The Ecstasy and the Agony

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How does one measure a heavy heart? Is there an instrument that can calibrate the considerable weight of the ambivalence that I am feeling today?

I am spending the holiday of Sukkoth here in Israel, with my beautiful children, Rachel and Jeremy, who have just married, and who have recently made aliyah. My son-in-law, Jeremy, has been serving for the last two years in the Israeli Defense Forces in the Golani brigade. His unit has served on the border of Gaza, and is one that has learned house-to-house combat in case the army has got to go back in there. At any moment he can be called up to go back in.

I look at their shining young faces, bright with potential and brimming with plans for the future. They want to raise their family in this beautiful, young land that they have recently planted their roots into.  They want to be a part of the Jewish dream of the return of our people to the ancient Jewish homeland and to be part of the proud struggle of our rebirth and renaissance.

They want to build their life here together, and to cast their lot with the nation of Israel.

And I am terribly frightened for them.

For five and a half years, every day since the Israeli soldier, Gilad Shalit, was kidnapped by Hamas along the border, his parents Noam and Aviva have been holding vigil, counting the days, wondering , is he hungry, is he in pain, is he being tortured, is he is alive.

Gilad has become the symbol for every soldier.  This proud country is a total citizen army. Every mother has a son or a daughter that has been, is in, or will one day be, inducted into the IDF. Everyone has an uncle, a brother, a cousin who is serving, or will serve. Gilad’s name has become a household word.
His parents have set up a tent outside of the President’s house, where they have kept vigil for five and a half years.

The Israeli army has always instilled in its soldiers a remarkable sense of cohesion. Every soldier who has ever served in the IDF feels a sense of responsibility for one another in each unit. Captains of units go into combat shouting “Acharei”, (“after me”).

And it is an unbreakable code that no soldier will ever leave his brother alone on the battlefield.

The pain that Noam and Aviva have been going through must be unbearable. They have stated that they will not believe that their agony is over until Gilad walks through the front door. And everyone in Israel feels their pain.

Last week, Prime Minister Netayahu announced that Gilad is returning home. I can only imagine the emotions that are running through their head. “Is it a dream?” “Can we believe it?” “Is this for real?…Finally, finally ?” Can they even allow themselves to feel the ecstasy of his long awaited return?

And yet…and yet.

In return for this precious young life, Israel has offered to release 1,027 of the most brutal terrorists and murderers imaginable, all with blood dripping from their hands.

Among them is Ahlam Tamimi, the mastermind behind the horrific suicide bombing of the Sabaro Pizza Restaurant in midtown Jerusalem in 2001, in which 15 civilians were killed and 130 were wounded. Among those murdered were 8 children, one of them was 15 year old Malki Roth, a talented flutist who was planning to dedicate her life to working with handicapped children.

They, along with so many parents and loved ones of the approximately 2,000 victims of Palestinian terror since the signing of the Oslo Accords and the ensuing reign of terror that it has wrought ,are feeling abandoned and betrayed.

Ahlam Tamimi, when interviewed in prison, was told that she had killed eight children.  This brought a deep smile of satisfaction to her face.

During that interview she said, ” I am not sorry for what I did. “ And: “When I get out of prison, and I refuse to recognize Israel’s existence. Discussions will only take place after Israel recognizes that this is Islamic land.”

These people are monsters. They have no remorse whatsoever about the taking of the lives of children, of anyone who is a Jew.

And now 1,027 of them will be free to go on the streets. They know that if they kill Jews they will eventually be freed.

What is to prevent them from kidnapping more Gilad Shalits? What is to prevent another reign of terror on the streets of Jerusalem, Tel Aviv, Rehovot and Haifa?

And herein lays the heaviness of my heart.

My son in law, Jeremy, said to me, “I signed up to serve in the IDF to protect the citizens of Israel. This decision negates everything that I have done for the last two years of my life.”

As Reuven Gilmore whose son Aish Kodesh was killed by one of the terrorists to be released wrote to me, “The deal would be justified to save a life. That is not the problem with this deal. The problem is all the unnamed victims of the released prisoners. For all of us, the pain of losing family members at the hands of these terrorists is not abstract. And that is why the families of the bereaved families should be listened to.”

I look at the beautiful young faces of my children who are planning to build their lives here, in this young and harsh land, and I can feel nothing but anger at those who made this feckless decision for putting their lives and the lives of every other Israeli citizen at risk.

And then, I think of Noam and Aviva.  There is simply no machine yet invited which can calibrate the heavy weight of the ambivalence in my heart.

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About the Author

Sarah Stern
Sarah Stern is founder and president of the Endowment for Middle East Truth (EMET).

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