News that a deal has been reached to free Gilad Shalit sparked cries of joy throughout the Jewish world this week. We applaud the Israeli government for making a tortuous decision and we fervently pray that he arrives home safely and soon so the healing process can begin and the anguish and torment that has engulfed his family will come to a speedy end.
For five years, Shalit's parents and supporters have worked relentlessly to pressure the Israeli government to negotiate for his release. He became a symbol for the entire Israeli nation and the Jewish people. Children and adults alike rallied to his cause, wearing "Free Gilad Shalit" T-shirts and bracelets, petitioning international lawmakers and diplomats, visiting his parents who were encamped across from the prime minister's residence in Jerusalem.
For much of this time, no one knew for sure if Shalit, who turned 25 over the summer, was even alive. Hamas, the terrorist organization that abducted him in a 2006 cross-border raid, did not even permit a visit by the International Red Cross.
Israel has long faced a quandary in negotiating for the release of captive soldiers: Do you bring your native sons home at any cost or does negotiating with your enemy — and in this case, reportedly agreeing to release 1,000 prisoners, many of whom have blood on their hands — only encourage more abductions?
Israel has always said it cannot abandon its soldiers; it's a guiding principle of the Israeli Defense Forces. Still, as Israel engaged in on-again/off-again negotiations mediated by the Germans and Egyptians over the years, there was, as Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu put it this week, "great tension between bringing Shalit home" and "maintaining the security of Israeli citizens."
The deal he signed, he said this week, "expresses the right balance between all of these considerations."
"I do not wish to hide the truth from you — it is a very difficult decision. I feel for the families of victims of terror, I appreciate their suffering and distress, I am one of them. But leadership must be examined at moments such as this, being able to make difficult, but right, decisions."
Debate over the terms and costs will likely ensue, and we will all cringe as the Palestinians rejoice, claiming victory in a deal that will return murderers to their midst.
Still, we can't think of a better time for such news than the Sukkot holiday. What could be more joyous than watching the Shalits tear down their tent and erect instead a sukkah of freedom? What better way to celebrate his impending return than with a fragile hut that reminds us of the shelter provided for the ancient Israelites on their path toward the Promised Land? The path for Gilad Shalit, too, is certain to be a fragile one. We wish him godspeed on his journey toward home and healing.