That the announcement of an impending deal to exchange the IDF soldier Gilad Shalit for more than 1000 hard-core Arab terrorists has unleashed raucous celebrations in the Arab territories and restrained relief in Israel demonstrates the winners and the losers in this awful ordeal. Israel – which once boasted that it never negotiates with terrorists, and mocked the Europeans for doing the same – now is the only country in the world that negotiates with terrorists, and does it quite poorly to boot.
Two questions that are not being asked are: first, how long will it be before another Israeli is taken captive by Hamas et al, in order to exchange for more prisoners ? My guess is months, although a few weeks is also a possibility. Second, how many Israelis will be killed in the future by this latest batch of freed terrorists ? The organization Victims of Arab Terror reports that approximately 200 Israelis have been murdered in the last 20 years by freed
terrorists. Based on past results, and logic, Israelis should start preparing
both fresh graves, and new organizations to memorialize those future victims.
Certainly, I have no complaints at all against the Shalit family, and they acted as any family would and should – prioritizing the life of their child, an individual, over the lives of the public and the community. If I were in their predicament, G-d forbid, I would be doing the same thing. But it is at that moment – when emotion and sympathy provoke the desire to free the innocent captive at all costs – when the cooler heads who govern the nation are supposed to have the national interest at heart and do what is in the interest of the nation, and not the individual. And I would be told that the consequences of this transaction – politically, emotionally and militarily – are just too grave. But the Prime Minister, who has a smooth tongue but often seems to function without a spine, caved. It is a populist act, until, of course, the real price is paid.
Politically, it is a victory for Arab terror and can only provoke more terror. The bar has been lowered still further for those who want to kill Jews. Jewish blood – past and future – has become cheaper, and future terrorists will be even more emboldened that they can murder Jews with impunity. Those who will pat themselves on the back that the trade demonstrates how Jews value life are, in fact, misguided and short-sighted; it is further proof of how the will of many Jews has been broken by terror and they can no longer even think beyond the present. (It is not speculation that freed terrorists will murder Jews; it has been proved 200 times already.) It is not even a small comfort to recognize that, indeed, the life of a Jew is more valuable than the life of an Arab; about 1000 times more valuable according to the prevailing market rate.
Emotionally, it must be devastating for the families victimized by the Arab terrorists who will now be eyewitnesses to those murderers returning to their homes amid heroes’ welcomes and parades, and watching them walk the streets and plot more mayhem against Jews. When will the butchers who carved up the Fogel family be released? Not now – maybe next time, or the time after that. After all, we can’t bring back the dead, so why punish the living hostage and his/her family.
Militarily, it is a security catastrophe as one thousand hard core terrorists re-enter Judea, Samaria, Gaza and Israel proper (for the Israeli Arabs who will be released) to sow the seeds of the next rebellion. (Remember, the first civil war in Israel – in 1987 – erupted a little more than one year after the infamous Jibril exchange released more than 1000 poisonous terrorists into the Israeli bloodstream. Reportedly, this latest group includes about 1/3 currently serving life sentences. And many of these terrorists were captured in undercover operations in which soldiers and security personnel risked their lives, and in some cases were killed. But why risk one’s life to capture a terrorist today who will be freed tomorrow ?
Prisoner exchanges outside the context of an end to hostilities undermine any deterrence that might have existed. Every future terrorist can go about his ghastly business expecting to be released at some point, and be feted and handsomely rewarded when he is released.
Imagine, for a moment, the parents of a sick child whose life could be saved for ten billion dollars of medical care. They demonstrate, rally, petition and pressure the government – and even call the government immoral for rejecting their entreaties. Instead, the “callous” government responds that all life is precious, but the government does not have ten billion dollars to spend on one child, sad to say, and that money can instead be used to spare the lives of thousands of other children. Rational, yes, but small comfort to the parents of that child. But governments – and hospitals – makes such triage decisions all the time.
One might well argue that the Shalit case is different – it is not an individual illness but a soldier sent to do his duty on behalf of the nation for whom the nation than always has an obligation to redeem at any cost. After all, Israel boasts of its mantra that it will never abandon soldiers on the battlefield. But that tripe is obviously untrue. At least three Israeli governments have negotiated with Syria over the disposition of the Golan without first demanding the release of (or information about) the three captives from the Sultan Yaakob battle in June 1982 – Yehuda Katz, Zachary Baumol and Zvi Feldman). And even more Israeli governments abandoned Jonathan Pollard on his battlefield, with Ehud Barak even preferring the pardoning by Bill Clinton of Marc Rich over the pardoning of Pollard. So the cliché is inspiring but ultimately meaningless. It is the type of contention that is made and appreciated but subjected to rational cost-benefit analysis before actual implementation. (Israel also vows never to leave a body in the field, but they would be fools to have half a platoon killed in order to retrieve a body.)
By way of contrast, there are currently American soldiers captive in Iraq and Afghanistan. The US is not exchanging Arab terrorists for those captives. Those who conclude that is evidence that the US does not value life should at least consider the alternative; perhaps that is proof sufficient that the US does value life, and perhaps even more than Israelis do. They value not only the life of their captive soldier, but more broadly the lives of the soldiers who captured those terrorists and the lives of the citizens that will be snuffed out by those released terrorists.
What does Jewish law say about such grisly ransoms? Unfortunately, we have too much experience in this field. The Talmud in Masechet Gittin (45a) states that we “do not ransom captives for more than their value…because of tikkun olam” (the betterment of society), and the Sages offered two reasons, both of which resonate now: either because it will impoverish the community (i.e., endanger their future well-being) or because it will just encourage more hostage-taking by the wicked. Both are true in this context, and Jews have traditionally heeded such guidance. The Torah values life, but life is not our highest value, and the life of an individual does not supersede the welfare of the community. If that were the case, one should never go into battle, in which individual lives will be sacrificed for the good of the community and nation.
Why now? Why wait five years when a similar deal could have been done – at lower cost – five years ago ? Chalk that up to another blundered negotiation by the Israelis, and a persistent inability on the part of much of the populace to recognize – and to retain the reality – that they are in a war that has no end in sight. Certainly, there are political benefits that will accrue to Hamas, which will emerge from this looking like a reasonable interlocutor with whom the world can – and should – do business. (After all, the Israelis shopped in their marketplace.) The real change seems to be a harshening of the conditions of imprisonment for those Arab terrorists now in Israeli prisons. Until this past summer, terrorists were entitled to family visits, cell phones, library and educational privileges, and probably Cable TV and spa treatments. PM Netanyahu ended that when he suddenly realized – just this past July – that Arab murderers were living well on the Israeli shekel and Gilad Shalit had not even been afforded a visit from the Red Cross. That country club lifestyle ended; perhaps that amped up the pressure on Hamas to deal. And deal they did, and they must be enjoying their triumph.
It is certainly possible that the deal will yet fall through. Hamas in the past has raised expectations and upped the ante by asking for more prisoners at crunch time. But it seems as if they have made a reasoned decision to quit while they are ahead.
The feeling here is joy commingled with sadness, sort of like the reaction of a family whose relative survives a terrorist attack that kills ten people. One grieves for the victims but is quietly happy that one’s relative survived.
It is a gruesome image we dare not forget in the weeks and months ahead.