On Oct. 18, 2011 Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit returned home, after being held prisoner in Gaza by the terrorist organization Hamas, for five and a half years. Since 2006, Israelis and Jews around the globe campaigned for his release. The number of prisoners Hamas wanted in exchange was far more than I thought was logical and fair. Then someone asked me, “What if he were your son, or your brother? Would you make the deal then?” From that day on, my decision was made, and Gilad Shalit became my brother.
This summer, I visited the tent his parents set up in Jerusalem, protesting their son’s imprisonment. It was such a moving and emotional sight. Noam, Gilad’s father, was sitting in the tent. I stood there trying to find the appropriate words to say, but none came to me. After all, how many times can one handle the words “I’m sorry” duringr the course of five years? Yellow ribbons and stickers saying “Gilad is still alive!” could be seen all over the country showing the nation’s solidarity. It was beautiful to see a people unite, and fight for someone most had never even met. Unfortunately, we live in a reality that any one of us could have been in Gilad’s place.
During the years, Gilad became more than a brother, or a son, he became a symbol for a country that has long sought peace. Finally, it was decided by an overwhelming majority that Gilad would be returned in exchange for 1,027 Palestinian prisoners being held in Israeli jails. To make the situation more complex, these were not your every day offenders. They were people who were to serve multiple life terms for murdering multiple Israeli civilians. It doesn’t sound right, exchanging 1,027 prisoners for one innocent man, does it? Nonetheless, the deal was executed.
So what can we learn from something like this in a time where peace is needed now more than ever? First, it shows just how much Israel values human life. Next, for such a small country who is constantly living under threats, it shows just how far Israel is willing to go to achieve a true and lasting peace with the Palestinians. In an interview on Egyptian television after his release, Gilad said, “I hope this deal helps achieve peace between both sides, Israel and the Palestinians.”
I have made it my obligation to work toward peace between the two peoples. Like Gilad, I hope that this will open the door for effective peace talks, and not the door to more terror. Seeing Gilad step out of the car and into the sunlight for the first time in over five years filled me with a hope I longed for for so long. I could not help but cry knowing he was alive. After a long period of uncertainty, I felt a happiness that is simply unable to be put into words. This day was nothing short of a miracle, and I am so thankful that I can say, my brother, you are finally free, welcome home!
Vice President of Israel Programming
Hillel at Temple University