Reacting to news of the proposed deal between Israel and Hamas that could see captured Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit returned to Israel in the coming days, after more than five years in captivity, Israelis in the United States, as well as American Jewish leaders, expressed happiness and relief Tuesday, even as they acknowledged discomfort at the price of the soldier’s freedom. Israel’s government reportedly will release approximately 1,000 Palestinians from its prisons in exchange for Shalit’s freedom.
“It’s what we prayed for and hoped for,” Eli Tene, co-chair of the Los Angeles-based Israeli Leadership Council (ILC), said Tuesday.
The joy, however was mixed with concern over the Palestinians, many of them convicted terrorists, who would be released in the exchange: “Imagine, your daughter, your son, your father was killed by somebody—he’s going to get released,” Tene said. “A lot of them, once they’re released, are going back to their previous jobs—being terrorists.”
Over the years that Shalit, now 25, has been in captivity, his family protested in a tent near the Prime Minister’s office in Jerusalem, but the movement to win his freedom has spread far beyond Israel’s borders. Those who helped advocate on the young soldier’s behalf were particularly enthusiastic about the news of his release.
Gal Sitty, 28, a Studio City resident raised money last summer for a “Free Gilad Shalit” billboard that was displayed outside the United Nations in New York - - paid for through a crowd funding website, Epicstep.com. On Tuesday, Sitty reacted with jubilation to the announcement.
“I think it’s absolutely great that he’s finally going to go home to his family, and his parents and his brother can continue to have a normal life again,” Sitty said.
Although Sitty has occasionally been in contact with Shalit’s girlfriend, Ya’ara Winkler, via email, he said he hadn’t been expecting the news.
“I learned about it the way everyone else did … on Twitter. I’m still digesting the news … of course I was hoping for it, but after five long years it’s hard to comprehend that it can come at any given time and I’m glad that it did,” he said.
“This is joyous news to start the New Year,” said Rabbi Mark Diamond, executive vice president of the Board of Rabbis of Southern California.
Speaking via cell phone, Diamond was on his way to deliver a large poster-sized photo of the Israeli soldier to Peachy and Mark Levy, who had recently funded another Shalit-related advocacy campaign. Thanks to their donation of an undisclosed sum, the Levys, members of Leo Baeck Temple, enabled The Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles, of which the Board of Rabbis is a part, to circulate flyers and posters of Shalit to 87 institutions around Los Angeles, including schools, synagogues and churches.
“I now see that poster all over the community,” Diamond said.
American Jewish organizations from across the political spectrum appeared to uniformly welcome the news, albeit in varying tones.
Americans for Peace Now (APN), in an emailed statement, expressed hope that the deal “will open better channels of communications between the Israeli government and Hamas’ government in the Gaza Strip for the benefit of Israelis and Palestinians alike.”
Leaders from other American Jewish organizations reacted more apprehensively.
Rabbi Abraham Cooper, associate dean of the Simon Wiesenthal Center, said he had visited the Shalit family tent in Jerusalem “on one or two occasions” over the years, and said his feelings could be best expressed using two terms from the Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur prayers: kheel and ra’adah, which he translated as exultation and trembling.
“It’s a combination of excitement, that the prayers of millions to reunite Gilad with his family—who doesn’t want to see that happen?” Cooper said. “And the shaking is that for now, only the Israeli government knows what the price tag is.”
“We should continue to pray for Gilad Shalit,” he added. “More than that, at this point, is just not appropriate.”
Tene also expressed concern that Israel’s deal making could have unintended consequences.
“Israel is responsible for bringing all soldiers back,” Tene said. “And we pay a heavy price.”
“The problem,” he added, “is that the terrorists know that.”
This is an updated version of this story.