The price of yellow ribbons
I’d never really made the connection between that great Tony Orlando song, “Tie a Yellow Ribbon”, and soldiers. As a kid I just remember a nice tune, enjoying that lovely chugging train-like rhythm of ‘stay-on-the-bus, forget-about-us…’ and a very suspicious-looking moustache. It wasn’t until the campaign to free Gilad Shalit got moving in our area of the Galilee that I realized that yellow ribbons were supposed to signify waiting for returning soldiers.
Young and old volunteers began standing at the entrance to Carmiel’s shopping mall, tying yellow ribbons onto your car. Personally I’ve always been against trumpeting my convictions on my car. Perhaps it’s a left-over of my British upbringing, or maybe an admission of my endless confusion, but I’ve never been one to enter that whole ‘political bumper sticker’ culture. I once dreamed of having a sticker made that said “I’m not sure.” But unfortunately the Hebrew language would have made that political, too. (In Hebrew, ‘I’m not sure’ can also be understood as ‘I’m not secure’…)
It wasn’t until I met the yellow ribbons that I relented. To state publically and symbolically that I believe my government should do everything in its power to free Gilad Shalit – this was a statement I could make, even at the cost of disturbing my car’s neutrality. And so we tied on a ribbon. Two, in fact. One ribbon for each wing mirror.
This was nearly two years ago.
We still have the ribbons on the car, and Gilad Shalit is still imprisoned somewhere.
We were coming up to the traditional traffic jam that leads into the shopping mall last week, and the ribbon-givers were there again, as they are every week. We looked at the ribbons on our car: faded, fraying, filthy. Should we take a new ribbon? And in that way signal that Shalit has not faded in our memory? Or should we leave the old ribbons on the car, and in some way signal our disgust at his ongoing imprisonment and his own inevitable deterioration in captivity?
That was when I understood why it had been so easy for me to agree to put the ribbon on the car in the first place. I had been wary about displaying my opinions in public. I needn’t have worried. The yellow ribbon had passed my non-statement policy because in the end it was a non-statement. Until I was willing to state what price I felt we should pay in order to free Gilad Shalit, I was just waving a ribbon. It’s very easy to call for his release, but until thousands of us stand outside the Knesset with numbers – specific numbers in the hundreds – how many Palestinian prisoners we would actively support the government in releasing in return for Shalit’s freedom – we have done very little.
These days it seems we are good at shouting for what we want, but rarely do we talk about a price. I would really like to have a helicopter. But I won’t go on about it, because there’s no way I could pay for one. We want Peace. We do, I’m sure of it, since we tend to say so loudly. But until we state clearly what we are willing to pay to reach this peace, we might as well be wishing for a free helicopter.
In the end we took a new ribbon. And tied it on top of the old one. Bright and faded, jaded and fresh, we pray for the release of Gilad Shalit, 1120 days in captivity and counting.