by: Rev. Cheryl Hauer, International Development Director
It all began on June 26, 2006, when Hamas terrorists infiltrated Israel through underground tunnels near the Kerem Shalom border crossing into Gaza from Egypt. During an ensuing firefight, several Israel Defense Forces soldiers were killed and wounded, and Gilad Shalit was taken captive after a grenade hit his tank.
For the next five years, he was held at an undesignated location under circumstances of confinement that were contrary to international law. As a captive soldier, the Geneva Convention guaranteed that he receive visits from the Red Cross and communication with his family, but neither of these internationally accepted stipulations were met.
Israel immediately embarked on plans to bring Gilad home. Rescue attempts, including an incursion into Gaza in 2006 and Operation Cast Lead in 2008–2009, failed in their goal to locate and free him. Diplomatic negotiations were equally unsuccessful, with Hamas demanding an exchange for top terrorist leaders and organizers imprisoned in Israel, a condition impossible for Israeli leaders to meet.
Love and Prayers Poured Out
Meanwhile, the Shalit family began an all-out effort to keep attention focused on their imprisoned loved one for as long as it would take to bring him back. Gilad’s parents determined to sleep in a tent rather than in the comfort of their home; numerous rallies and marches involving thousands of Israelis were held throughout the Land.
The international community became intimately involved as well. The United Nations issued several demands for Gilad’s release, while the Catholic Church and other organizations attempted to influence Hamas to set him free. Dmitri Medvedev, President of Russia, stated in 2010 meetings with Hamas leaders that the situation should be resolved immediately through the release of Gilad Shalit. The controversial Goldstone Report also demanded his immediate freedom, and countless other governments and politicians spoke out against his captivity.
On the civilian front, the five years saw an overwhelming outpouring of love and support for Gilad and the Shalit family. Across the world, individuals, organizations, and entire communities moved to make their voices heard. On the fourth anniversary of Gilad’s capture, cathedrals across Europe “went black,” not using their lights as a statement of solidarity, as did the Coliseum in Rome and the Old City walls of Jerusalem. In 2008, Gilad was made an honorary citizen of Paris, and Rome followed suit shortly thereafter. In the United States, the cities of New Orleans, Miami, Baltimore, and Pittsburgh also granted him the status of honorary citizen.
But the event that may have had the most impact on the situation occurred on August 28, 2009, Gilad’s 23rd birthday, when thousands joined together at the Western Wall to pray for his release. Around the world, Jews and Christians alike have prayed with diligence and fervency that the Lord would protect Gilad in his captivity and move to restore him to his family.
Released!—A Day of Great Joy
On October 11, 2011, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu held an emergency meeting of his cabinet to discuss an agreement, brokered by Egypt, that would place 1,027 terrorists back on the streets in exchange for Gilad’s freedom. On October 18, during the week of the joyful, biblical Feast of Tabernacles, Gilad was reunited with his family.
Clearly, it was a day of rejoicing for Gilad’s friends and family, as well as millions around the world who had prayed for his release. An Israeli poll indicated that 79% of Israelis favored his release regardless of the prisoner swap. Another 14% favored his release as well, but under different terms that did not endanger Israel’s future.
While it is clear that all efforts of governments, organizations, and politicians to secure the freedom of this one son of Israel failed—except the last one—we, as people of faith, can be assured that the God of Israel heard the prayers of the faithful and responded. Now, it is incumbent upon us to continue praying.
The God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob who brought Gilad Shalit home from his captivity will also bring comfort to the families of the victims of terror perpetrated by terrorists who gained their freedom in the prisoner swap. Now we need to pray that God will move to keep His Land and people safe from any evil those prisoners would plan against them. As Israel’s Keeper, He has said He will preserve Israel from all evil (Ps. 121:7). It is our responsibility to remind Him.
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