Tonight members of Chicago's Jewish community will stand in vigil, focused on the fate of Gilad Shalit, a young Israeli held hostage by Hamas. Our concern for him is just the tip of the iceberg.
Shalit is now entering his fifth year of captivity at the hands of Gaza’s terrorist rulers. A then 19-year old soldier in the Israel Defense Forces, Shalit was abducted from inside Israel by a Hamas terror squad on June 25, 2006. Contrary to international law and all standards of decency, the kidnapped soldier also has been held virtually incommunicado, with no right of visitation by any humanitarian body.
To those genuinely concerned about the fate of Gaza’s 1.5 million residents, the emphasis on the fate of one Israeli might seem distorted. But the circumstances under which Shalit was abducted, and two of his fellow soldiers were killed, cut to the root cause of suffering of all Israelis and Palestinians.
Shalit was attacked while guarding a place called Kerem Shalom (Vineyard of Peace), one of half a dozen border crossings that enable commerce between Israel and Gaza. For years facilities like Kerem Shalom have been attacked repeatedly by Hamas, Islamic Jihad, and other Palestinian terror groups precisely because they foster exchanges between Israelis and Palestinians.
Hamas and other radicals have perpetrated such attacks not because they desire peace or a better life for the people they rule. They do so because they violently oppose any activity that might lead to a peaceful end of conflict—something they consistently reject in word and deed on religious grounds. Just last Friday a Hamas preacher said on the group’s Al-Aqsa TV that “[The Jews’] annihilation and the destruction of their state will only be achieved through Islam, by those who bow before Allah.”
Why have none of those involved in the recent, so-called humanitarian efforts to aid the residents of Gaza raised their voices—on behalf of Shalit or about the deep and vexing issues he symbolizes? Why did the organizers of the recent flotilla refuse to deliver a letter to Shalit from his family? Why, I wonder, were their voices of condemnation and outrage not heard when Hamas forced the closure of the border crossings by launching countless terror attacks and thousands of rockets at Israeli border towns like Sderot, where I experienced such a barrage in 2007?
Why were they not raised when Hamas began firing Iranian Grad missiles on major Israeli cities like Ashkelon and Beersheva? It was that development that triggered the intensification of Israel’s naval blockade of Gaza and its Winter 2008 offensive, which finally restored some semblance of normal life to Southern Israel.
Hamas, which has long used Palestinians as human shields to attack Israelis, persistently has aspired not to “free” Gaza—as Israel tried to do with its total withdrawal in 2005 before the Hamas takeover. Rather Hamas has always worked to force a blockade, in order to try to create a humanitarian crisis (or at least the image of one).
For example, after a dozen or so civilians and police died in terrorist attacks, in 2004 Israel closed the Erez Industrial Zone on the Gaza-Israel border, a facility that for 30 years had employed 5,000 Gazans. The zone had been hailed by both Israelis and Palestinians as an example of cooperation.
It is Hamas, not Israel, that has spared no effort to use Gazans as pawns in a global game of jihad and de-legitimization of Israel, a game orchestrated by Iran, and that also employs Hezbollah and now—ominously—elements within Turkey.
Gilad Shalit isn’t the only prisoner of Hamas. Captive with him are all Israelis and Palestinians who desire an end to the cynical, escalating assault being perpetrated in the name of human rights. Anyone genuinely concerned about peace should raise their voices on behalf of all who are held hostage.
This article appears in the June 24 issue of The Chicago Tribune.