By Thomas Scott
On Oct. 18, Gilad Shalit was repatriated to Israel after more than five years of detainment at an unknown location in the Gaza Strip.
His freedom was secured through an unprecedented exchange of more than 1,000 Palestinian prisoners held by the Israeli government.
Shalit, a corporal in the Israeli Defense Forces (IDF) at the time of his capture, was abducted close to the volatile boundary with Gaza and transported across the border, where he would remain for more than five years in captivity.
During his detainment, serious doubt was cast upon Shalit’s wellbeing. The only evidence of this is an audio tape, a DVD and three letters.
What’s more, the International Red Cross was not permitted by Shalit’s primary captor, Hamas, to see Shalit on the grounds that the organization might betray his location to the Israelis.
“The problem here is… the violation of human rights,” remarked Geevanie Tehlu ‘15.
The international community seemed to concur. In 2009, the United Nation’s fact-finding mission for Gaza demanded that Shalit be released at once on the grounds that his detainment was contrary to international human rights laws.
This sentiment was echoed by Russian President Dmitry Medvedev the following year, when he called for Shalit’s prompt release while meeting with senior Hamas officials in Syria.
And in May of this year, at their annual meeting, the world’s eight largest industrial powers called for Shalit to be freed as well.
However, the implications Shalit’s detainment extended beyond the question of human rights.
“His captivity…was just painful to those that cared for their sons or their granddaughters,” said political science professor Thomas Lobe.
The IDF is a conscript force, meaning that every Israeli youth, male and female, over the age of 18 is drafted at some point and is required to serve.
This situation breeds “a mentality of a family of one,’ said Alex Stone ‘12 of U for Israel.
“So when one soldier goes missing… a son goes missing for everybody,” she said.
With this notion in mind, there was widespread support within Israel, cultivated particularly by Shalit’s outspoken parents, to engage in a prisoner swap or ‘redeeming’ as it is phrased in Jewish law.
However, the practice of ‘redeeming’ captives can be a precarious one in light of Talmudic principles.
“You’re not allowed to exchange more than a person’s value,” said Rabbi Shmuly Rubin of Union’s Religious and Spiritual Life staff. “If the abductors ask for an exorbitant sum… it encourages future captivity.”
Rubin articulated the two major arguments against the swap which lay outside the frame of Talmudic principles. The first is the issue of “negotiating with Terrorists” and “the second… is that out of those thousand exchanged were over 50 individuals serving life sentences, were people directly involved in…killing people.”
However, such reservations have already been expressed by a particularly vocal minority of Israelis whose loved ones were lost at the hands of the Palestinian fighters exchanged.
“Most of the prisoners freed were not killers,” Lobe explained.
“The issue of, ‘Oh my God, they’re freeing all these bad people,’ of which some very much are, completely de-contextualizes the situation,” he said. The most apparent instance of this he said, was “when Israel went into Gaza and 1,300 Palestinians were killed.”
Despite the casualties accrued by both Israelis and Palestinians since Shalit’s capture as well as the controversy surrounding the details of the swap, Stone noted that “both parties are celebrating in the streets.”