"If you don't defend citizens from kidnap and murder, you end up choosing between terrible options and slightly less bad options."
Nadav Eyal, one of Israel's mosts respected journalists, on the very lousy deal to which Israel rightly agreed last night.
I don’t know anyone who lived here in 2006 who doesn’t remember the day that Gilat Shalit was taken hostage. It’s hard to describe the sense of shock, or horror, that everyone in this country felt back then. A kid—yes, true, a kid who’d made a mistake by getting out of his tank, but still a kid—in the hands of the monsters. People couldn’t sleep. People could speak about nothing else. And people were determined to get him back.
It was one soldier.
We had a kid in the army already at that point, but, thankfully, she was in Intelligence, and physically at least, out of harm’s way. But we also had a seventeen-year-old son in 2006, a son who was hell-bent on getting into an elite combat unit. We felt what every Israeli family felt—what happened to Gilat Shalit could happen to anyone.
That could be our kid.
A few days or a few weeks after Shalit was kidnapped—I don’t remember the timing anymore—there was an insert in one of the newspapers we got on a Friday. It was a single piece of paper, on stock slightly thicker than regular paper, rolled up along with everything else.
It was, it said, intended for the woman of the household. So I took a cursory look without reading it too carefully, and passed it on to my wife. A few minutes later, I glanced up at her, and saw her reading the sheet of paper intently. “What is it?” I asked. “It’s for candle lighting,” she said. I had no idea what that meant, but I was in the middle of reading something, and let it pass.
That evening, I noticed that when she went to light candles, that piece of paper was on the breakfront. She lit candles, and then, without saying a word, read what turns out to have been a prayer for Shalit’s release. It felt like it took her forever to read that paper. And when she was done and turned around for a quick Shabbat Shalom kiss, her eyes were streaming with tears.
On the surface, they were tears of sadness. In reality, though, they were tears of terror.
That piece of paper stayed on the breakfront for five years. And for five years, every Friday night, she read that prayer as soon as she’d lit candles. And for five years, every Friday night, her eyes welled with tears.
We didn’t know it then, but our son would spend eight years in the army. It would be eight terrifying years of not knowing where he was or what he was doing. It was eight terrifying years of knowing only that whatever it was, it was dangerous. Very dangerous.
We never, ever spoke about how terrified we were. Not once in the eight years did we mention it to each other. We just put one foot in front of the other, day after day, week after week, month after month, year after year.
Those Friday night evening tears, I guess, were stand-ins for the words we couldn’t bear to utter.
That “kid” of ours is back at war. He was called up in the afternoon of Shabbat, October 7.
Now he’s married, a father, at a very different stage of life. When he does get out, now and then, and we get to talk to him, he doesn’t say much. Partly because he’s doing stuff he can’t tell us about, but partly, because he can’t bear to talk about what he knows.
But every now and then, when we talk about what Israel should do to get the hostages out and what price we ought to pay, he simply says, “Those could be my kids.”
We know the feeling.
Israelis are facing an unfolding crisis, but also an important opportunity to rebuild. If you would like to share our conversation about what they are feeling and what is happening that the English press can’t cover, please subscribe today.
What’s the deal? Here’s what all the Hebrew web sites reported this morning:
50 hostages—women and children—will be released during the first four days of a cease fire
Israel will release about 150 prisoners—teenagers and women who have not been charged with murder
Israel will get the list of those about to be released the night before
After that, Hamas will release more captives—and will get three prisoners for every captive, and a day of cease fire for every ten people it released
The IDF will not be allowed to operate even in the air for six hours on every day of cease fire
Hamas will pay a “heavy price” for every violation of the cease fire.
On a day in which it is likely that the deal struck last night is all that people will be discussing today, a translation of sections of Nadav Eyal’s column this morning on YNet.
This deal is one of the most costly in Israel's history
The release of the hostages has an operational price, but the price was fixed on October 7th at 6:30 am. If you don't protect thousands of citizens from kidnap and murder, you have to choose between very bad choices and less bad ones. That is the Israeli contract: solidarity and the determination to do everything.
It’s often customary to write “how difficult the decision is”. That’s also the cautious, cowardly, thing to write. … Indeed, the decision facing the government this evening (Tuesday) is not “easy.” Nothing is easy in an existential war, especially after the disaster and massacre of October 7. But the decision is self-evident. As clear as can be. One of the most binding decisions an Israeli government has ever made. … But it is completely clear, as the light of the sun, that this is the decision that needs to be made.
