Meir Panim’s Tiberias Free Restaurant not only provides warm meals, but the opportunity to socialize as well.
Information spreads like wildfire. “Gilad Shalit is home,” my friend e-mailed me happily as soon as he heard the news. He isn’t Jewish or a even a Zionist, but the kidnapping of someone our age moved him enough to track the case.
“I know this is something that’s weighed on you. It must be good to have it off,” he wrote. And he was right. A load had been lifted off my shoulders.
“Gilad Shalit is home,” my friends and I squealed as we hugged each other, tears streaming down our faces. We couldn’t believe it was happening; we felt like we were in a wonderful dream. Yet as we watched on the Internet as events unfolded, we realized the reality was that our dreams had come true.
After 1,940 days, Gilad Shalit is home and I am so grateful. Even though he shows signs of malnutrition and lack of sunlight, even if he looks gaunt and painfully pale, he is home to the family that loves him, that waited for him, that never gave up on him. It is a moment I will never forget.
Somewhere in Gaza, a young lady my age was celebrating the release of Ahlam Tamimi. She likely blogged about it, hugging friends and talking about how this was a moment she would never forget, how she had pined for her hero’s freedom. Her heart was also full of joy and she felt like this was a victory for everything she lives for.
I remember how on the anniversary of Gilad Shalit’s kidnapping I would sit on my porch and think of all the luxuries I took for granted – freedom, family, friends – and my heart would break for him.
On the day he was finally freed I knew I would wake up the next morning in my own bed and see my family and talk to my friends and travel as I wish. But the knowledge was sweetened by the awareness that Gilad finally would be sharing those same privileges.
I had every confidence the aforementioned young lady was thinking the same about her hero.
Ahlam Tamimi and Gilad Shalit have two things in common. Both were released on the same day. Both their lives changed when they were twenty years old. The difference is, Gilad Shalit was kidnapped while trying to protect his fellow Israelis. Ahlam Tamimi was arrested for collaborating in the murder of fifteen people – eight of them children, including two under the age of six.
Gilad went home to be with his family, to recover from his terrible ordeal. He showed no bitterness for his pain, saying, “I hope this deal will move the peace process forward.” He even wished the released murderers well, “as long as they do not go back to fighting Israel.”
Ahlam, meanwhile, has sworn she will attempt another terrorist attack.
“I’m not sorry for what I did,” she said in an interview in 2006. “I will 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.”
Her prediction, chillingly, came true, and who knows what the future holds?
Despite this, I’m happy. I know I should worry about future terrorist attacks by the criminals who were freed. I know I should worry about future kidnappings. We all should. That will come once the euphoria over Gilad abates and Israel returns to the endless war against terror.
The Popular Resistance Committee of Hamas has already vowed “to capture another soldier and cleanse all the Israeli prisons of our prisoners.”
One of the released prisoners has already said, “We shall spare no efforts to liberate the rest of our brothers and sisters. We urge the Al Kassam Brigades of the Hamas military wing to kidnap more soldiers to exchange them for the freedom of our loved ones who are still behind bars.”
I fear greatly for the future, especially considering how many friends I have in Israel. Are we going from one nightmare to another?
Yet, as Shlomo HaMelech said, there is a time to laugh and a time to cry. This is a time to laugh.
This is also a time to be proud. Proud of a country that released evil murderers because it values the life of an innocent so much more. A country that produces a soldier who, despite being held in unspeakable captivity for five years, has the courage to hope for peace and the strength of character to resist the urge for revenge. A country that loves its children. A country that will live because morality and goodness can never be defeated.
Welcome home, Gilad. You were sorely missed.
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