The world recently marked a sad occasion -- the one-year anniversary of Hezbollah's invasion of Israel and its abduction of two Israeli soldiers, Ehud Goldwasser and Eldad Regev on Israel's northern border. Just a few weeks prior to the commission of this crime, another Israeli soldier, Gilad Shalit was taken hostage by Hamas on the southern border of the Jewish homeland.
More than a year has passed since these men were snatched from their loved ones by terrorist groups bent on Israel's destruction. Is the world any closer to a resolution? Don't forget that the taking of these young soldiers was the impetus for Israel going to war. In the aftermath of these terrorist acts, the tension and violence has escalated between Israelis and Palestinians, and between Palestinians and Palestinians.
During the past 12 months, there have been intensive efforts to secure the release of the captives. On April 12, the Senate unanimously approved a resolution on the topic that was sponsored by Sen. Hillary Clinton (D-N.Y). It condemns not only Hamas and Hezbollah, but also the nations of "Iran and Syria for their ongoing support of Hezbollah and Hamas." The resolution calls for the immediate and unconditional release of Goldwasser, Regev and Shalit, and demands that "Hezbollah and Hamas accede to the most basic standards of humanitarian conduct and allow prompt access to the Israeli captives by competent medical personnel and representatives of the Red Cross."
Another resolution on this matter has been introduced by Rep. Gary Ackerman of Queens. To date, it has 75 co-sponsors, and is awaiting action in the House. Additionally, the United Jewish Communities and Jewish Federations throughout North America have been distributing replicas of the soldiers' dog tags for congressmen to wear as a way of building support on the issue.
At a recent rally on behalf of the soldiers, Gilad Shalit's mother, Aviva, promised that she will not rest and do everything in her power to bring her son home. She vowed to continue to apply pressure to world leaders and other persons of influence as a promise to Gilad that "we won't be quiet, and we won't let another year pass without you."
Recently, the Israel Defense Force and Shin Bet arrested Mohammad Sufi, an operative affiliated with Hamas who admitted his involvement in the kidnapping of Shalit. Despite this admission, the fate of Shalit and his brothers in arms remains unknown. Furthermore, Hamas has been very clear about the fact that Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas has no authority to negotiate Shalit's release without its consent.
Educate the Community
Osama al-Muzini, a Hamas official, stated: "Any agreement made between Abbas and the Israeli leaders he meets will be worthless since it lacks the approval of Hamas and the other factions that hold Gilad Shalit."
Gary Erlbaum, chair of Federation's Israel Advocacy Task Force emphasized that, in light of the current situation in Israel, it is particularly important that American Jews remain engaged and informed.
He explained that "the primary mandate of the task force is to educate our community on all matters having to do with Israel." And he believes that Iran is a principal sponsor of terrorist activity in the region and, in so doing, "is engaging in an undeclared war against Israel."
Added Erlbaum: "The threats emanating from Iran affect both America and Israel, and it is important that our community and the general community understand this link."
There's no doubt that Iran is directly involved with decisions made by Hamas and Hezbollah with regard to the stolen Israelis soldiers. Therefore, Americans must be aware of who is calling the shots, and as such, work to tighten the screws on those nations that allow terrorists to operate freely -- namely, Syria and Iran.
Israel maintains its staunch commitment to affecting the safe release of its native sons.
In an attempt to show goodwill, as well as to jump-start possible talks between Israelis and Palestinians following President Bush's call for a Mideast summit, Israel recently released 256 prisoners -- no small matter.
Consequently, former Israeli chief of staff -- and now Minister of Transportation -- Shaul Mofaz replied that the prisoner release was a large price to pay for nothing in exchange: "It will raise the price that Hamas will demand for Gilad Shalit, and we need to hold on to prisoners for that goal."
In the end, this is what really differentiates the Jewish people from Islamists. Judaism teaches to celebrate, honor and revere human life -- not to use human lives as bargaining chips.
Asaf Romirowsky is manager of Israel & Middle East Affairs for the Jewish Federation of Greater Philadelphia.