On October 7, the State of Israel failed, and the security system failed to uphold the most basic obligation of the state: minimal personal security for its citizens. More than 1,000 were murdered. More than 200 were kidnapped. Women and girls were raped. Houses were looted. Israelis are now trapped in the tunnels in the Gaza Strip. Children and babies, elderly, women, soldiers and young soldiers. The attempt by charlatans and extremists to frame this as though were just another deal, like the one Israel agreed to with Hezbollah, or the release of Gilad Shalit, is manipulative and dangerous. This is no “deal.” These are citizens. A large number of them. Their lives are in immediate danger; We know for sure about at least two murdered women, Noa Marciano and the late Yehudit Weiss, just from the last ten days.
There is a price to the deal. A de facto stop in this war, the most justified war in our history since the Yom Kippur War. The pause will give Hamas time to organize, and try to take the initiative. But the price was set on October 7th at 6:30 am. If you don't protect hundreds of citizens from kidnapping, and you don't protect against murder, you end up with bad choices.
Solidarity isn’t expressed in easy moments, but in difficult ones. The most fundamental value of a country is the protection of its citizens. Last weekend, a former very senior army official contacted me. He’s a guy with many accomplishments to his credit. He had nothing to do with the failure of October 7. He’s killed more than his share of terrorists, and he knows the security system. He was shaken, determined and furious. When he spoke about the abandonment [of the hostages again] by delaying the deal, he was virtually screaming.
“It's unbelievable,” he told me, “that we’re not getting this done quickly. Have we gone crazy? Have we lost our sanity? Israeli children are there. What are they debating about, rejecting?! Not the release of murderers. The release of a small number women and minors? About how many days of cease fire? I assure you that the IDF knows how to handle that. And if the IDF is determined to eliminate Yahya Sinwar, this deal will not interfere. And if we are not determined, then nothing will make any difference, anyway.”
The position of the professionals is clear: we need to get back those whom we can, and continue to destroy Hamas, until the very last bunker. And if there is an opportunity to get more of them back, in a military operational or in a deal—then get them back, too. These are not only the generals who sit in the General Staff, but also in the field. Let me quote you from a general who fought and lost dozens of his soldiers on October 7. “If necessary, return all their prisoners in order to return all the abductees,” he told me, “Trust us: we will find and kill all the terrorists who were released. One by one.”
And no, it's not easy. After the Black Sabbath, nothing is easy. Is it possible that the process of returning the hostages will collapse? Yes. Is it possible that this will make it difficult for the IDF to continue, against the background of certain international dynamics? That Sinwar will suddenly “find” more hostages and ask for a few more days—or that will he not “find” the ones he promised? Everything is possible. We’re not naive, and we’re not ignoring the excruciating price.
But what will we say to ourselves if we don't try? That we left 10-month-old Kfir Bibs in the captivity of Hamas? That we gave up the chance to return 3-year-old Abigail Idan, who witnessed the murder of her parents and ran when she was soaked in the blood of her father, Roi Idan, to the neighbors' house—and was kidnapped along with them?
This is not about sentimentality. Taking into account such considerations, of returning citizens, does not make Israel weak, but strong. Anyone who thinks “strategically" or “coldly” without consideration for the children, their families, their mothers, the elderly who built this country and are now in the hands of monsters—is utterly disconnected from Israeli society, the Israeli social contract, that which makes us different from our enemies. Solidarity and the determination to do everything, operationally as well as diplomatically, are a fundamental element of Israeli resilience. And it is this resilience that allows the IDF to fight, to the end. Those who do not believe in those tools, but only in force, have given up something very fundamental. What are the men and women fighters in the Gaza Strip fighting for as these words are being written? For Israelis. For the families. And for those whose souls are torn apart every hour that passes because their loved ones, sometimes their children, are held captive by the Hamas death machine.
The need to accept this deal is self-evident, and even the opponents in the government—the extremists and the populists—know it. That’s why they’re opposing it, because they know their voice doesn’t matter. Do you think the world will listen to us if we refuse the deal? That the campaign to return all the abductees will succeed, if the world media knows that we refused to bring back many dozens, including children? …Turning down this deal would crush Israel’s position. It would make the entire country look like Bezalel Smotrich and Itamar Ben Gvir: extremist, devoid of empathy. That is not Israel.
The Israelis are not naive. Everyone knows that we are in for painful days, with occasional bursts of light. The bright spots will be the moments of recovery of some of the abductees. The torment will be all the rest of the time: the waiting, the manipulation. The uncertainty of the families until the last moment. The terrible disappointment of those whose loved ones remain there.
And the most important point must be made again: the military power of Hamas needs to be destroyed. Until the last bunker and the last mortar. We dare not give up, say that it is now impossible, that the conditions have changed, that Hamas was “beaten” or “learned a lesson.” It must be genuinely destroyed. While doing that, we have to try with all our might to save what was ripped and kidnapped from us. To save what is left of ourselves.
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