OpinionIsrael at War

The ceasefire war

It has been a gut-wrenching two months of worry.

An exhibit outside the Tel Aviv Museum of Art showing the names of Israeli hostages, Nov. 18, 2023. Photo by Miriam Alster/Flash90.
An exhibit outside the Tel Aviv Museum of Art showing the names of Israeli hostages, Nov. 18, 2023. Photo by Miriam Alster/Flash90.
Rabbi Hayim Leiter. Credit: Courtesy.
Rav Hayim Leiter
Hayim Leiter is a rabbi, mohel, wedding officiant and member of a private beit din in Israel. He founded Magen HaBrit, an organization that protects the ceremony of brit milah and the children who undergo it. He lives in Efrat and can be reached on X.

The past few days have been excruciating. Israel has brought home more than 50 of the 240 hostages while having to free three times as many Hamas prisoners. As if that equation weren’t hard enough to swallow, Israel has also had to suffer intense psychological warfare.

The original date of the ceasefire was set for Nov. 23, and the first swap was meant to be that evening. The start time was eventually pushed to the next day at 7 a.m. with no explanation. When that moment finally arrived, a rocket was shot from Gaza into Israeli territory.

This delay was certainly intentional. The transfer process is meant to start every day at 4 p.m. and takes a few hours. Shifting the ceasefire made it so that many Israelis were unable to see and celebrate the release of the first captives.

This time of year, Shabbat begins just after 4. Those who observe the day of rest do not use electronic devices for the entire 25 hours. It meant that many of us were blindfolded all day. We were unable to see the children hugging their only remaining family members. The timing was no accident.

As the second release approached, Hamas claimed that Israel had not delivered humanitarian aid to the northern Gaza Strip. Israel threatened to resume the offensive if the hostages were not released by midnight. The handover finally occurred late in the 11 o’clock hour while most of the country was asleep. This again was to muffle the homecoming of the captives.

Many of us, despite our valiant efforts in prayer and protest, felt that we’d never see the hostages again. We were sure that the same terrorists who reveled in beheading innocent kibbutzniks would succumb to their innermost desires and kill more Jews.

I wonder if the same fears were experienced by the Gazans.

It’s very unlikely that our neighbors had any such concerns. Israel was always going to keep its end of the deal. There was no fear that the prisoners were mistreated or that at the last minute, Israeli soldiers would turn around and behead them.

I’m sure many around the world see this swap as something even—that one side returned prisoners and the other side did the same. But this couldn’t be further from the truth. The terms “hostage” and “prisoner” are not equivalent and are used for a reason.

Those who were detained on Israel’s side were captured and tried on legal grounds for crimes they committed. Every one of them was imprisoned for a real offense—be them stabbings, shootings or even suicide bombings. Yet they were treated humanely while in Israeli custody.

This is not true of the Israeli captives. These men, women and children did nothing wrong. They were merely living out their lives when terrorists seized and dragged them deep into underground tunnels. Upon their return, we had to prepare for every eventuality, from malnourishment, to torture, to rape.

A friend asked me the other day if Israelis are happy now that some of ours are coming home. I barely felt I could put all my emotions into words. I told him, if we strictly focus on the hostages coming home, happiness overwhelms us. It has been a gut-wrenching two months of worry.

But that’s not all that’s going on here. It seems likely at the time of writing that more captives will be coming home but certainly not all of them. Part of the ceasefire deal was that mothers and children would not be separated, and yet one such mother was unlocatable at the time of release. This is most likely not a unique case. Not to mention that all of the fathers had to be left behind to make these deals.

I don’t envy the Israeli government right now. The decisions they are making are incomprehensible. Still, we all know that this war must continue. Hamas needs to be eradicated for the safety of Israel—in truth, for the safety of the entire world. We also know that the swaps will end, which means some of our own will not be coming home. In effect, these terrorists are asking us to send our people to their deaths, even though the true fault lies with them. I only pray those responsible will pay the ultimate price for their crimes. All of them.

The opinions and facts presented in this article are those of the author, and neither JNS nor its partners assume any responsibility for them.
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