The price of allowing murders to go free
By Sherri Mandell
Why is it that terror victims are seemingly the only ones against the prisoner exchange? While other Israelis are rejoicing, we are in despair.
Arnold and Frimet Roth circulated a petition against the release of Ahlam Tamimi, an accomplice in their daughter Malki’s murder at the Sbarro pizza shop.
Tamimi says she is happy that many children were killed in the attack. Meir Schijveschuurder, whose family was massacred in the same attack, filed a petition with the high court and says he is going to leave Israel because of his feelings of betrayal. The parents of Yasmin Karisi feel that the state is dancing in their blood because Khalil Muhammad Abu Ulbah, who murdered their daughter and seven others by running them down with a bus at the Azor junction in 2001, is also on the list to be released. Twenty-six others were wounded in that attack.
Why are so many of us against the exchange that allows murderers and their accomplices to go free? Because we know the suffering that these murderers leave in their wake.
Yes, I want Gilad Schalit released. But not at any price. Not at the price we have experienced.
My son Koby Mandell and his friend Yosef Ish Ran were murdered by terrorists 10 years ago when they were 13 and 14 years old. They had been hiking in the wadi near our home when they were set upon by a Palestinian mob and stoned to death. It was a brutal, vicious murder.
We now run the Koby Mandell Foundation for terror victims’ families. We direct Camp Koby, a 10-day therapeutic sleep away camp for 400 children who have lost loved ones, mostly to terror. We also run mothers’ healing retreats and support groups.
Most people don’t understand the continuing devastation of grief: fathers who die of heart attacks, mothers who get sick with cancer, children who leave school, families whose only child was murdered. We see depression, suicide, symptoms of post traumatic stress disorder. You wouldn’t believe how many victims’ families are still on sleeping pills and anti-anxiety medication. We see the pain that doesn’t diminish with time. We literally see people die of grief.
Bereaved families face acute psychological isolation.
Nobody understands us, they often complain.
They mean that nobody understands the duration or the severity of their pain and longing. In the aftermath of a prisoner exchange, this isolation will only be exacerbated.
So will the feeling that our children’s deaths don’t matter.
When people tell me that my son Koby died for nothing, I always used to say: No, it is our job to make his death mean something.
But now I am not sure. It seems that the government is conspiring to ensure that our loved ones’ deaths were for nothing.
Cheapening our loved ones’ deaths only enhances the pain. If Israel is willing to free our loved ones’ murderers, then the rest of the world can look on and assume that the terrorists are really freedom fighters or militants. If Palestinians were murdering Jews in cold blood without justification, surely the Israeli government wouldn’t release them.
No sane government would.
When we were sitting shiva for Koby, a general in the army told us: “We will bring the killers to justice.” I believed him. I took his words to heart. Today I am thankful my son’s killers have not been found. So are my children. Of course, I don’t want the terrorists to kill again. But if they were to be released in this prisoner exchange, I don’t think I could bear it.
We don’t want other families to be put in our situation.
We don’t want terrorists to be free when our loved ones are six feet underground. Ten years after my son was beaten to death, the pain often feels like a prison. In many ways, I am not free.
We don’t want other terrorists to be emboldened because they know that even if they murder, they may not have to stay in prison. President Shimon Peres says he will pardon but he will not forgive. Terrorist victims’ families will not pardon or forgive the government for this release.
We have been betrayed. To pardon terrorists mocks our love and our pain.
Furthermore, terrorism aims to strike fear in an entire society, to bring a whole populace to its knees. During the intifada, the terrorists did not succeed in defeating Israeli society. But to release prisoners now signals to Hamas that their strategy of terror was correct, effective.
They will celebrate wholeheartedly because they have won.
And as a result of prisoner exchanges, the Israeli justice system can only be seen as a joke, a mockery, even a travesty of justice.
It provides no deterrent and no retribution. It’s as if our government says to the killers: Come hurt us again. We’ll be happy to release you one day. We’ll let you go when you demand it.
I want Gilad Schalit home.
We need to protect our own soldiers. But not with a wholesale prisoner exchange. I wish that I could rejoice with the Schalit family. But I can’t. The price is too high.
Sherri Mandell is the author of “The Blessing of a Broken Heart.”
