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UNESCO, Gilad Shalit, Iran – November 8, 2011

These past few weeks have included a number of significant events, seemingly unrelated, and yet all bear watching for their inevitable affect on current affairs in Israel. In early September, Mahmoud Abbas began the process of obtaining UN recognition for a Palestinian State. Just a few days ago, UNESCO voted to accept “Palestine” as a full member of that UN agency, bringing that process that much closer to success. The US promptly notified UNESCO that it would stop its payments to that agency, which accounts for more than 20% of the agency’s budget. Further repercussions could affect US involvement in the UN as a whole with accompanying financial repercussions if US financial input is severely curbed.

Another critical event for Israel was the Gilad Shalit release and prisoner exchange that took place in the middle of the Jewish holiday season. Gilad Shalit was an IDF soldier who was kidnapped by Hamas terrorists while patrolling the Israeli border with Gaza in the summer of 2006. For more than 5 years, Gilad was held totally incommunicado, with no ability for his family or even the International Red Cross to verify his condition.

In order to obtain his release, Israel agreed to free some 1,000 convicted terrorists, allowing most of them to return to Gaza, some even to Judea, Samaria or Jerusalem. These terrorists included some of the worst of humanity, cold-blooded murderers who reveled in the slaughter of innocent men, women and children. You may recall the gruesome pictures of Arabs in Ramallah celebrating the murder of two Israelis who got lost and accidentally entered Ramallah during the early years of the Second Intifada. There was one terrorist who waved his bloody hands out a window as he announced the murder of these two innocent young men. That man, with so much blood on his hands, was released in this exchange.

The release of Gilad Shalit was accompanied by very mixed feelings in Israel. On the one hand, Gilad was not only the son of Aviva and Noam Shalit – he was the son of us all. In a country where nearly everyone serves in the armed forces, when every mother has a son who she sends to defend our country, Gilad could have been any of our children. And, as such, we cried tears of joy as we saw him get off the plane, skinny and shy as he was, saluting our prime minister and embracing his father.

But the price that we paid for his life was a terrible one indeed. We cringed as we saw the murderers greeted in the streets of Ramallah as heroes and we worried and wondered how long it would take before they returned to their murderous ways. Which of our neighbors, which of our children, might be the next victims of these terrorists’ evil attacks, G-d forbid!

The news in Israel last week was full of speculation as to whether the Israeli government would decide to attack Iran and destroy its nuclear capability before it had a chance to develop it and use it against us. While many countries are united in their perception of the danger that a nuclear Iran presents to the world, it seems that only Israel is seriously considering a military option to stop it. This is not an easy decision and I pray that G-d will grant wisdom to our leaders as they ponder this option. I remember when Israel attacked the Osirik reactor in Iraq in 1981 and was uniformly condemned by every nation in the world. Then, years later, when the US attacked Iraq and Israel was attacked on a daily basis by Iraqi scud missiles, we all breathed a sigh of relief that Iraq’s nuclear capability had been destroyed years earlier. There is no question that if Israel does attack Iran, and succeeds, it will be doing a great service to the entire free world. It is also clear, however, that any repercussions of such an attack, including direct missile attacks against Israel, will be born by Israel more than by any other country.

Israel is a unique country and our people are a unique people, as these recent events demonstrate. We are the only member nation of the United Nations which still has to defend its legitimacy as a country 63 years after we were recognized by that same body. The move to recognize Palestine unilaterally is part of the Arab plan to delegitimize Israel. Abbas’ very refusal to negotiate with Israel is based on his refusal to recognize Israel as a Jewish state. Abbas has stated repeatedly that he would not tolerate a single Jew in the state of Palestine. Palestinian national aspirations are based on racism and anti-Semitism and have little if anything to do with a desire to improve the condition of the Palestinian Arabs. And UNESCO’s acceptance of “Palestine” is a testament to the support the Palestinians have for their anti-Israel agenda.

And yet, surrounded as we are by enemies whose only aim is to destroy us, even as we battle for our rights on the international arena, we release hundreds of terrorists, enabling them to kill us again. It is easy to dismiss this act as one of pure insanity. But, in truth, it reflects something else that is unique to Israel. After centuries of dispersion among the nations we managed to retain our national identity by identifying as a family. Indeed, Israel is like one big family. Visitors are often taken aback by how vigorously we argue about politics, religion and anything else. Even total strangers waiting on a street corner for a bus, will argue about whatever issues are front-page news that day. But that’s because we are all family, and relatives argue freely with one another, then kiss and make up. Family members make whatever sacrifices are necessary to protect one another.

We made the ultimate sacrifice for Gilad Shalit because he was our son and we took risks that no other country would take because that is what you do for family.

And as we face the growing threat of Iran, we will be drawing our strength upon these unique traits. We will hold on to our country and our land even as so many nations of the world seek to erase us as a people. We did not survive these many centuries to be too upset when we lose a popularity contest. We will fight for our survival and pray for G-d’s blessing and we can take comfort in the fact that He promised our eternal survival. But, unique to Israel, we will take comfort in the fact that we are all in this together – that brother will fight for brother and mothers will protect children. We are one family and we will survive.

Shalom, Sondra Oster Baras Director, Israel Office CFOIC Heartland

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