World is astounded by Israel once again

AN abducted Israeli soldier is returned to his home at the expense of more than 1,000 terrorist prisoners being allowed to walk free. Not for the first time the world is astounded at Israel. However, few of its critics are today complaining of the Jewish state’s “disproportionate action”.

Northern Ireland Friends of Israel salutes everyone who prayed for the day of Gilad Shalit’s return to his family.

All of Northern Ireland’s MPs at Westminster - without exception - signed early day motions demanding Gilad’s release.

It is over five long years since Gilad Shalit, a conscript soldier, then aged 19, was abducted while on the Israeli side of the border with Gaza. Not everyone, myself included, believed we would ever see him alive again.

The obvious joy at seeing Gilad return to his family is tempered by deep concern at the high price which has been paid. More than 1,000 Palestinians have been released from jail in the deal to bring Gilad home.

We think of those families who will never see their loved ones again. A recent visitor to Belfast, Arnold Roth, lost his 15-year-old daughter in the bombing of a Jerusalem pizza parlour. The person who scouted the suicide bomber into the centre of Jerusalem that day (who killed 15 civilians, the youngest aged two, and wounded over 130) walks free. There is a crucial distinction between these prisoner releases and what happened here in Northern Ireland as part of the peace process. Many of those released from Israeli prisons remain fully committed to the violent destruction of the Jewish state, Hamas completely opposes any peace process.

Hamas, who held Gilad as prisoner in Gaza, have already claimed a great victory. They denied Gilad every human right. He was held in solitary confinement for over five years, denied sunlight during that entire period, was not permitted a single Red Cross visit, and was returned to Israel malnourished. The Shalit family was regularly taunted on Hamas controlled media. Despite all of that, human rights activists who arrived in Gaza rarely said a word on his behalf.

The moderate President Abbas of the Palestinian Authority hails the returned prisoners as heroes and tells them their work will not be in vain.

The Jewish people have just celebrated the Jewish New Year when we ask God to write us in the book of life. The rabbis say to save one life is to save the world. Hamas, Islamic Jihad and Hezbolla all celebrate martyrdom and death. I am proud to stand as a friend of Israel and celebrate life.

We hope that everyone in Northern Ireland, whatever their views on the Middle East conflict, welcomes Gilad Shalit home. Northern Ireland Friends of Israel aims to put Israel’s case reasonably and fairly to the people of Northern Ireland.

Gerald Steinberg (President) and Steven Jaffe and Terry McCorran, co-chairpersons, Northern Ireland Friends of Israel