Is the Gilad Shalit deal good for Israel?
By Morton A. Klein and Daniel Mandel
Gilad Shalit, the Israeli soldier kidnapped in 2006 and held captive in Hamas-controlled Gaza, has been freed. This is a joyous day for him, his family and world Jewry.
However, is the price Israel paid – the freeing 1,027 Palestinians prisoners, including hundreds of convicted, blood-soaked terrorists – too high?
Freeing jailed terrorists boosts the standing of the Hamas terrorist group which negotiated the deal. It encourages further kidnapping of Israelis for the purpose of extorting the release of still more terrorists. It gives unimaginable pain to the families whose relatives were murdered by these freed terrorists. It turns the freed terrorists into Palestinian heroes. It erodes deterrence to vanishing point when the most bloodthirsty murderers can realistically contemplate an early release, making a mockery of justice.
And, above all, it results in the subsequent murder of additional Israelis by terrorists freed under such deals. The evidence for the latter is powerful. The Almagor Terrorist Victims Association (ATVA) disclosed in April 2007 that 177 Israelis killed in terror attacks in the previous five years had been killed by terrorists who had been previously freed from Israeli jails.
An earlier ATVA report showed that 123 Israelis had been murdered by terrorists freed during the period 1993-99. Former Mossad Chief Meir Dagan has observed that the terrorists released in the 2004 Elhanan Tenenbaum prisoner exchange deal caused the death of 231 Israelis. That’s why Israel’s Vice-Premier and former Israel Defense Forces Chief-of-Staff, Moshe Yaalon, one of the ministers who voted against the deal, said, “My heart says yes, but my head says no.”
Little wonder that Hamas leader Khaled Meshaal has declared that the freed terrorists “will return to armed struggle … This is a national achievement.”
Accordingly, much as we are heartened for Gilad Shalit and his family, Israel cannot buy the freedom of an innocent citizen at the cost of practically ensuring that many more innocent citizens are murdered.
When not under relentless pressure, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has demonstrated that he understands the dangerous consequences of such a deal.
Writing in his 1995 book, “Fighting Terrorism: How the West Can Defeat Domestic and International Terrorism,” Netanyahu observed that refusing to release terrorists from prison was “among the most important policies that must be adopted in the face of terrorism … by leading terrorists to believe that their demands will be met, they encourage precisely the terrorist blackmail they are supposed to defuse.” In 2008, when the previous Olmert government also concluded a deal that involved freeing jailed terrorists, then-Opposition leader Netanyahu rightly said that, “This weakens Israel and strengthens the terror elements.”
The appeals to put ourselves in the shoes of the families of the kidnapped are deeply moving and understandable, but cannot be the basis for such decisions. The duty of the state is to protect its citizens. It follows that the most important consideration must be preventing the loss of further innocent lives to terror. By sacrificing this imperative, it is obvious that on this issue, regrettably, the Israeli government has wilted in its resolve and shown dangerous weakness.
Some have tried to dress up this weakness as a virtue. It is even claimed that Jewish tradition puts no limits on what may be done to redeem an innocent captive. This is untrue. The Talmud and its numerous commentaries discuss the imperative of redeeming captives, but do not sanction paying a disproportionate price or increasing the likelihood of further kidnappings. The case of Rabbi Meir of Rothenberg (1215- 1293), who was kidnapped and imprisoned in 1286, is instructive. Rabbi Meir himself ruled against paying the large ransom that was demanded for his release. Removing any incentive for further such kidnappings was the decisive consideration.
In the case of Gilad Shalit, where the price for his freedom is not mere money, but the lives of future victims, the argument against such a deal is even more compelling.
One of the terrorists who was released is Tamimi Ahlam, the first woman to join Hamas. Tamimi drove the suicide bomber who carried out the August 2001 attack on the Sbarro pizzeria, which killed 15 and wounded 140 others. Ahlam has stated that “I’m not sorry for what I did … I will get out of prison, and I refuse to recognize Israel’s existence.”
Hearing during an interview that eight children had been murdered in the attack, Ahlam smiled.
