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1,941 days: Gilad is home

October 18, 2011

Photo via Israel Defense Forces Flickr account.

Today, Gilad Schalit came home. After nearly five and a half years captivity at the hands of Hamas in Gaza. He is just a year older than me. And he has now spent a fifth of his life imprisoned, as a pawn. He returns as a Sgt. 1st class. He returns to a country that has been through much since his capture. He first went to Egypt via Rafah, where he was identified. The final details were ironed out, and he return then through the Kerem Shalom, before flying to Tel Nof in central Israel. Now, he is with his family.

Being in Israel in 2008, two years after he was taken, the posters, in that blue and white, were everywhere, and the sentiment echoed about hearing the name “Gilad” was strong and poignant as ever.

It is important to not forget the prisoners exchanged for Gilad, and the Palestinians and Arab Israelis who too have long awaited their day of freedom. 477 have already been dealt, and that figure will rise to over a thousand once all is said and done. It’s at once easy and difficult to compare the two. How can one soldier be worth so many Palestinians? Gilad’s captivity was one not in accordance with humanitarian rights and protocol–he was denied medical are, and refused access to members of his family. In many instances, prisoners in Israeli captivity are accorded these basic rights. Gilad, too, was taken for only the reason he was an IDF soldier. Not because he’d committed any illegal act. This may have been true of many of the Palestinians and Arab Israelis being held. If their release does not threaten the State of Israel, perhaps their charges were not of terribly acute concern? I am not the one to say. I am positive that Israel spent months if not years assuring every prisoner swapped would be one that deserved freedom, but would not violate the law down the road.

It’s not fair. And it’s not perfect. Countless families and friends had the presence of Gilad and their loved ones stolen for years, years they’ll never get back. Most things in international politics aren’t perfect. But today, there are a whole lot of people in Israel and Palestine that have been made happy. The Schalits, and the families of those Palestinian prisoners. This is a quiet bit of good news in the tumultuous (and still ongoing) year that is 2011.

Full points go to Egypt for helping broker this complex exchange. In the midst of their own revolution and current upheaval, the fact they were capable of accomplishing this is something that should go down in diplomatic history as one of their finest moments. Egypt has an important role to play in the region, diminishing as it may be, they are still ne of the lone states that has the ability to transcend temporal conflicts and even historic disputes to reach a greater good.

I have many qualms with Benjamin Netanyahu, and I don’t believe he deserves a terrible amount of credit for the deal. But if it was under his watch this happened, so be it. I guess it doesn’t much matter.

Gilad looked thin, pale, but well. I don’t know what I’d do first if I was in his shoes. I would probably want to eat, be with my family, sleep. Certainly, Israel will want to know in depth his captivity, what he learned, what he saw. Much like an astronaut returning from space. That will come later.

There is so much to be admired in Israel’s driving motive: bring every soldier home. It is a must with mandatory conscription, in a state where every family dispatches their daughter or son to the military at age 18. If Israel didn’t have his policy, I don’t know the IDF would be as strong and well-supported as they are. But to see the policy executed, to see the lengths they will go to, it’s something.

It’s good to have Gilad home.

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