The most recent sign of life we have had of Gilad Shalit was in the autumn of 2009, when Hamas released a video of him in return for the release of over 20 Palestinian prisoners. Among the many emotions I felt as I watched was a wonder at the fact he smiled during it. It was moving to see someone in his position manage a smile.
I’ve heard different theories about what was behind the smile. One person said they thought it meant he believed he was about to be released. Another person said they thought he was smiling ‘for his Mum’, to bring her comfort. I noted that Gilad has always been spoken of as a shy young man, and wondered whether it was just a nervous smile.
Of course none of us know how and why he smiled in such a tense situation. So I prefer to settle with the theory he was smiling for his mother – because it’s the most happy of them. For the same reason, when privately considering the conditions he is being held in I prefer to tell myself they are humane.
That might seem strange, given what we know about Hamas. But none of us know for sure what the conditions he is being held under are. We can only tell ourselves a story of how we imagine them – so why not tell ourselves a happy story? Doing otherwise doesn’t help ourselves and neither does it help Gilad.
When I refer to what we tell ourselves, I mean that precisely. Of course, when discussing his plight with the public, we should be absolutely clear that Hamas is breaking every humanitarian law and moral code in its treatment of Gilad.
This Sunday is Gilad’s 25th birthday and his sixth in captivity. As well as praying afresh for his speedy release, I’m going to reflect on his smile during the 2009 video. It was inspiring, and on-par in my mind with the true stories I have read of the Hasidim dancing with joy as they were driven into death camps during the Shoah. Extraordinary.
I’m thankful that in my life I have never faced anything even remotely like the trauma that Gilad managed to smile in the face of. So how can I ever justify not smiling in the face of my life’s trials? After all, as Gilad showed us, it is not only the smiler who benefits from the smile. As Rabbi Nachman said: ‘Always wear a smile. The gift of life will then be yours to give.’
I hope Gilad is home soon.