In America, it has become normal for a young adult to attend college after he or she graduates from high school. These new college students are excited about being away from home for the first time and are even more excited for the new friends, classes and experiences they are about to encounter. Similarly, in Israel, new Israeli high school graduates are eager to start a new chapter in their life: entry in the Israel Defense Forces.
Young IDF soldiers also are often away from home for the first time. But the Israeli’s experience requires much more responsibility, maturity and courage than that asked of Americans entering college.
There is an Israeli soldier whose military experience certainly has included loneliness, fear and being away from his family far beyond what he would have expected. This week, June 25, marks the beginning of the fifth year that Israel and the rest of the world has missed, hoped and prayed for the release and return of Israel Defense Forces soldier Gilad Shalit. Shalit was captured when he was 19 years old and he will be turning 23 years old on August 28. He has spent four years of his life with no control over his day-to-day existence or his future. He has not seen family, friends or anybody who truly cares about his well being. Hamas has denied the International Red Cross permission to visit Shalit or to give him any kind of humanitarian aid.
Although I am almost the same age as Gilad Shalit when he was captured, I cannot truly conceptualize his terrifying situation. As a 20 year-old I depend on my parents in many different ways; for the past four years Shalit has been unable to depend on his parents for comfort, advice and support—let alone communicate with them.
My brother is a mere three months older than Shalit. I imagine myself in the place of Shalit’s siblings: If my family lived in Israel, my brother could have been in a similar situation to Shalit’s; instead of the captive soldier being Yoel Shalit and Hadas Shalit’s brother, the long-time captive could have been my sister’s and my brother.
Four years is such a long time and it is difficult to comprehend what four years of captivity really is. When I think of four consecutive years in somebody’s life, I think of high school and college. I will finish college in four years within the usual four-year period; there are students in America and all over the world who started and finished high school or college during the same time that Gilad Shalit has been held by his Palestinians kidnappers. Shalit should have been finished with his army service in Israel more than a year ago and embarked on his journey to the next stage of his life. Instead, unfortunately, he has become a key—a political pawn—for Hamas in its efforts to release numerous dangerous terrorists held in Israeli prisons.
As a Jew in The Diaspora I realize the bravery of the Israeli soldiers who are protecting Eretz Yisrael. I join Jews all over the world in recognizing this horror happening to Gilad and call for his immediate release and return. In Israel and in the Diaspora, Jews are responsible for one another. Gilad Shalit is the son and brother to all of us around the world.