Sunday, March 22, 2009

The Argument Against Prisoner Exchange

Gilad Shalit and his family are suffering. There is no question about that, and I feel for them, and I despair at the inadequacies of our current government.

To play the flip side, a point with which I equally agree and thus causes me great conflict: when a man or woman joins the army, they know that they might be captured or killed. Gilad Shalit knew this as well as anyone else.

In the last prisoner exchange, we broke through all the "red lines" and released not only terrorists with blood on their hands, but several high ranking and particularly heinous individuals. For the return of two dead bodies.

We have already upped the ante, and the Arabs know they can exploit our weaknesses.

What price Gilad? Is one man worth releasing 450 killers, who will return the favor by adding more bloodshed to the Israelis in the future? And by making a deal, does it not in fact encourage all terrorist groups to kidnap more soldiers, to bring about the release of more of their cronies legitimately jailed and held by Israel? Do we even know that Gilad Shalit remains alive?

As I have said before, I surely do not have the answers to these questions, and I do not presume to forecast the future.

Saturday, March 21, 2009

1000 Days

Last night I attended the Solidarity meeting for the kidnapped soldier Gilad Shalit, who as of yesterday, has been in captivity for a full 1000 days. I joined the journalists and Israeli citizens, some of whom had driven several hours from all over the country to support the Shalit family; three weeks ago, they moved out of their home and into the protest tent across from the Prime Minister's house in Jerusalem.

Unfortunately, the Shalit family are returning to their home this morning, as the latest rounds of negotiations for Gilad's safe return have failed, and it looks like the responsibility will fall to the incoming Netanyahu government. I never trusted Ehud Olmert to get the job done: he had three years and only made it a priority when he was literally on his way out of office, and had to save his legacy and reputation.

Before the ceremony began, a PA system played a tape in Gilad's voice, saying, "My name is Gilad, son of Noam Shalit, a prisoner of Hamas. Save me." All the more heartbreaking when you know his mother and father and brother, his friends and relatives, have been living this reality every day.

Noam Shalit put Netanyahu on notice, saying that the incoming PM would not have his 100 days of political honeymoon; that the family and the country expected Gilad back not in "one hundred days, or ten days, or even ten hours." 1000 days have already passed, with opportunities wasted.

Meir Shalev, the noted Israeli author, encouraged the government to stop protecting their own "red lines" and put Gilad Shalit first. Notably absent the entire evening: both Ehud Olmert and Bibi Netanyahu, literal neighbors of the Shalit protest tent. Shame on them, they couldn't roll out of bed to support this family and encourage the country with some leadership?

The rally ended with a group prayer more inspirational than any Yom Kippur I have ever experienced, and of course with HaTikva. By the time we got to the Israeli national anthem, the crowd could barely sing, so choked up with tears.

What price Gilad? How many terrorists can and should be released to bring him home? I don't know how to answer that question.

But G-d keep Gilad safe and bring him home, so that he does not become another Ron Arad.

Thursday, March 5, 2009

My Peace Proposal

Let's establish first that Peace must begin on a small scale, with changes in the attitudes of individuals and the desire of individuals to live differently and better. Let us also establish that in many cultures, but especially Judaism, food and meals are the center of human interaction among both families and friends.

Living in Israel, I observe with pain the division and animosity (which sometimes leads to physical violence) between various sectors of the Jewish population. Religious and Secular. Religious and Ultra-Orthodox. Sephardic and Ashkenazic. Sabras and Immigrants. Immigrants and Immigrants.

The upcoming major holiday of Pessach accentuates these differences, with the normal dietary restrictions overlaid with the hot subject of "Kitniot" (Legumes), a food group which Sephard Jews can eat and Ashkenaz Jews shouldn't even look at, lest they turn to stone. (I will not even start with the Gebrachts issue.)

You see it in the supermarkets, which gouge the customers as soon as they add a little sticker on an item that says "Kosher for Passover." Most items in the supermarket are "Kosher for Passover for those who are allowed to eat Kitniot." Furthermore, many would argue that I cannot even visit my Sephardi friends during the holiday, as I would be exposing myself to forbidden Ashkenazi foods.

Kitniot, like many things in Judaism, is qualified as "minhag," a custom with deep roots in history. Now that all Jews - and for that matter, all beings - are connected through globalization, and we live side-by-side in the same JEWISH country, I say we knock down the wall of Kitniot. I say we allow all Jews, religious and non-religious, to eat together and enjoy each other's company on a holiday which celebrates our common past and our families.

One small step of dining together could lead to major developments in Israel, such as the end of the Shas (Ultra-Religious Sephardic) political party; such as a basic understanding and growing tolerance for each other as people rather than ethnic groups. And most importantly, the unification of the Israeli and world-wide Jewish population, which will change the way the international community expects to treat us.

Anti-Semites can be fought more easily, and Israel would not be pushed into deals with terrorists, because our inherent right to live and live safely would be respected.

Together we are strong, and together we can decisions for the future of all our people.