Corporal Shalit’s Wages of War

Until former President Carter made public his discussions with Hamas, no one,not even his parents, were sure what had happened to Corporal Gilal Shalit, the young Israeli soldier captured by Palestinian Militants in 2006. According to Carter he will, or has, been given permission to write a letter to them. Whether or not they do, or he goes ahead and writes, when I begin to think of what he has endured for some two years now, I can’t help but be as a younger generation might say, awed. For anyone who follows the news closely, the plight of the Palestinians is no longer news. Their standard of living has decreased as jobs disappear, as fuel is short and food not always easy to find, affordable or plentiful. If the average Palestinian has to undergo this kind of hardship, forgetting for a moment, the checkpoints and their consequences, what must it be like for Corporal Shalit on a day to day basis? What was he fed? Did he have enough water, were sanitary conditions at least bearable? Barry Bearak the New York Times reporter held in Zimbabwe tells of prisons without food and with trying conditions. Since young Gilal seems to be held in Gaza and one can assume he had no air-conditioner, how did he, for example, cope with the heat? Even more to the point, here is someone who was 19 when captured, and who undoubtedly had to face some difficult issues involving, principle, loyalty, honor, calling for a wisdom his young years may or may not have had. Was he tortured? Was he maltreated? Surely he is a prized prisoner since he can be exchanged and bargained for, so his death would have to be accidental and certainly not on the agenda of those holding him. But there’s a wide margin between conditions leading to death and conditions so debilitating they may make one wish for death. What is his state of mind? How is he bearing up? Is he in solitary confinement, did he have access to news, to books? Who talks to him? In many ways these answers are academic, for no matter what they are it is safe to say this young soldier has undergone an ordeal. And that’s the point, when war is looked at one by one, face to face as it were, the price is too high. Somewhere there might be a noble war, a reason so compelling it can justify death and suffering. Since WWII I haven’t seen it. When a given group wants to go to war they have become skilled at making the case for its nobility, and so far we haven’t learned how to see through their machinations, and separate the hype from the facts, their motives from what would be necessary. And so it continues, and to me Corporal Shalit becomes a symbol of our ignorance. As an old song enjoins us, “When will we ever learn?”