reports that Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who met with Shalit upon his return, is keenly aware of the “heavy, very high” price Israel has paid:
BBC Middle East editor Jeremy Bowen says Israelis who send their children to the country’s conscript army identify strongly with the Shalit family’s pain.
However, our correspondent adds, Israel has paid a high price for Sgt Shalit’s freedom.
Many of the Palestinians being released were serving life for killing Israelis with bombs and bullets.
Mr Netanyahu wrote a letter, released by his office, to bereaved Israeli families telling them: “I understand the difficulty in accepting that the vile people who committed the heinous crimes against your loved ones will not pay the full price they deserve.”
The Washington Post adds that Netanyahu told the families of terror victims, “Numerous misgivings accompanied me throughout the negotiations,” and “You were always in my thoughts.” Shalit’s father had to argue for his release at the Israeli Supreme Court, after bereaved families filed motions to block the release of those who murdered their loved ones.
There are no such reservations weighing upon the minds of Palestinians, as the Post reports on the “triumphant reception” given to the first batch of freed terrorists:
The first busloads of released Palestinians, including women, crossed the border into Egypt around the same time Shalit was handed over to the Israelis. The Palestinians were taken to Gaza and the West Bank, where jubilant crowds awaited them, and to a few other locations.
In Gaza, buses transporting the freed prisoners arrived around midday. Crowds of Hamas fighters, including some of the men who kidnapped Shalit in 2006, were among the well-wishers. Relatives swarmed over the buses looking for their loved ones.
In the West Bank, Palestinian youths clashed briefly with Israeli troops after a misunderstanding about where the prisoners would be dropped off. Relatives had been expecting the freed inmates to arrive at the Bitunyah crossing, but they were instead taken to the Mukatah, the headquarters of Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas’s government in Ramallah.
“The issue of prisoners has always been in our minds and our hearts,” Abbas told the prisoners during a crowded and jubilant welcoming ceremony.
Hamas leaders have billed the swap as a failure for Israel and have said it will embolden the movement’s will to end what it calls the occupation of Palestinian land. Israeli leaders have said they reached the best deal they could.
(Emphasis mine.) You might think this is hard to square with the Palestinian apologists’ portrayal of their favorite terror organizations as thoughtful and reliable partners in peace who can do a splendid job of running a orderly state carved from Israel’s kidneys… but you’d be underestimating the ability of those apologists to serenely ignore everything the Palestinians actually do and say.
This was a tough decision for Israel, but they did the right thing. Let the barbarians talk about how much they love death, and turn their children into suicide bombs. Civilized people know that every life matters. Everyone who dons a uniform to stand in harm’s way deserves the love and loyalty of the innocent people they defend. The world can always use another pointed reminder that a functioning democracy is a thousand times better than a murder cult pretending to be a government.