On June 25, 2006, Palestinian terrorists staged a cross border raid from the Gaza Strip into Israel near the Kerem Shalom border crossing point. Using underground tunnels enabled the terrorists to cross into Israel undetected and catch the IDF off guard. The terrorists murdered two soldiers, Pavel Slutzker and Hanan Barak, and kidnapped a third, Gilad Shalit, who has remained in captivity until today.
This raid, along with a similar attack by Hezbollah into Northern Israel on July 12, 2006, kicked off Israel's two-front conflict in Gaza and Lebanon in the summer of 2006. Hezbollah's cross-border attack resulted in two additional IDF soldiers, Eldad Regev and Ehud Goldwasser, falling into terrorist hands. Autopsies revealed that both Regev and Goldwasser most likely died in the intial attack, yet Hezbollah held their remains as a bargaining chip in a ransom deal they would strike with Israel in July of 2008.
Israel agreed to release the remains of 199 Hezbollah members and 5 living terrorists, including the notorious child-killer Samir Kuntar, in exchange for Regev's and Goldwasser's coffins. It was a controversial deal to be sure, especially considering the heinous nature of Kuntar's crimes and his promise to return to the jihad against Israel: "God willing, I will get the chance to kill more Israelis." Despite the worst intentions of the freed terrorists, all that matters in Israel is the end result; its sons are home.
Efforts to secure Shalit's release have been ongoing for 3 years. Israel tried rescuing Shalit through the military route in the early days after his kidnapping. Ever since, Israel has attempted to free Gilad through a prisoner exchange with Hamas, which wants Israel to free hundreds of terrorists currently held in Israeli jails. Hamas has demanded Israel free many terrorists with blood on their hands which, quite rightly, makes many Israelis uneasy. According to a 2007 study by the
To Americans, this may seem like a strange contradiction, but Israelis see the situation much differently.
"When no military option exists, there is no choice but to enter negotiations and pay a price." Yitzhak Rabin said this in 1985 after Israel agreed to release 1,150 prisoners for 3 Israeli soldiers. In 2004, the Israeli government declared: "The Government of Israel...reiterates its commitment to take any action and make every effort, and not to rest, until all POWs and MIAs are returned to Israel."
Ever since the 1948 War of Independence, the army, and especially the soldiers, have been Israel's heart and soul. For the government to do anything less than the absolute maximum to secure a soldier's release would be an affront to the brave men and women who have kept Israel alive and kicking for 61 years. Additionally, the policy of freeing captured Israelis at any cost lets the soldiers know that they are highly valued and will not be forgotten should they fall into enemy hands. This policy is why, right now, the Israeli government is doing its damnedest to free Gilad, even if it means granting freedom to murderers who will likely kill again.
Gilad Shalit is believed to be alive, although Hamas has not allowed the Red Cross to confirm this, constituting a war crime. But when it comes to Hamas, what's one more war crime to them in the grand scheme? The Egyptian government has attempted to mediate an exchange between Hamas and the Israeli government yet, so far, efforts have been fruitless. There are near daily protests in Israel, often attended by Gilad's parents, Noam and Aviva, to demonstrate in support of Gilad and to pressure the government into securing his release. Paris, Rome, Miami and New Orleans have all given honorary citizenship to Gilad Shalit to express solidarity. All of Israel, and many Jews in the Diaspora, are standing behind this young man to make sure he comes home safe.
Today, we look back to remember and honor Pavel Slutzker and Hanan Barak on their yahrtzeit. Today we also look forward to Gilad Shalit's redemption from captivity, his return to family and friends, and his resumption of a normal and happy life.