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Gilad Shalit is Abducted by Hamas

Updated: Jun 26, 2021

On This Day in Jewish History: June 25, 2006

On this day, 2006, Gilad Shalit was kidnapped and taken hostage by the terrorist group Hamas in a cross-border raid within Israeli territory. Two of Shalit’s comrades were murdered as terrorists dragged him through underground channels into Gazan territory. Shalit was only 19- years old at the time of his kidnapping. During his captivity, Shalit was denied communication with anyone in the outside world except for Hamas members and was under no circumstances permitted to leave his one-room cell. After five years of surviving under these sub-humane conditions, Shalit was released with extensive physical injuries and mental trauma. Shalit’s haunting story is a painful reminder of the rising price of a Jewish state. In Israel, parents recite Psalms to pray for their children’s safe return from service, soldiers deployed in high-risk territories pray for a silent night, and the nation of Israel unanimously longs for a day when one life does not come at the expense of another. Before the abduction, Gilad Shalit lived a life no different from the average Israelis. He was born in the northernmost coastal city of Nahariya, to Aviva and Noam Shalit.

He was known for being of timid character and highly intelligent, having graduated secondary school with high distinction. In 2005, as mandated by the Israeli security service law, Shalit was conscripted to the army in the armoured corps unit. By a trivial instance of poor luck, Shalit was drafted at the same time as when Israel had unilaterally disengaged from Gaza, resulting in the ascendancy of Hamas and the beginning of the notorious Israel-Gaza conflict. Upon rising tensions at the Israeli-Gaza borders, Shalit was deployed to carry out a surveillance mission near the security fence of the southern Gaza Strip. During his mission, a sudden raid of al-Qassam Brigade and Army of Islam terrorists, emerging from a web of underground tunnels, infiltrated the Israeli territory and murdered two young soldiers. Shalit and one other soldier at the tank were injured. The other wounded soldier caught a blurred glimpse of Shalit being dragged away by the terrorists, who escaped back through the border fence, on which Shalit’s flak jacket was later found hanging. The image of a flak jacket was, for five years, the symbolic remnant of the ghost of Gilad’s disappearance.

Shalit’s 5-year captivity left an unsaid mark on Israeli society. During those years, Jews in Israel and the diaspora sat at the edge of their seats, apprehensively waiting for a prisoner exchange that would bring Shalit home. This national apprehensiveness was executed in public and private spheres of Israeli life. For example, many Israelis placed Gilad Shalit campaign stickers on Gaza-bound goods to raise awareness. Many families reserved a seat for Gilad at the Passover table as their “lost son.” Shalit’s captivity also has held a significant influence on academic spaces. Scholars often regard the abduction as a catalyst for the Israeli-Gazan wars as, following the imprisonment, the first rocket attacks commenced. In June of 2006, 757 missiles from Gaza hit Israel, to which the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) had responded with artillery fire and air raids. Operation “Summer Rains” was soon launched by the IDF and large-scale conventional warfare erupted. The pace of missile fire increased dramatically, and Israel bombed the only electrical power plant in the Strip. From then on, similar tensions surrounding the “Green Line” (the demarcation lines of Israel and its bordering states) continued daily for years to come, including four major wars in less than 20 years. However, it is essential to differentiate between the catalysis of Gilad’s captivity on this series of wars and the actual causation of the ongoing conflict. Shalit was merely the first of several cases of abduction executed by Gazan terrorist groups, which sparked retaliation by Israeli forces (as seen in the 2014 abduction of three Israeli teenagers, which initiated the 2014 Gaza-Israeli war). The actual cause of the outbreak of this series of long-term conventional warfare is a multilayered, complex geopolitical land dispute between Israeli Jews and Arab Palestinians.

On a more positive note, when Israel’s “lost son” had returned after 5 long years of psychological and physical torture in the secret prisons of the Gazan territory, parties and parades erupted on the streets of every city across the country. Towns outside of the diaspora, such as Toronto, also held celebrations and speeches commemorating Shalit’s return home. Interestingly, the Jewish festival of Shalit’s release was still widespread despite the internationally- acclaimed “controversial” prisoner exchange of 1,000 Palestinian terrorists for one Israeli soldier. (Aziz Salha one of the Palestinian lynchers who perpetrated the Ramallah lynching in 2000, was among the 1,000 released). This decision to celebrate is quite telling of Jewish values predating from time immemorial. Since biblical times, Judaism has always emphasized the idea of Pikuach Nefesh (“the principle in Jewish law that the preservation of human life overrides all else). As opposed to other Abrahamic faiths, the observance of this vital principle has led to the vitality of preservation of human life rather than the emphasis of martyrdom and life after death. Therefore, the salvation and preservation of Gilad Shalit’s life was a reason for Jewish triumph, despite its inadvertent consequences on Israeli security. Shalit would perhaps never have seen another day on Israeli territory if it was not for this prisoner exchange. Today, we are fortunate to celebrate Gilad’s recent marriage to his bride, Nizan Shabbat. Gilad and Nizan’s marriage reminds us that, as always, in the face of the adversities of war, death, and trauma, Jewish kinship prevails above all.

While we honor and commemorate the release of Gilad Shalit and we celebrate his matrimony with Ms. Shabbat, we must not forget our brothers and sisters who remain in captivity in Gazan prisons. Avera Mengistu and Hisham Al-Saayad, two Israeli civilians who walked into Gazan territory unknowingly, have been held captive by Hamas forces for nearly 6 years. Hamas has broken international law by refusing communication between the captured civilians and their families, leaving any knowledge of the prisoners being dead or alive completely ambiguous. In the optimistic case of the prisoners being alive, Hamas has also potentially violated international law by neglecting the medical needs of Mengistu, who suffers from critical mental health disorders. Furthermore, the double-standard of Shalit’s relatively-swift release by the Israeli government and Mengistu and Al-Sayeed’s continuous imprisonment has come under scrutiny by the public in recent years. For the past 6 years, Mengistu’s family has continued to demand a prisoner of the Israeli government in exchange for their son’s release, but their demands have been largely ignored. The Mengistu family has spoken up several times regarding the role of potential racist prenotions in the lack of media attention and political interest in their son’s release. Furthermore, Black-Israeli activists have been disclosing the hypocrisy of Black activists in the diaspora for completely ignoring the captivity of a disabled, Black male due to Mengistu’s Jewish and Israeli identity. Omitting certain cases, such as Mengistu, from the progressive agenda due to their ill-assortments with the current narrative is baneful sanctimony committed by the western world. By failing to include current western narratives renders the suffering of Jews as trivial and a thing of the past. This narrative must be ultimately fixed and addressed by nuances to impede its ill effects on Jewish folks.



Image: https://www.middleeasteye.net/sites/default/files/styles/article_page/public/main-images/Where%20is%20Avera%20protest.JPG?itok=IidGoxa8 Sources: https://www.haaretz.com/1.5201606 https://www.nytimes.com/2011/11/13/magazine/gilad-shalit-and-the-cost-of-an-israeli-life.html https://www.google.com/search?q=gilad+shalit+troronto&rlz=1C5CHFA_enCA884CA884&oq=gilad+shalit+troronto+&aqs=chrome..69i57.3038j0j9&sourceid=chrome&ie=UTF-8 https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gilad_Shalit_prisoner_exchange https://www.haaretz.com/1.5190354 https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gilad_Shalit#cite_note-baskin-4

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