An Impossible Choice

A soldier's mother tries to decide what Israel should do about the Shalit exchange. It is an inhuman dilemma, one only barbarians could create.

Paula R. Stern

OpEds Paula Stern
Paula Stern

There is a debate going on in Israel now - two sides, each in agony.
There are those who say Gilad Shalit has been in captivity too long. We have to do all, we owe all, to bring him home.  Hamas has gotten away with violating international law by denying Israel and his parents their basic right of contact with their son. For more than three years, Hamas has refused to allow international representatives such as the Red Cross, to confirm he is well treated, safe, healthy. Unimaginable agonies, unbearable torture.

His parents have lived with all of this, traveling the world, begging them to listen, to do something for this boy who grew into a man without them. He was 19 when he was taken, as my Elie was 19 when he entered the army. Today, Gilad is 23-years-old...his parents have missed so much in those years. It is enough.
There are those who say that leaving Gilad in captivity breaks all that we hold dear. We
There are those who say that leaving Gilad in captivity breaks all that we hold dear.
don't leave a soldier behind; morale will fall among incoming troops if they can't believe their country will do all to bring them home.
All this, in varying degrees, might be true. That is one side of this great divide. They will agree to release 1,000 Palestinian prisoners, their identity and crimes almost unimportant, for the one son that Hamas holds. Yes, they smile sadly, the numbers are absurd, but what can we do? We can't leave Gilad there; would you leave Gilad if he were your son? Look now, in the mirror and answer that question for yourself. If it was your son, could you, would you, leave him there?
On the other side of this great divide, are those who say that though they want Gilad home, it cannot be at any price. We must think with our heads and not our hearts. These 1,000 - beyond the absurdity of the equation - are murderers, terrorists - convicted security prisoners who were not strolling on the beach when they were taken into custody. Some
There are those who say that though they want Gilad home, it cannot be at any price.
have murdered and the blood of their victims thrills them. They yearn for more, promise there will be more.
It was Hamas and the Palestinians who created the concept of proportionality. Look, said Hamas - yes, we shot 124 missiles into Israel in November, 2008 and even more in December, 2008 - but look what Israel did in January, 2009. Our missiles mostly missed and hit open fields. We only killed a few, but really, how much actual damage did we do? Israel - they hit their targets; the artillery smashed the buildings from which we launched rockets...look at the damage. Proportionality! Where is the proportionality in releasing 1,000 for 1?
Within this group that agonizes over Gilad no less than the first group, are Arnold and Frimet Roth - two nice people who never wanted to do more than raise their children in Jerusalem, in Israel, in a place they love. Their daughter, Malki was friendly and outgoing. I know, because we are friends with a young woman who was on her way to meet Malki on a beautiful August summer day in 2001.
But this young woman never got there. Instead of meeting Malki, she heard the news. Sbarro Pizzeria had become the latest suicide bombing...15 people, including young Malki and seven other children, died that day. Murdered by a terrorist couple who slipped through a checkpoint, the young Palestinian man carrying a guitar filled with explosives with a woman on his arm to give him cover.
There is a great divide in Israel - do we release Malki's female killer, who served but 5 years of 16 consecutive life sentences, who to this day, wishes she had killed more. She said, in an interview just a while back, "I am not sorry for what I did. I will get out of prison and I refuse to recognize Israel’s existence…"
 This woman helped murder 15 people.. She is one, only one of 1,000. Those who are against the prisoner deal include huge numbers of soldiers in the standing army. There is no loss of morale there. They worry about Gilad; they want Gilad home; and they tell their parents - if it was me, don't allow this deal. Don't let them release 1,000 for me.
And where am I on this great divide? I am sitting on the fence, with the third large group of people. We on the fence are in unspeakable agony. Our hearts aching, our eyes filled with
And where am I on this great divide?
tears. We are parents who cannot for a moment imagine the horror, the agony of years slipping knowing our child needs us and we can't answer that call. We are Israelis and Jews - so incredibly proud of our country, our army, our people, for worshiping life and not death; for having values that focus so much on a single life that we would even consider the absurdity of trading 1,000 for a single life.
One day, I am for the deal - not because I believe it is just (it isn't); not because I believe it is in Israel's best interests (it isn't), but because I just can't bear the suffering any longer. I can't face another day of knowing Noam and Aviva Shalit are suffering, that Gilad is alone.
The next day, I am against the deal because I know that what we release today, will sneak back in to murder and kill again. There will be more funerals, more pain - unspeakable, horrible agony. Lives crushed, families torn apart and so many more parents who will mourn like Frimet and Arnold Roth.
On those days, when I am against the deal, I want to point out the simplest of truths. What we should do is call up Hamas and the German mediators and say:
"Good morning and thanks for your efforts, but, no thanks. We realized that this is a bad idea because these terrorists and murderers will just come back and kill and kidnap again. So, let's think. It is very important to us that Gilad comes home, but we cannot endanger others in the future. So, here's the deal. Pick one prisoner - any one you want. We don't care how despicable this person is. We're willing to release the most vile creature who has done the most horrible things. We released a child-killer last time, so why not another? Okay, pick two.
You want that Ahlam Tamimi, the Sbarro murderer? You want Marwan Barghouti? They are yours. We don't care. That's our deal. It's a bargain really - two for one. We can send them to you within the hour, just say the word.
Oh, by the way, we forgot to mention something. If you don't want this deal; Israel is finished with negotiating. We are shutting off OUR electricity that we have been pumping into Gaza all these years. We are stopping shipment of OUR fuel that we have sending to Gaza. We are closing deliveries of everything but food and medicine.
Turkey has plentiful water. A ship from Turkey takes how long? 12 hours? We are shutting off OUR water that we have been pumping into Gaza. Tell Turkey to fill the tankers and start shipping in their water...they certainly have more than we have. A few years back, we contracted to buy shiploads of water from them. We even paid for it and then donated the water right back after an earthquake there. So, we'll give them 24 hours to begin shipping water to Gaza.
And your sick people...the ones who travel regularly to Israel for medical treatments...tell them we wish them luck. Maybe you can go to Cairo, although their medical care isn't anything near as good as ours, but that's your problem, not ours.
So, there's our deal - two Palestinians for one Israeli, and we keep supplying you with fuel, electricity, water, and medical care as we have for yours...or, no deal and no Gilad, no electricity, no water, no fuel…
So, do let us know and please tell Gilad that we love him and are doing this for him too because hopefully, one day soon, he'll come home. And he shouldn’t have to worry about their being kidnapped or blown up in a pizzeria.

For Gilad and all of Israel, we aren't going to release 1,000 for one...we're going to be more than reasonable. You have 24 hours to decide...2-1 offer ends and the electricity, water, and fuel stops."
That is the answer many in Israel want to deliver to Hamas. They stand today, on one side, and beg Israel’s leaders to listen, just as Gilad’s parents and huge numbers of Israelis sit on the other side.
I sit here on the fence, shamed that I can't at least move to one side and even more shamed that I can't look in the mirror to ask myself what I would do; I can't answer the question if it were my son.  So, like much of Israel, I sit here shamed and saddened, knowing that others will soon make this decision and either Gilad will be betrayed, or Malki will be betrayed…and worst of all, Israel’s children will likely pay the price.