I have been watching on TV the drama unfold in Israel and Gaza as the kidnapped Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit was released after five years in Hamas captivity in exchange for the release from Israeli prisons of more than 1000 Arab terrorists.
The first pictures of him in a brief interview on Egyptian TV were unsettling, even if not surprising: painfully thin, pale and with deeply sunken eyes, he looked very different from the smiling 19 year-old that became the iconic image of the campaign to secure his release.
Relief that he appears to be physically unharmed - he says he was treated well - must be tempered by concern for the psychological damage he may have suffered.
One can only hope (doubtless fruitlessly) that he will now be shielded from intrusive media attention to afford him the privacy he undoubtedly needs in which to start the long process of adjustment and recovery.
Shalit told his Egyptian TV interviewer that he hoped his release would further the peace efforts and help end the conflict between Israel and the Palestinians.
What a burden this poor boy now carries from this deal with the devil that has been done to secure his release. But it will not bring about peace; indeed, one might even say that it marks the collapse of the ‘peace process’ and makes war even more likely.
For by making this deal with Hamas, Israel’s Prime Minister Netanyahu has effectively buried Fatah’s Mahmoud Abbas, already weakened by the failure of his UN ‘Palestine statehood’ stunt.
For Israel, that stunt marked the end of the illusion that Abbas was a genuine partner in any peace process. Now Hamas has been strengthened by this deal.
Jubilant Arabs are celebrating their released killers as returning heroes.
That is, to put it mildly, unfortunate; but now at least the illusion of a moderate Palestinian leadership is over. Israel has brought its hostage home; and now, with Hamas poised to relocate to an Egypt which is itself on the brink of descending into Islamic radicalism, Israel faces squarely the true face of genocidal Arab rejectionism.
Nothing illustrates this better than the obscene joy which has erupted in both Gaza and the West Bank, where jubilant Arabs are celebrating their released killers as returning heroes.
This was how the so-called ‘moderate’ Mahmoud Abbas addressed the murderers of Jewish innocents at a mass welcoming ceremony for the released prisoners:
‘Your sacrifice and hard work were not in vain... We thank God for your return and your safety...You are freedom fighters and holy warriors for the sake of God and the homeland.’
Hamas is also presenting as heroes to cheering Gazan crowds the terrorists in charge of guarding Shalit during his time in captivity:
‘Shalit's captors will take the stage alongside the freed prisoners during the Gaza celebrations to be held upon their return to the Strip.
The released prisoners will be first received by Hamas Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh, government ministers, Legislative Council members and other figures. Next, the detainees would meet with relatives.
One of the freed prisoners is Muhammad Zufi, who assisted Shalit's abductors in videotaping the abduction operation.'
According to Israeli opinion polls, the deal has overwhelming Israeli public support.
But away from the mainstream media which has been gloating over its role in creating the public pressure for such a deal to be done, an anguished debate has nevertheless been under way for days now about the terrible price Israel has paid for the release of this one soldier and the incalculable consequences of such a deal.
It is not merely the grossly disproportionate numbers involved, which no other country in the world would even contemplate for one moment. It is the fact that the deal declares in effect that terrorism works.
It is the fact that trading one innocent life for more than 1000 guilty lives hands a sickening victory to terrorists, making it much more likely that they will kidnap more soldiers to trade for yet more jailed murderers.
This deal makes it almost inevitable that yet more Israeli families will end up mourning the loss of loved ones.
It is the fact that this deal makes it almost inevitable that yet more Israeli families will end up mourning the loss of loved ones who will be murdered as a result by Palestinian terrorism.
It is the fact that it underscores the shattering weakness of the Israel Defence Force in having failed to rescue Shalit during the five years he was held.
What has happened, many Israelis are asking themselves, to the country that produced the daring and heroic raiders of Entebbe who managed to defy all odds in rescuing Israeli hostages from a hijacked plane?
And at a deeper level still, it is the fact that an obscene moral equivalence has been established by this deal between the innocent and the guilty.
This equivalence is being played out in the coverage which describes the deal as a ‘prisoner swap’ or ‘prisoner exchange’ – more than 1000 Palestinian prisoners held in Israeli jails for one Israeli prisoner held by Hamas.
But Shalit was a hostage, kidnapped in an act of illegal aggression by an organization whose aim is the destruction of Israel and which allowed him not one visit by the Red Cross during his five year incarceration.
By contrast, the released Palestinians have not just been tried and punished according to due process of law, but include among their number not just those who have committed some of the worst terrorist atrocities in Israel’s history - such as the blowing up of Sbarro’s pizza restaurant in Jerusalem, where 16 people were murdered including five members of the Schijveschuurder family - but even worse, some of the masterminds behind such atrocities.
Some families who have lost loved ones in these terror attacks have welcomed the deal; they say they did not want the Shalit family to suffer as they themselves have suffered. But for other families bereaved by these murders, the anguish is unbearable.
Watching the murderers of their loved ones walk free to a rapturous reception in Gaza and the West Bank and listening to their gloating satisfaction at having taken the lives of Israeli innocents, these families feel as if they have been brutally abandoned by a society for which justice cannot be allowed to get in the way of emotion.
For these suffering relatives, it is almost as if today they are being forced to endure yet another bereavement.
