Awake at Night

12 Oct

I realized the irony of this term, now at 6:20 am, after spending a restless night thinking of Gilad.  “Awake at night” is the name of the Israeli organization of former prisoners of war, a group Gilad will likely join.  Here I am, just a regular citizen, not even currently in Israel, and I can’t stop crying at the thought of his return.

He’s not back yet, but I’ve thought of his release almost daily for his five long years in captivity. I’ve dreamt about him numerous times, and could not ignore that earnest and shy face when I saw it on the numerous posters, billboards, and bumper stickers in our hot, crowded country.

What is five years? A lifetime. When Gilad was kidnapped, a few weeks before the onset of the 2006 Lebanon War, I was still new in Israel. I wasn’t naive but I was still learning the ways of this country. We were freshly married, visiting the country for the summer during a previous stint abroad.  Who knew it would last so long?

Since then, two more soldiers were captured (and many killed). Eldad Regev and Ehud Goldwasser were returned in cold blood in coffins. The previous deal I had witnessed in Israel, was less (or more) sardonic, yielding one live criminal, Elhanan Tannenbaum, and three bodies. They had been captured more than three years prior.

Now, as a mother myself, I can’t stop looking at the photo of Aviva Schalit, Gilad’s horribly media shy mother, finally, after so many years, smiling.

Unlike past prisoner exchanges, Gilad is an “open sore” for everyone (even those who were against such a wide-scale exchange) because it could have been resolved many times before. When Gilad was captured, we had a prime minister who cared more about five-star hotel rooms and business class than his own citizens. His subsequent resignation and trials confirmed what we all knew.

As much as I loathe Bibi, our current prime minister, he cares more. But not more than retaining his coalition. This deal happened way too late.

Besides the government’s inertia, the Schalit family has oft been criticized for being too timid, for not “turning over tables” to secure their son’s release. Demure and timid like their son, Noam and Aviva Schalit were forced to open up to the media, so reluctantly. They fought their battle, in their own way. I was so happy when Yoel Schalit, Gilad’s brother, and his girlfriend Yaara disrupted a Remembrance Day ceremony – finally they understood that they had to break the rules. They had to fight. Gilad wasn’t going to return by himself.

For nearly three years, we lived three minutes away from the Gilad encampment next to the prime minister’s residence in Jerusalem. The tent, with its homemade banners and small but constant stream of visitors, has become a landmark and it’s hard to imagine that it will no longer exist. In those years, I demonstrated, visited the family, sat in the tent, and prayed there on Yom Kippur.

I got pregnant in its vicinity and remember visiting Gilad’s parents during that time, with many others, on Purim 2009. Amitai was born a few weeks later, on the 1,000th day of Gilad’s captivity. We have a photo of a chubby baby Amitai watching the video of Gilad in October 2009. When the Schalits finally decided to camp out in Jerusalem permanently, Amitai and I attended the welcome rally. I told Aviva that it was hard to believe that a human was born and grew up in the time her son was away from her.

Gilad is now 25. He has missed out on the post-army trip, studies, finding love, all the things that make life so great at that time. I hope he will have some semblance of a normal life once he returns. I hope his parents can bask in the love of their son, and in the privacy they so desperately need.

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One Response to “Awake at Night”

Trackbacks/Pingbacks

  1. A Day at the Beach | Perpetual Nomad - August 1, 2014

    […] release – and in most cases the soldiers are already dead, unbeknownst to Israel. (Read my post on Gilad Shalit’s release for more on this ultra-sensitive […]

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