A Thousand to One

HAIFA – The celebrations in Israel over the release of the kidnapped soldier Gilad Shalit come after the Israeli government concluded that diplomatic rarity, an agreement with Hamas. It is as if the government had brought back an Israeli who had been sent to Mars.

Of course, other Israeli soldiers and civilians have been held captive in Arab states or abducted by terrorist organizations and other militant groups over the years. And Israel has been willing in the past to barter hundreds or thousands of detainees in exchange for the release of just a few of its citizens. But, for as long as I can remember, popular enthusiasm has never been so overwhelmingly supportive of such a deal as it is now, with the joy virtually exploding across the country after the news of Shalit’s pending release began to circulate.

One reason for this outpouring of enthusiasm is clear: the Shalit family’s remarkable ability to keep alive interest in his cause throughout the five years since his abduction. Indeed, the Israeli public consistently supported the idea of the government reaching agreement with Hamas for the soldier’s release.

Many Israelis, from all social classes, joined the campaign for Shalit’s release. Demonstrations and meetings were organized. Posters were hung everywhere to remember the number of days of his ordeal. But the Shalit family is given the most credit: they left their home in a small village in Galilee to camp out for more than a year near the prime minister’s residence in Jerusalem, reminding the Israeli public of the victim’s suffering and pushing the government to accept Hamas’s conditions.