Other terrorists who were released include Nasser Yataima, who planned the 2002 Passover Seder suicide-bomb attack on the Park Hotel in Netanya, in which 30 people were killed and 140 were wounded; and Abed Alaziz Salaha, who gleefully participated in the October 2000 murder of Israeli reservists in the Ramallah police station and who famously held his bloodied hands aloft to the applause of the Palestinian mob outside.
If a U.S. soldier was kidnapped by terrorists in Afghanistan who demanded the release of hundreds of terrorists from Guantanamo, who believes that the U.S. government would agree? And if it did agree, who would be prepared to say this was anything other than a victory for the terrorists? And who would deny that, as a result, more U.S. soldiers were likely to be kidnapped, or killed by freed terrorists returning to the fray?
It may feel good in the present to take the decision Israel took, but it will feel very bad in the future if innocent Israelis are killed by the freed terrorists.
Morton A. Klein is national president of the Zionist Organization of America. Dr. Daniel Mandel is director of the ZOA’s Center for Middle East Policy and author of “H.V. Evatt and the Establishment of Israel” (London: Routledge, 2004).
Former Palestinian prisoners, future peacemakers?
By Robi Damelin
Tel Aviv – The whole country is talking about it: over 1,000 Palestinian prisoners, many of whom were involved in suicide attacks in which lives were lost, will be freed in exchange for the kidnapped Israeli solider Gilad Shalit who had been held in captivity in Gaza for over five years. The prisoner’s swap dominated world news when Gilad was freed at the same time as 477 of the 1,027 Palestinian prisoners. While it’s clear that everyone in Israel is happy to see Gilad reunited with his family, among bereaved parents there are some who feel that those responsible for the death of their loved ones should never walk free.
I lost my son David in a shooting incident in the West Bank in 2002. Initially, I was told that my son’s killer would be released this week. Now it is not clear whether or not has or will be freed as part of the deal. But when it seemed likely that he would, I took some time out to search deep inside myself to see what I honestly feel. Do I really mean the things that I have been saying all these years about the need for reconciliation between our two peoples? About the need to understand both the pain of the Jewish mother and the pain of a Palestinian mother? How do I really feel about the fact that David’s killer could be freed?
The answer I came up with is that the life of Gilad, and peace for his family is worth everything. Besides, what petty satisfaction and revenge would I feel if the man who killed David stayed in jail for the rest of his life? That wouldn’t fill the void which is always in my heart. There is no revenge for a lost loved one. I too would have released the whole world in order to get David back.
I belong to a group of Palestinians and Israelis called the Parents Circle – Families Forum. We are more than 600 families who have lost an immediate family member to the conflict. Our long-term vision is to create a framework for reconciliation process that would be an integral part of future political agreements.
When it was first disclosed that David’s killer may be walking free I received phone calls from my Palestinian friends, also members of the Parents Circle – Families Forum. They had listened carefully to the names of the prisoners released and when they had heard that David’s killer might be amongst them, they were in great turmoil. They wanted to come to my house, some from the West Bank, to be with me. They said they were proud of my reaction and that they also understood how painful it is.
I think of the pain of the Palestinian mothers in our group. Their pain is the same as mine and the tears are the same colour. Some of the men in our group had served jail sentences and today they are tireless campaigners for reconciliation.
I have been influenced by my meetings with ex-prisoners in South Africa and Ireland who have at least as much blood on their hands as some of the prisoners here. But they have turned around and have become central to the reconciliation process in their countries. Perhaps we too should be exploring the path of restorative justice?
In South Africa I met a bereaved white mother who set up an organisation to help ex-combatants together with the man who had been responsible for the death of her daughter. This is part of understanding how to overcome the state of being a victim.
I don’t want to be anyone’s victim. I won’t be the victim of the young man who killed my son. I will try to understand why he did what he did. It was very painful for me but at one point I went to see his lawyer to find out who this young man is. The road to reconciliation passes through understanding.
I think of my beloved son David. If he had not been killed by a sniper, he probably would have been at the tent supporting the Shalit family. He would have understood the value of human life. He would have understood that in the conflict in Ireland and in South Africa, prisoners with blood on their hands were freed so that an impetus for negotiations could be created. Some of the greatest peacemakers in those two countries came out of dark cells.
