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Joint Agonies, Joint Enemies

By Paula Stern
7/31/2009, 12:00 AM
One of the things I have noticed since becoming a soldier's mother is the increased sensitivity to all things military. Names of Arab towns flash across the news and my ears hear the names and think of their location in terms of where my son is serving. Another heightened sensitivity is the ever-present fears all mother face - of injury, of capture, of worse. And so, as much as I have always been concerned and worried about Ron Arad and even the three soldiers captured by Hizbollah years ago, the more recent kidnappings of Gilad Shalit, Eldad Regev and Ehud Goldwasser was a nightmare more real because for the first time, I too had a soldier.

Elie was inducted into the army less than a year after Gilad was kidnapped. By the time Ehud and Eldad came home in coffins, Elie was already serving on the Lebanese border. Imagining the horror and pain of their families took little imagination.

As Elie has gone through the military these past two years, Gilad has remained a captive of Hamas, denied the protection of international law, which required Hamas to allow representatives of the Red Cross (at least) to see Gilad. News came recently of an American soldier kidnapped in Afghanistan and I wondered if America would now understand our joint agonies, as we face joint enemies.

Bowe R. Bergdahl was serving with an Alaska-based infantry regiment earlier this month when he vanished, just five months after arriving in Afghanistan. He's now been held over one month by Taliban extremists. Bowe comes from Idaho and is only 23-years-old.

Gilad Shalit, aged 19, was kidnapped from Israeli soil as part of an infiltration/attack which resulted in the deaths of two soldiers and Gilad's being dragged across the border into Gaza. Since then, Hamas has refused all attempts to allow international agencies such as the Red Cross to see him.

They were kidnapped by the same enemy, held against their will. Video and transmissions are used not to reassure the families that their sons will soon be home, but to torture them, leave them unsure and bereft.

Gilad and Bowe both deserve their freedom. They were doing nothing wrong when they were captured, other than serving their countries.

In a few short weeks, Gilad will turn 23. He's in his fourth year without his family. In Israel, the government contemplates and then pulls back from the idea of denying Palestinian prisoners visitations from their families, as Gilad is so denied.

These prisoners - caught after violating laws or held for security infractions have brought attention to themselves because they did something - they attacked army patrols, threw rocks or fire bombs or crossed into areas without permits. Gilad did nothing - nothing but enlist in the army, finish his basic training, and take up a position near Israel's border with Gaza.

Palestinians came into Israel, crossed under our fence in a tunnel they dug to enable them to attack Israel...and this is what they did. They dragged a 19-year-old boy into Gaza and then held him for more than 1125 days. They torture his family, suggesting Gilad is hurt, suggest he will die if we don't immediately agree to trade 1000 prisoners...prisoners who were not innocently sitting around doing nothing when Israel came and grabbed them and dragged them off.

And then, when Israel says - ok, we are willing to release hundreds, but show us that Gilad is alive...show us he is well. Follow international law and let the Red Cross see him, talk to him. Let his mother talk to him. Be human beings, for once in your life. We allow wives to speak to their husbands, mothers to their sons. Their conditions are known - many have access to television, computers, even phones, though these are not allowed in the cells (and even then, many have them). Gilad has nothing - be human beings and allow a 22-year-old boy to speak to his mother...and then we are yet again met with a wall of silence.

With the taking of Bowe, America is thrust into the same agony as Israel; Bowe's family into the same horror and worry as Gilad's family.

May Bowe and Gilad come home soon - safe, and healthy.