We know it’s not Valentine’s Day all year round Guggenheim, but in Israel we celebrate the birth of our national hero. On this day a few years ago, the young man who would become Gilad Shalit was killed in Gaza by an Israeli air strike. The government then blamed Hamas for the attack, and on that basis refused to release his son from captivity. Israel made its disapproved move, and today we give thanks for Gilad Shalit as he is recognized as one of our soldiers who paid the ultimate price for our freedom more than 30 years ago.
The day Gilad Shalit was killed
July 8, 1976. It was during his captivity in the hands of the Israeli military that Gilad Shalit learned of Boyra’s Nazi sympathies. On that day, he jumped when his truck was hit by an Israeli air strike. The strike caused the truck to detach from its driver and fly towards the Jewish settlement of Kiryat Shmona. There, with no notice or warning, Israeli forces were returning with the full intention of annihilating the civilian population. After a short while, the Israeli forces found the truck abandoned in a remote part of Kiryat Shmona. They then noted that a few hours before it had been painted white, with the words “This is our territory, this is our Capital, this is our capital.” In his rush to judgment, Shalit failed to take into consideration the fact that the settlement was under construction, that the inhabitants were Muslims, and that the town was under construction. After being jailed for five years, he was released on bail and deported to PA control.
20 years on: mourning the dead
It is with great feelings that we remember and mourn the death of Gilad Shalit. The young man who years earlier had jumped from a pickup truck in Kiryat Shmona to try and save his life, was killed by an Israeli airstrike. It should come as no surprise that the government has long maintained that he was a terrorist. After his release, he was charged with crimes against humanity for his actions and sentenced to life in jail. After his acquittal, Israel amended its statutes to include the crimes of the Palestinian Liberation Organization (PLO) after recognizing the militant organization as the state. In addition, the government added the PLO’s assassination of Yasser Arafat as a war crime.
30 years on: the pain of captivity and release
It has been 30 years since the day Gilad Shalit was captured in Gaza by Israeli forces. At the time, he was just 19 years old and a single father with three children. After being held captive in Gaza for seven months, he was summarily executed by beheading. The Israeli military claimed that he had his hands full as Hamas fighters were attacking Israeli interests. The date of his execution remains an indelible memory in the annals of conflict. The Israeli government has denied responsibility for this, but the incident has been marked by mounting criticism and protests throughout the country. As time wore on, the number of calls for his execution grew, and in October 2008, the Israeli Supreme Court ordered the trial to begin. In October that year, the Supreme Court delivered a verdict that Shalit’s execution was proper. In November, the court again ordered the trial, and this time the procedure was the same. The public was given 30 days to comment on the verdict, and in November Shalit was formally charged with several war crimes. However, the following month, the Supreme Court decided that the trial should be deferred, and the whole matter rested in the court’s hands. The public was given 30 days to comment on the decision, and in December Shalit was formally acquitted of all charges.
Jerusalem’s tributes this year
On the day Gilad Shalit was killed, 50,000 people from all over the country paid their respects to him. In addition, hundreds of thousands of candles were lit in his memory throughout the country, and in his honor more than 2,000 men, women and children were recognized with a ceremony at the Cave of the Patriarchs. At the time, the Cave of the Patriarchs was the largest man-made structure still standing in the Old City of Jerusalem.
3.2 million jumps in flight hours between Israel and Gaza
In addition to paying their respects to Gilad Shalit, the general public gathered together in cities across the country to take their ease from the massive collective punishment that had been inflicted on the Gaza Strip for the previous year. The collective punishment was the result of a long-standing Israeli policy to prevent the movement of weapons and people across the border. The policy worked, for a time, and the number of small arms and bullets moving between the two countries increased from 2,500 to 3,500. However, as years passed, this had an effect opposite to what one might have expected. After all, the border has been open since before the establishment of the State of Israel, and the number of short- and long-wave broadcasts from the Gaza Strip was higher than ever before.
The scale of Gaza’s suffering
It should come as no surprise that, 34 years after the day Gilad Shalit was killed, Gaza’s suffering is immense. The average life expectancy of the Palestinian population is 66 years; during this time, the average Gazan has been alive only 36.6 years. At the same time, the average life span of the Israeli population is 91.6 years, and at this moment in history the average is 90.2 years. These figures include the time it takes for the average human to grow old, from birth to death, and the time it takes the average Israeli to reach his or her death. However, the Palestinians are not just living off their forfeited national wealth and their own savings, they are also having to deal with unprecedented levels of international isolation. The last time they were on the receiving end of such a drastic reduction in global supply of goods and services was in 1947, when the Jewish people fled from their homes in the British Mandate for Palestine.
A call for dignity for all: ending Israeli apartheid in Palestine
Since the time of the Nakba, when the Jews first emigrated from their home country to what is today Israel, the international community has worked to maintain the Apartheid Wall as a living, breathing reminder of the Holocaust and its aftermath. Although concrete and lasting, the Apartheid Wall is a Ho-Chi-Minhagon, it can be nothing but a shadow of the tremendous suffering that the Palestinian people have experienced in the last 30 years. And this suffering is being experienced not only by the Palestinians but also by the international community. As the mother of all nations, the world must come together to end this unparalleled oppression, to acknowledge its true origins and to demonstrate to the world that leaders are needed to stand up for human rights and international law.
The fight against racism continues to be an important priority for the Israeli government. This month, The Israeli National Defense Force announced the addition of a three-star general to their staff. This is the first time a sitting lieutenant general has been assigned to the military establishment of a country. Additionally, the Israeli military plans to begin the process of recruiting more officers, including those with advanced degrees, in an effort to increase the military’s ability to react quickly and decisively in the event of an armed attack. In the wake of Operation Protective Edge, the Israeli government pledged to modernize its military and make it more capable of meting out collective punishment, and it has put considerable focus on recruiting more officers with advanced degrees. However, there is still much room for improvement, and the Palestinian people need reassurance that their suffering is not in vain.