Reconciliation is all-inclusive. Prisoners and all sectors of Israeli and Palestinian society should come to the peacemaking table and take part in forging a peaceful future. We must find a way to reconciliation. Let us allow the Shalit family some dignity, grace and solace. Let us hope that the Palestinian prisoners, who after so many years are now being embraced into their families, will have a non-violent and peaceful future.
Robi Damelin is a member of the Parents Circle – Families Forum, Bereaved Palestinian and Israeli Families for Reconciliation. This article was written for the Common Ground News Service (CGNews).
Gilad Shalit is every Israeli’s son
By Yossi Klein Halevi
(Tablet) — For the last five years I have tried not to think of Gilad Shalit. I avoided the newspaper photographs of his first months as an Israel Defense Forces draftee, a boy playing soldier in an ill-fitting uniform. Sometimes, despite myself, I’d imagine him in a Gaza cellar, bound, perhaps wired with explosives to thwart a rescue attempt. And then I would force myself to turn away.
I tried not to think of Gilad because I felt guilty. Not only was I doing nothing to help the campaign to free him, I opposed its implicit demand that the Israeli government release as many terrorists as it takes to bring him home. Israel has no death penalty, and now we would lose the deterrence of prison: If the deal went through, any potential terrorist would know it was just a matter of time before he’d be freed in the next deal for the next kidnapped Israeli.
But the argument could never be so neatly resolved. Each side was affirming a profound Jewish value: ransom the kidnapped, resist blackmail. And so any position one took was undermined by angst. What would you do, campaign activists challenged opponents, if he were your son?
“He’s everyone’s son,” sang rocker Aviv Gefen.
One day I passed a rally for Gilad in a park in downtown Jerusalem. Several counter-demonstrators were holding signs opposing surrender to terrorism.
“I happen to agree with you,” I said to one of them. “But don’t you feel uneasy protesting against the Shalit family?”
“We’re not protesting against the Shalit family,” he replied. “We’re protesting to save future victims of freed terrorists. Those victims don’t have names yet. But they could be my son or your son.”
Every debate over Gilad ended at the same point: your son.
We never referred to him as “Shalit,” always “Gilad.” The Gilad dilemma set our parental responsibilities against our responsibilities as Israelis — one protective instinct against another. The prime minister’s job is to resist emotional pressure and ensure the nation’s security; a father’s job is to try to save his son, regardless of the consequences.
And so I tried, too, not to think of Gilad’s extraordinary parents, Noam and Aviva. Even when denouncing the government they spoke quietly, incapable of indignity. The best of Israel, as we say here, reminding ourselves that the best of Israel is the best of anywhere.
For more than a year the Shalits have lived in a tent near the prime minister’s office. When I walked nearby I would avoid the protest encampment, ashamed to be opposing the campaign. This past Israeli Independence Day, though, I saw a crowd gathered around the tent and wandered over.
“GILAD IS STILL ALIVE,” banners reminded: It’s not too late to save him. Inside the tent, Noam and Aviva were sitting with family and friends singing the old Zionist songs. I wanted to shake Noam’s hand, tell him to be strong, but I resisted the urge. I didn’t deserve the privilege of comforting him.
I wanted to tell Noam what we shared. As it happens, my son served in the same tank unit as Gilad two years after he was kidnapped. I wanted to tell Noam that that was the real reason I couldn’t bear thinking about his family. That in opposing the mass release of terrorists for Gilad, it was my son I was betraying.
Now, inevitably, the government has given in to the emotional pressure. Inevitably, because we all knew it would — must — end this way. A few months ago, as part of its psychological war against the Israeli public, Hamas released an animated film depicting Gilad as an elderly gray-haired man, still a prisoner in Gaza. No image tormented us more.
Still, there are few celebrations here today. Even those who supported the campaign to free Gilad must be sobered by the erosion of Israeli deterrence. And those who opposed the campaign are grieving for Gilad’s lost years. All of us share the same unspoken fear: In what condition will he be returned to us? What have these years done to him?
Hamas leaders are boasting of victory. If so, it is a victory of shame. Hamas is celebrating the release of symbols of “resistance,” not of human beings. Hamas’ victory is an expression of the Arab crisis. The Arab world’s challenge is to shift from a culture that sanctifies honor to a culture that sanctifies dignity. Honor is about pride; dignity is about human value. Hamas may have upheld its honor, but Israel affirmed the dignity of a solitary human life.
