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Dear all international organizations, human rights groups and lovers of democracy everywhere,
This past Saturday, Gilad Shalit did not blow out 24 candles. He did not celebrate with family and friends. He couldn’t even receive birthday calls or birthday cards. After five birthdays spent as a captive in Gaza, Shalit is still not free.
When Hamas captured Shalit on June 25, 2006 in a cross-border raid, he was a 19-year-old soldier.
Unlike Americans, he was serving his mandatory army service, before he probably would have began studying at a university. He was doing his job.
He’s been a prisoner of Gaza ever since. Just a few miles from Israel, he’s had no contact with family. He has no basic human rights.
Hamas, the group that captured him, is the political unit in power in Gaza. Hamas is a terrorist group, which calls for the destruction of Israel. Hamas is also responsible for shooting hundreds of Qassam rockets at innocent Israeli villages like Sderot. Members of Hamas have continuously made Anti-Semitic statements and have denied the Holocaust.
I traveled to Israel the first time a couple days after Shalit’s abduction. Everyday, I wait, along with his family, friends and the entire people of Israel, to hear that he’s safely returned or at least that he’s been given some rights, to see his family just miles from his home.
I’m still waiting.
The world constantly criticizes Israel. The nation’s been criticized by the United Nations for using “disproportionate force” against the Palestinians in the 2009 war in Gaza, for using self defense against an armed group of people trying to infiltrate the Gaza border and for generally being an “occupying force.”
Israel isn’t perfect. But where are the cries from those around the world? Those who believe that Shalit should be free.
I asked a few of my friends who are currently living in Israel, to help clarify the issue.
Tzvi Darling, a 22-year-old Israeli immigrant who used to attend the University of Colorado and is currently serving in the Israeli Defense Force, said that he believes that there is less of an international outcry because Shalit is an Israeli.
“The world is not sympathetic toward Israel at the moment,” Darling said. “One prisoner is not that bad to a lot of countries.”
Yair Kleinbaum, a 21-year-old history major at Hebrew University in Jerusalem and a native Israeli, said he believes that the West has gotten used to the fact that there are people in captivity in extreme Muslim nations.
“This makes the Gilad case not anything new or exciting for the media,” Kleinbaum said. “Also, the fact that he is a Jew from the [Israeli Defense Force] doesn’t help.”
Still, Hamas has agreed to release Shalit, if 1,000 people deemed by Israel as terrorists, are released in exchange. Since releasing the terrorists places the people of Israel in danger, the Israeli government has refused.
Kleinbaum said that he is against letting Shalit go in exchange for 1,000 terrorists.
“If we will give into Hamas, they will just kidnap more of our soldiers,” he said. “We should try taking Gilad home by force and not give away basic morale values for one man. The morale value is to fight Islamic terror and not to give it what it wants.”
Carly Coons, a 20-year-old junior double majoring in international affairs and religious studies, who is currently studying abroad at the Hebrew University in Jerusalem, said that the exchange has not been made because the Israeli government has to look toward the future.
“By adhering to these measures Israel is showing their weakness: that they will give in anytime one solider is taken,” Coons said. “You have to look at the future. How many more lives with these 1,000 terrorists kill and is Israel willing to combat that when the time comes?”
Like Darling, Coons said that she believes there is less of an outcry because Shalit is Israeli or Jewish.
Irene Skupsky, a 20-year-old junior international affairs major, was just in studying in Israel this summer and said she feels pressure should be made on the International Red Cross to free Shalit.
“The focus should be placed on pressuring the International Red Cross, who brings aid to Gaza daily, to help free Shalit,” Skupsky said.
Given that Hamas has asked 1,000 terrorists to be released, it is understandable that the Israeli government has decided that the release of Shalit might not be worth the blood of Israeli citizens.
However, it is about time for the rest of the world to stand up and tell Hamas that the crimes it has committed cannot be accepted. The rest of the world should stand behind Israel, the strongest ally of the U.S. and protector of democracy in the Middle East.
“Everyone feels like Gilad is their own son,” Kleinbaum said. “And most Israelis are willing to pay a high price to have him back.”
America must stand behind Israel. We must pretend that Gilad is our own, as if he is an American soldier.
Next year, the free world should celebrate Gilad Shalit’s first birthday, as a free man.
Contact CU Independent Social Media Outreach Editor Sara Fruman at Sara.firstname.lastname@example.org.