Tuesday, May 06, 2008

Reflections on Israeli POW's and the public's reaction towards them on Israel's 60th

Last Friday, May 2nd, a very interesting article appeared in the Weekend supplement of the Jerusalem Post, Israel's oldest English language newspaper. The article, entitled Stigma of Surrender, and written by correspondent Larry Derfner, dealt with Israelis who had been taken prisoner in various wars, especially the Yom Kippur War of 1973 and the first Lebanese War of 1982. Former Israeli POW's who had been taken prisoner and later released, recounted their experiences in the hands of the enemy, and what happened to them after their final release. Many of them said that the treatment they received by IDF authorities who "interrogated" them afterwards was (from a psychological basis) almost as bad as when they were prisoners of war, or of terrorists.

With Israeli soldiers such as Gilad Schalit, Eldad Regev and Ehud Goldwasser still not back home after nearly two years, this year's Soldier's Remembrance Day and Independence Day celebrations will take on a special meaning for members of their families, as well as for many other Israelis.

Israel will be celebrating its 60th anniversary as an independent state this week; and the matter of captured and missing soldiers is an issue even more important, especially in light of recent offers to affect a prisoner exchange with the Hamas organization for captured soldier Gilad Schalit.

Many people in Israel feel that trading this young soldier's life (assuming he's still alive) for several hundred Hamas and other terrorists who will only go back to killing Jews, is not going by the old Rabbinical context of "he who saves one life has saved the entire world". This time it's entirely different.

I wouldn't want to be in the shoes of either Mr. and Mrs. Schalit or the Prime Minister in regards to what to do in this situation. Israeli prisoners have mainly been repatriated in wartime - and at that most were from the Egyptians who were only slightly more humane than their Syrian allies.

Regarding soldiers captured or taken prisoner by terrorist groups, it's nearly always been a death sentence - except for some like Elhanan Tennenbaum, an Israeli reserve officer who was captured while in Dubai on a "business trip" and later transported to Lebanon, and who may have had "connections" which enabled him to stay alive.

Some people feel that Israeli solders should be issued a cyanide pill, like Mossad agents are, and if they have the opportunity, to simply swallow it. At least it prevents the suffering, including by such as Ron Arad, who may actually have died long ago (this was supposedly verified by Russian and other foreign diplomats who received inside information).

That's the sad reality of being captured as an Israeli soldier. So much for the "Pinchas Shevi" (POW ID Card) issued every IDF recruit. Some say that it's not worth the paper it's printed on!

Or is it?

I'm quite sure that if one talks to parents and relatives of the three young men mentioned here, they will definitely agree that Israeli soldiers should not only come back alive but should be given the honor that they truly deserve. In fact, I'm sure these relatives feel that Israeli leaders are not doing enough to ensure their loved ones' release.

As Israelis celebrate 60 years of independence, they should also take time to reflect on these brave young men who so much deserve to come home – with honor – to their loving and waiting families.

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