It was inspiring to be on the vigil for Gilad Shalit outside the Red Cross last night. I will write a full report of last night’s event in London (and a similar event in Manchester) in a few days. For now, I wanted to give my thoughts on some of the objections that people on our side have expressed about events like last night’s.
The first one is that nothing good comes from such vigils.
Well, obviously, nobody going to these vigils believes for a moment that Hamas will suddenly release Gilad because they hear of a demonstration in London. However, these initiatives serve as an excellent way of introducing the public to Gilad’s case and therefore some wider truths about Israel.
Last summer, I spent several days on a vigil for Gilad organised by the FZY in London. We leafleted and engaged with passers-by, and I was pleasantly surprised at how supportive and sympathetic most were. Several of those I spoke with went through palpable paradigm shifts in their perception of Israel as a result of learning about Gilad. It was the same last night. I spent a little time leafleting and collecting petition signatures from passers-by. I was inspired by how keen people were to learn more about Gilad and Israel.
We all complain about the unfair perceptions many in Britain have of Israel. It’s good to get out there and do a bit to address this.
That is not the only benefit of such vigils. When I met Gilad’s father Noam in Israel last summer, he was cheered by the photographs of the London vigil I showed him, and the stories I told him about the interest and support we had generated. It was a privilege to be able to share something positive with him.
It is also said that vigils like last night’s play into Hamas’s hands. It is claimed that every demonstration for Gilad Shalit causes Hamas to raise its price for his release. In fact, on the 1st of July 2006, a week after Gilad’s kidnap, Hamas demanded the release of 1,000 prisoners in return for his freedom. The last time I checked, the number was the same.
It is possible that the identities of the 1,000 might have changed, I’m not privy to such details. In any case, we should never conduct our lives out of speculative fear of what Hamas might or might not want us to do. Instead we should do what we believe is right and moral, regardless of Hamas. To stand with the Shalits is right and moral. I won’t let Hamas get in the way of that.
I believe Golda Meir was right when she said Israel will have peace when its enemies ‘love their children more than they hate us’. I am guided by a similar equation when it comes to Gilad. However much we deplore Israel’s enemies we should love Israel more. However much we hate those who hold Gilad, we should love Gilad and his family more. Otherwise we’ve lost something important.
On a wider note (and this has nothing to do with last night’s vigil which took no position on this issue) it would easy for me to dodge the question of whether I believe Israel should negotiate for Gilad’s freedom. After all, either option sucks. To leave Gilad in Hamas’s hands? Unthinkable. To negotiate with Hamas and release murderers? Unthinkable too.
On balance, and with a heavy heart, I support a negotiated release of Gilad. A few different considerations sway my decision. One is that Gilad’s incarceration is a certainty. None of us know for sure what bad things might or might not happen if Israel releases terrorists in return for Gilad. But we do know what will happen if Israel does not – Gilad will die in a Hamas dungeon. Therefore, I believe Israel should act on the known threat to Jewish life, not the speculative one.
To those who say such a deal would encourage Hamas to take more hostages, I ask this: do you think Hamas has any sense of restraint? Do you think a group whose charter calls for the death of all Jews could get any worse?
I was finally swayed to support a negotiated release when I learned of an interesting fact about my favourite Israeli, Menachem Begin. When Palestinian hijackers were holding Jewish hostages in Entebbe in 1976, Begin was the leader of the opposition in the Israeli Knesset. There have been few more steadfast politicians in Israel’s history than Begin, yet before the dramatic rescue mission was proposed, he decided to support a government plan to release terrorists in return for the Entebbe captives.
“Who knows better than me what it means to take a stand on a matter of principle,” he said. “One of my principles is not to negotiate with terrorists. But when Jewish lives are at stake every principle must go by the board. We must rescue our brethren.” He added: “We…share in the public responsibility for the decision to open negotiations with the terrorists.”
What Israel does or doesn’t do on the issue of Gilad is not my business. It is the business of the Israeli government and people. I’m just offering my feelings. As I said, last night’s vigil (and similar initiatives) took no position on the negotiations question. We were raising awareness of Gilad’s plight, and encouraging the Red Cross to re-double its efforts to secure basic humanitarian rights for Gilad.
The photograph below was taken last night. (Left to right, Jonathan Sacerdoti; Gili Brenner of StandWithUs Uk; me; His Excellency, Israel’s Ambassdor Ron Prosor.)