Eyes were glued to the TV screens as we watched Gilead Shalit being transferred by the Hamas to the Egyptians. He looked pale and thin – so different from the condition of the Palestinian terrorists, who were released in the prisoner exchange. (Israel TV reported that Gilead felt nauseous while on board the IDF helicopter that took him to the Tel Nof base and that he had to be given oxygen. All those who accompanied him said that he was extremely weak.)
And then there were the two Palestinian female terrorists, who held up the transfer because of their desire to be released to Egypt rather than being sent to Gaza. One wonders why.
But most cruel was the interview that Egyptian TV forced on Gilead Shalit before he was finally handed over to Israel. Although Gilead was clearly under tremendous emotional strain and was being tortured with questions, his answers were nevertheless thoughtful and to the point. He hoped that the peace process could be advanced and believed that additional Palestinian prisoners could be released in the future provided that they refrained from further acts of terror.
In contrast to the Egyptian TV propaganda assault on Gilead, the manner he was treated by Israel was entirely different. Even those all Israel’s TV and radio stations devoted all of their programmes to Gilead’s release, there were nevertheless no interviews with him, the press was kept at a distance and the only film footage and photos to be released were those taken by the IDF. Apart from one photograph released by the IDF, the emotional reunion between Gilead and his family took place behind closed doors.
While today is a day of celebration in Gaza and Ramallah, feelings in Israel are far more muted. There is joy at Gilead’s release after over five years of solitary confinement while in captivity, but there is also the recognition that many terrorists with blood on their hands were set free instead of spending the rest of their lives in prison. It was only last night that Israel’s Supreme Court ruled against the petition by families of terror victims, who tried to stop the exchange taking place.
However, against that, there was the memory of how there might have been a chance of rescuing Ron Arad, but that that opportunity had been missed. Gilead Shalit had to be brought home in one piece and almost at any price.
There are already calls for the reinstitution of the death penalty for terrorists found guilty of murdering Israeli civilians. There are those who believe that the Knesset should pass legislation against prisoner exchanges of this nature in the future. However, there are also the calls of those who believe that Gilead’s release should serve as a springboard for trying to reach some kind of an accommodation with the Palestinians in general and Hamas in particular.
In spite of everything, today is nevertheless one of joy for us all as we see Gilead finally returned to his family.