After five years in the custody of his Hamas captors, it seems that Gilad Shalit's painful and much publicized saga is finally winding down. The Israeli government has struck a deal with Hamas: Israel will release upwards of a thousand terrorists (most of whom were serving life sentences for murderous crimes) in exchange for one honest young man who was in the wrong place at the wrong time.
On a trip to Israel in August 2010, I had the opportunity to spend a few fascinating moments with Gilad's father, Noam Shalit. We exchanged pleasantries. He asked what my tour group was doing in Israel. I explained. He nodded. Then I asked him what people like me could do to help his son's situation.
He shook his head, and almost in a whisper: "Nothing."
Slightly over a year later, I, indeed, haven't done anything to help his son's situation. With the exception of keeping informed and posting sporadic "Gilad" Facebook status updates, I've done nothing particularly profound to help bring about Gilad Shalit's homecoming. Few have. In the end, as Noam Shalit foresaw and foretold, it has had everything to do political negotiation tactics and diplomatic deals that surpass the powers of ordinary Israelis -- let alone high schoolers in California.
Nevertheless, in the days following the announcement of the deal, the emotional investment of Jews internationally is visibly coming through. Some advocates of the exchange -- certainly many in the global Jewish community -- see Shalit's return as a form of justice. Many see it as an inevitability that completes an era and finishes a story.
But to approach the deal as a justice implies some sort of return to equilibrium; an evenness, a moral balance between loss and gain. In truth, no such balance exists, nor will one.
Yesterday I heard Sharon Brous, a prominent Los Angeles rabbi, frame the Shalit exchange by describing the extraordinary nature of a country who is "letting love dictate policy."
Indeed, Israel is that country. The trade is a present-day embodiment of the pervasive Talmudic adage, "to save one life is to save the whole world." It restores confidence in the hearts of soldiers that regardless of circumstance, they will come home. Indeed, this trade, in all its controversy, seeming paradox, and ardent instability, is a consequence of a deep and overwhelming love of life.
But among those being released is a woman who -- over the internet -- lured a heartbroken Israeli teenager to a Palestinian city, where he was promptly murdered; a man who planted explosives in a Tel Aviv nightclub and killed 21 young partygoers; a woman who escorted a suicide bomber into a jam-packed pizza parlor where he blew up 16 people; a man who orchestrated a hotel bombing that killed 30 people who were celebrating the Passover holiday; a man who bombed a bus in Haifa that killed 17 travelers; the men who founded Hamas' armed wing; a man who, along with several others, pulled an Israeli man out of his car in Ramallah and -- because he was Israeli -- lynched him.
The Shalit exchange is hardly justice. The songwriter David Ford puts it more eloquently: "When victory comes at too heavy a price, there's honor in choosing defeat." Undoubtedly, the world needs Gilad Shalit to fall into his mother's arms; but it doesn't take a skeptic to wonder if the price of that reunion is exorbitant.
I urge the global Jewish community to exercise delicate restraint in its recognition of Gilad Shalit's return to Israel. Jews and Israelis and champions of peace worldwide have attained a goal, though not a victory. It is a time for joy, though not a time for celebration. We have seen a deal, but we have certainly not seen justice. "Nothing" is not a response we want to have to hear again.