Now that the media frenzy has died down, it is perhaps appropriate to consider Gilad Schalit’s remarkable release from captivity. He was kidnapped and an MIA for over five years. During that time he had no contact with family, friends or Israeli representatives. Not even with the United Nations. Remarkably, Israel had no knowledge of his whereabouts and condition.
Yet he did not fade into invisibility. Rather, concern grew annually. Initially, he was just another MIA. Israel regrettably has its share. But soon Gilad’s name stood out. Congregations mentioned him more frequently; people wore bracelets with his name, prayers and rallies focused uniquely on Gilad. Why? What happened in North America and Israel to distinguish his case?
It is true that his parents were single-minded in their quest to bring him home. They raised his name everywhere and settled in a tent outside of Netanyahu’s residence. But other parents travelled the world to gather sympathy and political interest for their children. Why were the Schalits so successful? Was the timing right? What happened to make him such a symbol that the prime minister of Israel made his release a political priority?
In his walk of freedom, we witnessed a historical moment. What were the nuances and dynamic factors at play? I would like to grasp some of our role in this drama. I myself wrote two columns about Gilad. What caught our attention, concern and passion?
Perhaps Gilad was this generation’s Anatoly Shcharansky (Natan Sharansky). Perhaps every generation requires an imprisoned hero for whom to fight. In the 1970s and ’80s, Jews fought for the freedom of Soviet Jews. We wore bracelets, held vigils, prayer services. Special portions of the Haggadah were dedicated to them. We sent food, supplies and people. It was a massive effort, and for many Sharansky was the symbol of it all. Thus, in this time and place, Gilad became the symbol of Israel’s MIAs, of Israel’s beleaguered soldiers, those who stand guard and are in difficult positions.
But we are still left with the conundrum of why Gilad, why now and why not the other MIAs?
Perhaps, he stands as a sign of the Israeli lost in a war of constant threats and no real victories. Perhaps, he is symbolic of the life of every Israeli who wonders, “When will I be next?” When will I disappear in a bomb or an ‘event’ or some other disaster? How will my family react? How will Jews react? Will the world notice what is happening to us?
What kind of symbol was Gilad that we Jews, in North America and Israel, reacted so fully to it? How did it grow on us and why?
I have a theory. Gilad was kept incognito. No one was allowed to know where he was. No one was allowed contact. These conditions violate every act, treaty and regulation of any human rights accord. But no one said anything! No one raised the alarm! No one, other than some Jews, cared, cried or was concerned.
Ironically, Israel is condemned daily by supposed concerned human rights activists for its poor record of alleged violations. Many of those abuses are found to be bogus when investigated. Few stay around for the results of investigations. Few read the corrections in newspapers. Few report on those reports of corrections or retractions. Some complaints may be real. No state or person is perfect. But the hatred and prejudice is revealed in the one-sided and shallow display of these activists. They never show concern for the Palestinian victim when Arab states cause harm. And they never show any concern when the victims are Jews and the human rights violations are against Israel.
Thus, Gilad’s case shows us the hypocrisy of these activists. The CJN confirmed that the Red Cross tried to make contact with Gilad, but the Gaza authorities refused. So what did they do? Did they raise the alarm? Did you hear the activists raise the alarm? Did you hear them condemn this violation of Gilad’s rights? What did we all hear? Silence. We heard a repeat performance of the silence of the world during World War II.
Perhaps the echoes of that old silence confirmed the truth of this new silence. Gilad is our symbol of the world’s silence and our commitment to act.