Happy Birthday Gilad Shalit,
On August 28th, Israel and the international Jewish community marked your twenty fifth birthday, and with it, over five years of your captivity at the hands of Hamas. Like every other year that you have spent in captivity, we continue to hope that Hamas will drop its adamant and unjustified demand for Israel to release Palestinian murderers in exchange for your freedom. Freedom for you is one of our greatest hopes, but it would mean some reciprocation, on the part of the Palestinians, to the many steps towards peace taken by Israel in the recent past.
This is difficult to envision, however, as Israel’s myriad actions for peace over the years have received little reciprocation from the Palestinians. An even more difficult fact to stomach is that some of Israel’s most daring steps towards peace have actually taken place at the same time as your past birthdays.
Although you didn’t understand it at the time, your seventh birthday was one of Israel’s most hopeful moments for peace. The year was 1993 and Prime Minister Rabin took an unprecedented step in the peace process, courageously recognizing the Palestinian’s right to self-determination, and creating a plan to establish a Palestinian State. Sadly, this courage was met with duplicity from Yassir Arafat, who shook Rabin’s hand with his right hand, while funding terrorists with his left hand, ultimately resulting in the Second Intifada and the deliberate murder of over one thousand Israeli civilians.
On your nineteenth birthday, in 2005, the Israeli government was in the process of forcibly removing over eight thousand Israeli citizens from their homes in the Gaza strip. Despite the unpopularity of this action and no guarantee of peace, Israel still moved forward with the removal, offering a goodwill gesture to the Palestinians in hope of a long term peace. But instead of achieving the long sought after peace, Israel was bombarded with ten thousand rockets and engaged in a full scale war.
Your birthday has consistently been a day on which Israel has taken the initiative for peace. Unfortunately, the Palestinians have never responded in kind. But now the Palestinians have an opportunity to take their own major step towards peace by fulfilling your wish for freedom, as well as the yearning of the Jewish people for peace. Peace can only happen if both sides desire it. Israel has proven time and again that it wants peace; now is the time for the Palestinians to do so as well.