A couple of years ago I remember seeing an incredible contrast on YouTube. A very large and very old leatherback sea turtle (which is on the endangered species list) had been caught in a fisherman’s net off the coast of Gaza. The beautiful creature was hauled ashore and surrounded by a large crowd of Gazans. One of the men in the crowd explained to the reporter how the meat of the turtle would feed Gazan children, who were suffering due to the Israeli occupation, and the blood would help cure various ailments. The turtle was dragged behind a truck, flipped on its back and then slaughtered.
Further up the Mediterranean coast in Israel, a much younger and smaller sea turtle had been injured by a boat and lost one of its limbs. The turtle was rescued by some Israelis and then taken to a special turtle sanctuary where it was operated on, nurtured back to health and then released back into the sea.
The contrast couldn’t have been more extreme.
When I heard about the impending exchange of Gilad Shalit for over a thousand Palestinians prisoners, many with “blood on their hands,” I was reminded of those two turtles.
To me those two turtles represented a microcosm of the values of Israel and the Jewish people versus the enemies that surround us.
In the summer of 2006, after Israel had withdrawn from Gaza, Gilad Shalit was kidnapped by Hamas terrorists from an Israeli tank guarding Israel’s border with Gaza. The terrorists had tunneled under the security fence and after killing the other members of the crew, dragged Shalit back to Gaza. In violation of international law no one was allowed to have contact with him, not even the Red Cross.
Israel has thousands of Palestinian security prisoners. All are treated humanely according to international law. They have the right to legal representation, visitation from family and the Red Cross and even educational opportunities while they are in prison.
The most striking contrast is the attitude of the two sides towards freeing these captives. The Israeli government has worked tirelessly for the release of Gilad. So important is the life of one soldier that the government of Israel is about to repeat what it has done numerous times before: embark on controversial, lopsided prisoner exchanges in order to free a few or even one Israeli prisoner. These exchanges have proven to be very problematic; hundreds of Israelis have been killed or wounded by terrorist who were released in one of these exchanges and then returned to terrorism. Controversy aside, the concern for the life of one soldier is a powerful testament to the humanity and moral strength of Israel and the profound concern that Judaism has always held for the value of life, a value which the Jewish people taught the world.
The contrast with Israel’s adversaries in the Middle East couldn’t be more extreme. The first question the International community should really be asking is why does the Arab world have so little respect for its own people that it thinks the life of one Jew is worth a thousand plus Arabs? Aren’t these exchanges usually a one-for-one deal? Perhaps we shouldn’t be surprised. These are the people who brought to the world hijackings and suicide bombings, who raise their children to want to be martyrs and who fire rockets from schools and hospitals. They have demonstrated time and time again that human life, even the life of their own people, has very little value.
Former Prime Minister Golda Meir once said, “We will only have peace with the Arabs when they love their children more than they hate us.” Sadly the Arab world seems to moving further away from this goal and real peace still seems like a distant dream.
But let’s not end on a negative note. The Jewish people are about to celebrate the Holiday of Sukkot. A major theme of Sukkot is joy, to appreciate the beauty and wonder of God’s creation and focus on the specialness and the unique mission of the Jewish people.
As we celebrate Sukkot this year let us be aware that even though the Jewish people and Israel face many dangers and challenges, there is much to take pleasure in. Let us take particular pleasure in the values that we the Jewish people have not only taught the world but have lived by for centuries despite enduring great hardship at the hands of the nations of the world.
Despite living in the roughest “neighborhood” in the world-surround by hostility, war and terrorism, the Jews of Israel have not only maintained their dignity, but have a created a thriving, productive, free, democratic and technologically advanced country that is truly a testament to the power and humanity of the Jewish people, the Jewish spirit and the Jewish Faith.
For Shalit's parents and others who have worked so tirelessly for these 1900-plus days to secure his release, the level of joy at this moment is unfathomable. Yes, the deal is controversial, reasonable people have reason to be opposed. Irrespective, let us all give thanks for the reunification of a Jewish boy with his family and his people.