In recent months the campaign to free Gilad demanded that the government worsen conditions for convicted terrorists in Israeli jails, to psychologically pressure the Palestinian public. So long as Gilad was being held incommunicado, activists argued, Palestinian families should be barred from visiting their imprisoned sons. While Gilad’s youth was wasting away, terrorists shouldn’t be allowed to study for college degrees.
The government promised to oblige. But as it turned out, there were legal complications. A newspaper article the other day noted the results of the government’s get-tough policy: Imprisoned terrorists would no longer be provided with the Middle Eastern delicacy of stuffed vegetables.
How is it possible, Israelis ask themselves, that so-called progressives around the world champion Hamas and Hezbollah against the Jewish state? Perhaps it’s because we’re too complicated, too messy: a democracy that is also an occupier, a consumerist society living under a permanent death sentence. Perhaps those pure progressives fear a contagion of Israeli ambivalence.
For all my anxieties about the deal, I feel no ambivalence at this moment, only gratitude and relief. Gratitude that I live in a country whose hard leaders cannot resist the emotional pressure of a soldier’s parents. And relief that I no longer have to choose between the well-being of my country and the well-being of my son.
(Yossi Klein Halevi is a fellow at the Shalom Hartman Institute in Jerusalem and a contributing editor at the New Republic.)
Op-Ed: Shalit, Israel and rabbinic debate
By David Ellenson
NEW YORK (JTA) — Political sovereignty in the restored Jewish homeland often means making decisions with life-and-death implications. That reality was brought home last week with the agonizing decision to authorize the terribly imbalanced swap to gain the release of Gilad Shalit.
The criticisms and concerns lodged by many supporters of Israel within and beyond its borders against the Netanyahu government for exchanging more than 1,000 prisoners for a lone Israeli soldier are legitimate and understandable. Undoubtedly some of the released prisoners will attempt again to wreak murder and mayhem against inhabitants of the Jewish state.
At the same time, the overwhelming majority of Jews and people of good will throughout the world have rejoiced over a decision that will allow Shalit to return to the safety and love of his family and nation. Agreeing to the lopsided deal involved great pain for an Israeli government charged with balancing numerous and competing concerns in providing for the safety and security of its soldiers and citizens. The decision involved no easy or obvious choice.
However, as so many reflect upon the action taken by Israel, it is instructive to remember that Israel unfortunately has confronted the same heartbreaking and excruciating question before. In 1985, the Jewish state had to decide whether to return 1,150 Palestinian and Lebanese prisoners for the release of three Israeli soldiers.
While the exchange never took place and the fate of the three Israeli POWs remains unknown, two prominent Israeli rabbis — Shlomo Goren and Haim David Halevi – addressed the issue directly at that time. Their words from that time have resonance and meaning today, as they provide important perspectives for reflecting upon the policy position adopted by the current Israeli government in agreeing to this exchange.
Rabbi Goren served as Chief Ashkenazic rabbi of Israel and was formerly chief rabbi of the Israel Defense Forces, while Rabbi Halevi was the chief Sephardic rabbi of Tel Aviv-Jaffa. Rabbi Goren, in an article written on May 31, 1985, stated that Jewish law absolutely forbade the Israeli government from redeeming “our captive soldiers in exchange for 1,150 terrorists,” and based his ruling on a Talmudic passage in Gittin 45a that stated, “Captives should not be redeemed for more than their value.”
Rabbi Goren emphasized his great distress at the personal plight of these captives – they were surely in “mortal danger.” However, he still insisted that the state should not redeem them, as an exchange for the release of known terrorists bent on the destruction of Israel and its Jewish population surely would imperil all Israeli citizens and only fuel Arab attempts to capture more Jews in the future. The price exacted from Israel through the release of these terrorists was simply too steep for the state to afford.
Rabbi Halevi, responding to Rabbi Goren soon after the article appeared, said he was sympathetic to the position advanced by his Ashkenazic colleague but disagreed with the conclusion. In Rabbi Halevi’s view, the conditions that obtained in a modern Jewish state were vastly different from those that confronted the Jewish community in pre-modern times when the Talmudic passage was written. The Jewish people were now sovereign in their land, and the “political-national” aims that motivated the terrorists “to wreak havoc among the Jewish people” would continue regardless of whether their prisoners were released in exchange for Israeli soldiers.
