Sunday, March 22, 2009

On Bringing Back Gilad Shalit

My wife, that's Achikam's mother, has published an eloquent op-ed in Haaretz about the obligation of our government not to allow any soldiers to languish in the captivity of Hamas monsters. Haaretz didn't translate it into English, but perhaps we can fix that later on.

Update: David Boxenhorn was extraordinarily helpful, and posted a translation in the comments section. Thank you, David!

Someone else also prepared a translation, which my wife then worked on a bit, and I'm posting it here.

1 comment:

David Boxenhorn said...

Feel free to use this as a first draft, if you want:

My son was drafted into the army a year and a half ago. In the reality of the state of Israel there is nothing more natural than this. It is also natural that we came with him to the draft office. We hugged him, and tried not to burden him with our tears. But is it really natural? There is nothing more antithetical to human nature than to send your child to someplace where his is likely to be killed. He gets drafted and endangers his life, among other things to protect you, his parents. This too is against nature. Parents are supposed to protect their children.

From the moment our son passed through the gate of the draft office he began to leave our hands. In one moment he is turned from a free and independent human being, to the sole property of a system in which parents have no claim. The system decides everything. What will happen during the time of his service, when he will go home, when his parents are allowed to see him and under what terms and conditions.

The job of the Israeli army, as an executive arm of government policy, is first and foremost to defend the state and its citizens. But in the course of fulfilling its duties it also has an obligation to protect its soldiers. On being drafted, our son lost his status as a private citizen, and we lost our status as a private family. From this moment on, everything that happens to him will not be solely his and our private business; it will be a public matter. It is the duty of the government and the army to take responsibility for our son the way that we would. That is to say, to do everything possible to protect him.

At the time of the Gaza War, when I was strangled with fear, a frightening picture arose in my imagination. The nights were insane and the days were hardly better. I bargained with God, I debated with him about how much our son can take, what we, his parents, can take. One thought threatened our sanity more than anything else: What would be worse - if our son were killed or taken hostage. It would seem that the answer is clear. To be taken hostage is better. At least we would know that he is alive, at least there would be hope that he would return to us, even if it takes a long time. But the thing that drove me crazy was the fact that the answer wasn't at all unambiguous.

Being a hostage is no picnic. The loneliness, the fear, the isolation from the outside world, not knowing when and how it all will end, all these things are hard to bear. But that's not all. Our enemy is especially cruel. They don't respect the sanctity of life when it concerns their own people, so what can we expect for a single Israeli soldier on which they can take out all their anger and frustration? What would they do to him? What tortures would our son be exposed to if he fell hostage? To this was added the knowledge that I couldn't be certain that if he were to fall hostage, his struggling parent, the state and the army, would act with all their might to free him.

And thus I found myself, aware of the insanity of it all, but without the possibility of escape, conducting a cruel internal dialogue, which at its center was the question which is preferable, death or captivity. And despite that the answer was terrifying, in the final analysis I chose death. I understood that as a true parent of my son, no, for egotistical reasons, out of the desire that he should live at all costs, that he shouldn't be taken away from me, to prefer captivity over death, even if it would mean inhumane suffering for my son.

It's not natural for a parent to send his son into battle. He would never do such a thing if he had a choice. But because he finds himself in a state in which he doesn't have a choice, he must be sure that the government, and as its executive arm, the army, will behave as a parent would behave. And thus it is the obligation of the government and the army to do everything to bring back a soldier that fell captive. The question of price is not relevant. Cost-benefit analysis is not relevant. If these would be held clearly in front of our eyes at the beginning we would never go to war in Gaza. We knew from the beginning that we would pay a heavy price. We would have been ready to pay an even heavier price than what we were finally asked to pay.

Freeing terrorists "with blood on their hands" really is likely to lead to additional acts of terror. But life is not just numerical equations. In the complex and difficult reality in which we live, it is our duty to do everything possible to preserve and strengthen the values which stand as the basis of our existence: the sanctity of life and the humanity that characterize Israeli society. We must bring back soldiers that fell captive because we are not allowed to be a society in which a mother prefers the death of her son over his falling captive.

The thing would seem to be incomprehensible, but in the reality of the state of Israel that is the situation. It is incomprehensible and most importantly it is inhumane. And if we are not humane we will not be who we are - the people of Israel with all its complexity, with all its problems, but also with all its glory, and most of all with its deep-seated and firmly-established humanity. And if we are not who we are and what we are, for what are we sending our children into battle?