Israelis divided over 1000:1 prisoner exchange

An Israeli soldier kidnapped by Palestinian militants three years ago might be home soon. Israel is negotiating a deal which could see 1000 Palestinian prisoners released, but for some it is too high a price to pay.

Gilad was nineteen years old when he was captured by Palestinian militants in June 2006 in a cross border raid. His kidnapping was one of the triggers for the 2006 war in Gaza. Since then there has been little word from him, other than three letters and an audio and video tape recording. His captors refuse to allow the Red Cross to visit him.

For nearly two years, a group of volunteers have been coming to a tent set up in front of the Israeli prime minister’s residence to remind him not to forget about Gilad Shalit.

Lana Remez and other demonstrators supported by most Israelis believe no price is too high to bring one of their soldiers back home.

“I believe Israel can give up its Palestinian prisoners, for the life of one soldier who has not yet been discharged from the army,” said Lana Remez.

Many Israeli families follow the case of Gilad Shalit closely, yet, for very different reasons, like those who lost their children in a suicide bus bombing six-and-a-half years ago.

Yossi Mendellevich was speaking to his 13-year-old son Yuval on his cellphone when the bomb exploded, killing seventeen people. He fears the men behind the attack are among the prisoners to be exchanged for Gilad. And while these parents want Gilad freed, they feel the price is too high.

Yossi Mendellevich said, “My son’s killers are part of the Shalit exchange deal. We are afraid and are quite sure that the release of one thousand murderers back to their lives to the Islamic jihad will not bring them to do painting or macramé, they will do what they do best, and that is malicious terror attacks.”

One in five Israelis agrees with this. Gilad Shalit’s father, Noam, led the campaign to free his son, but he understands all too well the price his government is paying.

“I sympathize with their feelings. I know it is not easy for them as some of the people who killed their loved one will be released. I recognize their pain,” Noam said.

However, Gilad’s release certainly gives hope to some other Israeli parents. Rina Hever, for instance, whose son Guy went missing twelve years ago. Although an extensive search was carried out at the time, it was only two years ago that a Syrian militant group claimed it was holding Guy and would release him only in exchange for Syrian prisoners held in Israeli jails.

“It took the army quite a few years until they started to take his case seriously. I thought it was enough that my son was wearing the Army’s uniform when he was captured. But I was very, very wrong. Gilad Shalit is coming home because of media attention and pressure on the government. I hope with all my heart he comes home, and after that, the Israeli government will have to work for my son,” Rina Hever, mother of missing soldier, told RT

At the tent in front of the prime minister’s residence, protestors are keeping up their vigil. Despite the fear that Gilad’s release might encourage further kidnappings, his homecoming sends an important message to the Israeli public.

“If it happened to me, if I was kidnapped, I would want to know my government and country would help me, that they would do everything to set me free,” said one teenage volunteer. “It does not matter what the price is, Gilad has to come home. His family is waiting for him, we are waiting for him, the whole country is waiting for him,” echoed one girl at the demonstration.

Gilad will return to a hero’s welcome, but what condition he will be in – both mentally and physically – is a question many in Israel are afraid to ask.