But then, the equivalence being drawn in the coverage of this deal reflects in turn the morally bankrupt ‘tit-for-tat’ analysis of the Arab war against Israel employed by so many in Britain and the west.
For whenever Israel points out that any military action against the Palestinians is only in response to Palestinian attacks, many in Britain claim that those Palestinian attacks were only in response to previous Israeli attacks. Thus Israel is always painted as the ultimate aggressor.
This is entirely false. From the moment Israel was re-established in 1948, it has only ever launched military operations against the Arabs in response to actual or imminent Arab attacks. Yet many in Britain refuse to acknowledge the difference between murderous aggression and the defense against it.
They refuse to acknowledge that Hamas sets out to murder as many young Israelis as possible, whereas Israel goes to great lengths (not always successfully) to avoid civilian casualties.
They refuse to acknowledge that the aim of every single military operation by Israel in Gaza is to defend and protect itself against attack by a fanatically Jew-hating enemy pledged not only to destroy Israel but to wipe out every single Jew on earth.
The refusal to acknowledge this crucial moral difference has meant that many in Britain and the west view Israel as the aggressor in the conflict, and the victimization of Israelis is largely glossed over.
So just as the anguish of Israeli terror victims’ families over the Shalit deal has been minimized by the media coverage – particularly in Israel itself, which reflects the malign nature of its own left-wing media class -- so the anguish of Israel itself as a state under permanent existential siege is routinely ignored, and Israel instead grotesquely portrayed as the aggressor in the region.
What too many in Britain and west still don’t understand is that what Israel is up against is what Britain and the west are now up against – not a violent campaign by people fighting for a state of their own but an Islamist cult of death, in which the murder of innocents is a cause for exultation and mass killers are lionized as heroes and religious martyrs, not just by Hamas but by the Fatah leadership in the West Bank too.
The five-year Shalit drama and its disturbing resolution have therefore come to symbolize the toxic cocktail of ignorance, misunderstanding, naivety, malice, cowardice, cynicism, incompetence and moral muddle by the so-called civilized world - including Israel itself - that has actually served to perpetuate the Middle East impasse.
No decent person can fail to be moved by the return of Gilad Shalit to Israel. Few eyes will have been dry at his reunion with his family. Yet it has to be said that ultimately, this deal represents a triumph of heart over head and sentimentality over realism.
The Shalit family did what many of us hope we would have done in similar circumstances – fought a tenacious and brilliant campaign to sustain public pressure on the government to secure their son’s release.
It was, however, emotional blackmail – and the Israel government should have resisted it. Shalit came to be regarded as every Israeli’s son.
Tragically, however, in the years to come Israel may come to realize that it paid for the life of Gilad Shalit with the blood of further murdered Israelis and the lifelong torment of their families.
Yet no-one should underestimate the extreme difficulty of the decision Netanyahu was forced to take in this case.
However Netanyahu resolved the Shalit dilemma, it would have been a terrible decision.
As so often in Israel, he was between a rock and a very hard place. However he resolved the Shalit dilemma, it would have been a terrible decision.
For Jews, the diabolical nature of this kind of choice – weighing up the sacrifice of one of your own against the sacrifice of others of your own– has a terrible historical resonance.
For during the Holocaust, a particularly sadistic torment inflicted by the Nazis upon their Jewish victims was to force them to choose which of their children or loved ones to sacrifice in order to save others from gas or bullet.
The Holocaust happened because the world looked the other way until it was too late. It abandoned the Jews to meet their fate and be forced to make these infernal choices alone. And now the world is abandoning Israel to meet its fate and be forced to make these infernal choices alone.
Sure, America helps arm Israel in order that it may defend itself against otherwise insuperable odds. But at the same time, the west forces Israel to remain trapped in a permanent war that the west ensures Israel cannot win.
For Israel’s fate is to live cheek by jowl with people pledged to destroy it. Armed to the teeth, Israel will however never unleash its full military power against those people because it is constrained by Jewish ethics.
The result is that it deals more scrupulously and humanely with its mortal enemies - and takes more punishment as a result - than any other nation on earth.
The Arabs know this and take full advantage of it, launching attacks in order to present Israel with the choice between abandoning its own victims - as has effectively largely happened in the rocket-bombarded south of Israel - and taking military action, which will inevitably result in some civilian casualties and thus not only earn the opprobrium of the double-standard applying world but, more lethally, destroy Israel’s own belief in itself.
To their eternal shame, Britain and the west have allowed themselves to be manipulated by this cynical strategy in the cause of genocide.
These false friends leap to defame, demonize and delegitimize Israel by denouncing its military actions as illegal, aggressive or disproportionate – thus in effect trying to paralyze its attempts to defend itself against attack, while simultaneously forcing it to surrender to its enemies through the appeasement process.
The outcome is that Israel is now trapped between Hamas, Fatah, Hezbollah, Iran, Syria, Egypt and the Mediterranean Sea – and yet is blamed for preventing peace by building apartments in the suburbs of Jerusalem.
The infernal choice it was forced to make over Gilad Shalit was thus but the latest and most dramatic example of how the west has abandoned Israel to swing in the wind.
This article originally appeared in Melanie Phillips' blog at dailymail.co.uk