Indeed, these terrorists would persist in their efforts until a political solution to the entire Israeli-Palestinian conflict was achieved.
The “impossible choice” before the government, as Rabbi Halevi saw it, was whether to “strengthen the power of the terrorists through the release of their comrades or to strengthen the morale of IDF soldiers should there be future wars.” Faced with the two options, Rabbi Halevi believed that priority had to be assigned the latter — the Israeli government should do all in its power to uphold the morale of the Israeli soldiers.
If a soldier and by extension his family and all residents of the Jewish state knew that the government would spare no effort or expense to liberate a captured soldier, and that such release possessed the highest governmental priority, then the resolve of the citizen-soldiers of the State of Israel to defend their nation would be fortified and absolute.
In a moral universe where alternatives were limited and where the military might of the State of Israel could protect its citizenry despite the preposterous numerical imbalance of the exchange, Rabbi Halevi felt this choice was still the wisest one that the government could make in an imperfect world.
In responding in this way, Rabbi Halevi enunciated a position that provides a rationale for understanding why the current Israeli government made the decision on the issue of prisoner exchange. As its critics contend, surely it is a policy fraught with danger for the state. At the same time, it appears to be a policy that continues to guide Israel legitimately as it continues to provide unlimited support to its citizen-soldiers as they all too often confront an enemy bent on the state’s destruction.
(Rabbi David Ellenson is the president of Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion.)
Would you trade prisoners for a captive soldier?
By Mitchell Bard
On June 25, 2006, Hamas terrorists infiltrated into Israeli territory near the Gaza Strip and kidnapped IDF soldier Gilad Shalit. Since the abduction, Shalit had been held captive in Gaza, with no access to the Red Cross or other humanitarian organizations, and only twice did Hamas release signs to verify his life.
After years of unsuccessful negotiations, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu announced on October 11, 2011, that an agreement had been signed in which Israel agreed to release more than 1,000 Palestinian prisoners in exchange for the freedom of Shalit.
On Tuesday, October 18, 2011, Shalit was released by Hamas and, for the first time in more than five years, returned to Israel and into the waiting arms of his family.
The kidnapping of an Israeli soldier presents Israel’s leaders with terrible ethical, moral, legal, political, religious and strategic dilemmas. There are historic precedents of which a leader must be aware, official protocols that must be followed and many factors to consider. Among these:
* Jewish law commands that ransom be paid for a captive and the Talmud stipulates that “to save one Jewish life is as if you saved an entire world.” However, there are Halachic edicts that say redeeming captives should not be done for a price that may endanger the community.
* Paying a ransom risks encouraging Israel’s enemies to take more captives. Is it worth the risk of more soldiers being kidnapped to pay a ransom for the release of one?
* If terrorists know that even if they are captured their leaders can eventually win their release by kidnapping more soldiers, won’t they be more motivated to attack Israelis?
* On the other hand, if no effort is made to redeem a soldier, how will other soldiers react when called upon to fight for their country? Will they fight if they believe their leaders will abandon them if they are captured?
* The family of the captive and their supporters protest in front of your house every day demanding that you bring their child home. The media publicizes the captive’s plight and the suffering of the family. Can you tell them there is nothing to be done because one life is not worth the risk to the country posed by paying the ransom?
* The families of victims of the terrorists who are now in jail are sympathetic to the soldier’s plight, but ask why one soldier’s life is more valuable than those of their loved ones who died at the hands of terrorists? Shouldn’t the terrorists have to pay for their crimes?
What would you do? If you were Israel’s prime minister, what would you do if a soldier was taken hostage and you had the opportunity to make an exchange deal?
Mitchell Bard is the executive director of the nonprofit American-Israeli Cooperative Enterprise and a foreign policy analyst. He is also the director of the Jewish Virtual Library.
A pact signed in Jewish blood
By Caroline Glick, www.carolineglick.com
At best, Netanyahu comes out of this deal looking like a weak leader. At worst, he comes out as a morally challenged, irresponsible, opportunistic politician.
