By Steve Linde
How fitting it was that a prisoner-exchange deal for the release of Gilad Schalit was announced just before Succos.
The succa reminds us of the temporary structures in which the Children of Israel stayed during their 40 years of wandering in the Egyptian desert following the Exodus. Ultimately, they reached the Promised Land, and that is where Gilad must be – the sooner the better.
Gilad, who is now 25, has been in Hamas captivity for more than five long years, waiting for a brave decision by the government.
Under the planned deal, due to be approved by the cabinet Tuesday night, Israel will release a total of some 1,000 prisoners in stages. Gilad will be initially taken from Gaza to Egypt, where the negotiations were conducted via a German mediator, and then flown home.
There are undoubtedly those in Israel, especially some terror victims, who will strongly oppose the release of Palestinian terrorists, and even murderers. This is understandable, and their voices should be heard and not judged.
But the overriding principle must not be forgotten: Israel and the IDF cannot abandon Israeli soldiers, citizens and prisoners, wherever they are.
Defense Minister Ehud Barak has led the top echelon in the security establishment who favor a deal based on this principle. He and others have argued that Israel is strong enough to face the consequences of a prisoner release, and protect the country’s citizens from any repercussions, however awful these may be.
Yes, in an ideal world, Israel wouldn’t negotiate with terrorists. Yes, the released prisoners could easily return to terror. Yes, there is no justice in freeing murderers instead of forcing them to serve their sentences in full. And yes, exchanging 1,000 prisoners for one Israeli is hardly fair.
But the alternatives are even worse. That Gilad Schalit could become another Ron Arad, the navigator who went missing in 1986 and whose fate is still unknown. Or that he could be slain by his captors, as has happened to abducted soldiers in the past.
Our hearts go out to the Schalit family from the Galilee community of Mitzpe Hila who have been protesting for months opposite the prime minister’s residence.
Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu and his government should be praised for having the courage to reach an agreement.
Among those who also deserve kudos are the Israeli officials who took part in the negotiations, the undauntable German mediator and the German government, as well as the Egyptian, French and other governments that played a role in the negotiations.
We can only hope, beyond hope, that during his captivity since June 25, 2006, Gilad has remained sane and will emerge as unscathed as possible, under the circumstances.
Despite the sharp differences of opinion in our society over a release of security prisoners, Israelis should join together in their succot this week, pray that Gilad will soon be reunited with his family and celebrate his imminent return home.