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I moved from dank, dark North Manchester, U.K. to Karmiel, Western Galilee, Israel in March 2010. It is, believe me, one of the sunniest, loveliest towns on earth. With a background in local Jewish journalism I continue to write freelance. I manage several blogs, have  appeared on Technorati and Blogcritics and now contribute to the online magazine, 'Live Encounters'. My main blog is Alwayswriteagain (http://wwwalwayswriteagain.blogspot.com

Sunday, 11 July 2010

Please Untie Those Yellow Ribbons



They're everywhere, those brave yellow ribbons. It's seeped into mainstream culture, that hysteria.

But as the weeks'-long vigil for kidnapped and incarcerated Israeli soldier, Gilad Shalit reaches its climax some of us think it's time for a sober reassessment.

Here in Karmiel - like nearly every other centre of Jewish population in Israel - every public thought has been centred on who lies behind that blaze of daffodil-coloured streamers  festooning lampposts, car aerials, bus entrances, parks, personal bags and clothing.

Yes, so much has the campaign to release Shalit from the clutches of Hamas become a part of mainstream Israeli culture that we ulpan students have been told to follow the story as part of our Hebrew studies. Each day, when our tutor has asked "ma chadash?" - "what's news"? - we have looked less at our own potty doings than at the progress of the nationwide march initiated by Shalit's family to mark the fifth anniversary of his imprisonment.

As the huge supporting crowds neared the march's destination in Jerusalem, an unusually empathetic report on BBC Radio explained how and why the Shalit family's plight had touched the heart of the Israeli nation. Every parent from Dan to Beersheva knew it could be their own beloved kid trapped in this terrible situation.

While I trust I understand the agony Gilad's parents must be enduring and endorse fully the campaign for his release I am among those with ruefully mixed feelings about the possible result of a prisoner swap. 

    • Jews, who love life, would have to swap this single hero for thousands of Islamo-Fascist terrorists who boast how much they crave death.
    • If the terrorists return home they will be free once more to resume their murderous activities.
    • Hamas (wrongly, of course) will view the Netanyahu Government as craven and willing to accede to everyone of its heinous demands.
    • There will be another war with more tragic loss of Jewish and also Israeli-Arab lives.

But why listen to me? Read instead the magisterial interpretation of events and possible consequences by Professor Hagi Ben-Artzi of Bar Ilan University. This piece which I read via Ynet News and which urged people to stand against the Shalit family's march, is now almost a fortnight old but I believe it's worth quoting as the views are timeless and would hold true should a similar situation recur.

"The Shalit family’s campaign isn’t a journey meant for the general Israeli public. It is a march of a family pained by its son’s captivity. However, they know just like any other intelligent person knows that releasing 1,000 Hamas murderers will immensely boost the movement in particular, and anti-Jewish terror in general; such mass release would also prompt, heaven forbid, a significant rise in the number of murderous terror attacks.

"We are not talking about a peace treaty, whereby we may be able to show understanding to the release of terrorists based on hope for reconciliation. What we have here is the extortion of a terror organisation that constantly declares that it will never accept the State of Israel and relentlessly works to destroy it.

"The absence of Palestinian commanders and leaders, who were nabbed through the immense efforts and endless dedication of Israeli security forces, is felt on the ground and manifests itself via a dramatic decline in terrorism in recent years. The return of all these commanders and leaders will stimulate a new spirit among the terrorists and may cause a sharp rise in terror attacks. The immediate result of such rise would be numerous Israeli casualties.

"It’s clear to all that the release of hundreds of Hamas murderers constitutes a declaration that the State of Israel is giving up on its war against Islamic terror. The razing of homes and banishing of families were banned by the High Court; the death penalty does not exist in Israel in practice, and the only punishment left to us is a life term to terrorists and murderers. Letting go of the last punishment still being used against our murderers is akin to surrender. From now on, we would be able to proceed with terminating our statehood, as there is no point in maintaining a state that is unable to punish the murderers of its citizens.

"The prime minister and our national leaders must not capitulate in the face of the Shalit campaign. You are responsible for seven million citizens and not only for the Shalit family. Should you cave in and free the murderers, you will be accountable for the blood of the hundreds and thousands of future terror victims.

"Israel’s rabbis in general and our chief rabbis in particular know just as well as I do that one soul should not be sacrificed for another, as articulated by Maimonides. Anyone who endorses such act or keeps silent instead of protesting is a party to any future bloodshed. What would you say in the future, when you’ll be asked why you remained silent, while attending the funeral of future terror victims, heaven forbid? I urge you to openly declare the Torah’s view on this matter without fear.

"Israel’s citizens in general, and our teachers and educators in particular, who may join the Shalit march without thinking much and based on cheap populism should look into the eyes of their children and students. Should you join the egotistical march, you may be leading these tender children, who you love so much, to their death, heaven forbid. I urge you to stand up and demonstrate against the Shalit family. Should you not come out to protest so that a different voice is heard – a saner, more responsible voice – the government may capitulate in the face of the family’s campaign. What would you tell your families should someone be hurt? Why didn’t you raise a hue and cry? Why didn’t you protest? Why did you abandon the public discourse to the voice of one family?

"I’m urging the public to embark on a different kind of campaign to counter the Shalit family’s march. It would be a campaign that represents the interests of the whole Israeli public rather than those of one family within it. It would be a campaign that regains the sanity and normalcy on the Israeli street.

"My last message is directed at members of the Shalit family: Everyone understands your sorrow and pain, yet you cannot ask us to abandon our children and terminate our state because of your personal pain. There are moments where a person must realise he is a part of the public and of a whole nation, and must therefore concede his own personal interest for the benefit of the whole and for its existence. One of those nights perhaps, when you cannot fall asleep, your conscience will awaken too and lead you back home.

"Let the Israeli government and its elected leaders continue the struggle for returning Gilad, in line with the interests of the entire state and all its citizens. Believe me, I am personally familiar with the prime minister and with some of the senior ministers – they are people with a humane heart and with moral feelings. When they say “no” to the release of hundreds of murderers, they do not do it because of indifference or wickedness, but rather, based on a broad vision of the State of Israel, its existence and its future".

Many of Dr Ben-Artzi's views reflect my own but with some marked differences.

I write as one who see herself as a Livni supporter with religious views in some part similar to those of Rabbi Michael Melchior so in a central-liberal niche far to Bibi's left.

But even a scoundrel like me knows that whatever an Israeli government or individual Israeli citizens may or may not do or say will make neither a jot nor a tittle difference to her enemies. I keep remarking (fancifully) that if the Netanyahu administration were to cede every piece of territory gained since '48, return every terrorist now in jail and even to breathe renewed life into those bloodstained monsters whom the security forces have long-since assassinated, it won't change our Arab enemies' continuing aim of destroying Israel and  indeed Jewry worldwide. And what would happen to our Gilad, God forbid? I don't want to write it and no-one wants to see it in cold print.

Nonetheless I would not stop the Shalit family and their supporters from campaigning - ever. Israel, if nought else, is a fabulous if badly scarred democracy. I see the march and concluding vigil as being like those emergency marches and rallies on behalf of Israel in the Diaspora. They're "chicken soup". They don't harm even if they don't help - except in for this:

They give positive publicity to a current campaign. More important, they make woefully distressed people feel they are doing something practical to help. Such well-meaning folk always remind me of  parents who, compelled to exorcise an impotent rage when watching a tiny, frail child being savaged by a grave illness, first offer medical staff gratuitous advice - and then  start a charity.

A modern expiation devoutly to be wished?


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