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Weighing Truths for Gilad

By Paula Stern
10/4/2009, 12:00 AM
When you are young, there is often one great truth to all things. It doesn't matter what the situation is, it's just a way you have of looking at something and deciding what is right or wrong in that simple moment. It is a singular truth that seems obvious and clear. As you get older and your life gets more complicated, shades of other truths blur the picture. There is no longer one side, one truth. Every action has a reaction; every cause not just one result but often many.

There's a scene in Fiddler on the Roof where someone says something to the main character, Tevye. Tevye confirms that the man is correct. Another man comes forward and voices an opposing position. "You are right," Tevye tells him.

Another steps forward and says, "but they can't both be right."

To which, Tevye responds, "and you are right too."

I felt that way in the last few days listening to the debate about the release of 20 security prisoners in exchange for a two minute video of Gilad Shalit this past Friday. There are so many sides, so many truths that perhaps the greatest relief comes from not being in a position to have to choose that path.

His mother has suffered so long, his father traveled so many miles begging people to listen and help free their son. Don't they deserve, don't they need this reassurance that their son is alive. This is truth.

Although 14 of these security prisoners were wanted for attempted murder, all would have been released in the coming months...certainly within the next year or so. Israel is a land that follows the rule of law. Unlike Hamas, we do not hold prisoners without trial and with trial comes a just sentence. The sentence is served and remorseful or not, the prisoner is released, often to return. This is the strength and the weakness of a democracy and so these prisoners, once freed, may well choose to attempt to murder another Israeli. This is truth as well.

The cost of this exchange boggles the mind. The value, as set by Hamas is staggering. A video of an Israeli is equal to 20 prisoners; the value of his life set at a minimum of 450 Palestinian prisoners - murderers, terrorists, killers. Twenty prisoners for one video. As one blogger wrote, "guppies cost more." This too is truth.

After so many months of silence, Israel needed a sign that we were negotiating for a live human being. We've given hundreds of prisoners for coffins; this time, it was right to get proof before any agreement and dealing with Hamas is not the same as dealing with human beings who respect life. This organization and the people who belong to it feel nothing about endangering their own people. They fight from within their own schools, mosques and hospitals.

How could we expect them to do what is legal, what is just, what is moral, what is human? They relish the suffering of others; they crave it. This is a culture that worships death and cares nothing for the suffering of an Israeli mother or her family. If this is what holds Gilad and we want proof that he is alive, this is the cost. And here too, there is truth.

"We aren't like them," said a friend. "We couldn't stand by and not do something to alleviate the terrible pain of the family." More truth.

Trade for Gilad? Accept a video in exchange for 20 prisoners - 14 wannabe killers? "What do you think of this?" I asked Elie.

"They've endangered us all," he said without hesitation. What joy I felt at hearing that we'd received the videotape and it showed a healthy, if thin, Gilad, evaporated with those words. This is a truth every Israeli mother knows and doesn't want to hear. Yes, when you reward terrorism, you get more terrorism. It is, perhaps, the greatest of all truths.

"Already Hamas has said they are going to try to kidnap more soldiers," Elie continued. More truth, more shades to consider.

He's right on so many levels and wrong on others. Or, perhaps wrong is not correct. He has yet to marry and have a child, yet to understand the awe, the love, the responsibility that comes with that.

Gilad Shalit is alive. This Hamas has proven. This young man has spent the last three years of his life a prisoner of our enemies, separated from his family, denied all contact. Night after night his mother goes to sleep not knowing where he is, if she will ever see him again. It is enough to weaken any mother's heart.

But Elie doesn't have a mother's heart. He has a soldier's heart. He loves his country, he loves his family. He's right - this endangers them all. In Elie's world, right is right; weakness damages our position. He has rules that he lives by, just and legal. There is a sense of morality, but more, there are rules of engagement. Hamas continues to violate international law, refuses to even allow Gilad to be seen by international representatives.

If he were my son...but I can't begin that thought because the pain is too great, the fear, the worry. Is there anything I wouldn't give for my children? Anything I wouldn't do? This is why it isn't correct for Gilad's parents to determine policy in this case, why mothers shouldn't be asked. We love our sons, desperately want Gilad home. This is their truth, our truth, a mother's truth.

But there is a greater truth that Hamas lives by and that truth is cheering now because they know that for a video we will release 20 prisoners, for Gilad we will release killers...who will kill again.

How many people have been murdered by the same terrorists we released in exchange for past captives? Did their families love them any less than Gilad's family loves him? This is the dilemma. Gilad on one side, a healthy, prisoner, begging us to do what we can to finally bring him home...and untold numbers of others on the other side, including Elie, telling us that what deal we make, if the price is high, will only encourage them to try to kidnap more soldiers. This is truth.

What the government has done endangers them all, while what we don't do, endangers Gilad. Sometimes, everyone is right and no one wins. The weight of that truth keeps me awake at night as I watch the video of Gilad over and over again and pray that in this bargain we made with the devil, at least his mother will find some comfort.