No one denies the long suffering of the Schalit family. Noam and Aviva Schalit and their relatives have endured five years and four months of uninterrupted anguish since their son St.-Sgt. Gilad Schalit was abducted from his army post by Palestinian terrorists and spirited to Gaza in June 2006. Since then, aside from one letter and one videotaped message, they have received no signs of life from their soldier son.
There is not a Jewish household in Israel that doesn’t empathize with their suffering. It isn’t simply that most Israelis serve in the IDF and expect their children to serve in the IDF. It isn’t just that it could happen to any of our families. As Jews, the concept of mutual responsibility, that we are all a big family and share a common fate, is ingrained in our collective consciousness. And so, at a deep level, the Schalit family’s suffering is our collective suffering.
And yet, and yet, freedom exacts its price. The cause of freedom for the Jewish people as a whole exacts a greater sacrifice from some families than from others.
Sometimes, that sacrifice is made willingly, as in the case of the Netanyahu family. Prof. Benzion and Tzilla Netanyahu raised their three sons to be warriors in the fight for Jewish liberty. And all three of their sons served in an elite commando unit. Their eldest son Yonatan had the privilege of commanding the unit and of leading Israeli commandos in the heroic raid to free Jewish hostages held by the PLO in Entebbe.
There, on July 4, 1976, Yonatan and his family made the ultimate sacrifice for the freedom of the Jewish people. Yonatan was killed in action. His parents and brothers were left to mourn and miss him for the rest of their lives. And yet, the Netanyahu family’s sacrifice was a product of a previous decision to fight on the front lines of the war to preserve Jewish freedom.
Sometimes, the sacrifice is made less willingly. Since Israel allowed the PLO and its terror armies to move their bases from Tunis to Judea, Samaria and Gaza in 1994, nearly 2,000 Israeli families have involuntarily paid the ultimate price for the freedom of the Jewish people. Our freedom angers our Palestinian neighbors so much that they have decided that all Israelis should die. For instance Ruth Peled, 56, and her 14- month-old granddaughter Sinai Keinan did not volunteer to make the ultimate sacrifice for the freedom of the Jewish people when they were murdered by a Palestinian suicide bomber as they sat in an ice cream parlor in Petah Tikva in May 2002. And five-year-old Gal Eisenman and her grandmother Noa Alon, 60, weren’t planning on giving their lives for the greater good when they, together with five others, were blown to smithereens by Palestinian terrorists in June 2002 while they were waiting for a bus in Jerusalem. Their mothers and daughters, Chen Keinan and Pnina Eisenman, had not signed up for the prospect of watching their mothers and daughters incinerated before their eyes. They did not volunteer to become bereaved mothers and orphaned daughters simultaneously. The lives of the victims of Arab terror were stolen from their families simply because they lived and were Jews in Israel. And in the cases of the Keinan, Peled, Alon and Eisenman families, as in thousands of others, the murderers were the direct and indirect beneficiaries of terrorists-for-hostages swaps like the deal that Yonatan Netanyahu’s brother, Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu, made this week with Hamas to secure the release of Gilad Schalit.
The deal that Netanyahu has agreed to is signed with the blood of the past victims and future victims of the terrorists he is letting go. No amount of rationalization by Netanyahu, his cheerleaders in the demented mass media, and by the defeatist, apparently incompetent heads of the Shin Bet, Mossad and IDF can dent the facts.
IT IS a statistical certainty that the release of 1,027 terrorists for Schalit will lead to the murder of untold numbers of Israelis. It has happened every single time that these blood ransoms have been paid. It will happen now. Untold numbers of Israelis who are now sitting in their succas and celebrating Jewish freedom, who are driving in their cars, who are standing on line at the bank, who are sitting in their nursery school classrooms painting pictures of Torah scrolls for Simhat Torah will be killed for being Jewish while in Israel because Netanyahu has made this deal. The unrelenting pain of their families, left to cope with their absence, will be unimaginable.
This is a simple fact and it is beyond dispute. It is also beyond dispute that untold numbers of IDF soldiers and officers will be abducted and held hostage. Soldiers now training for war or scrubbing the floors of their barracks, or sitting at a pub with their friends on holiday leave will one day find themselves in a dungeon in Gaza or Sinai or Lebanon undergoing unspeakable mental and physical torture for years. Their families will suffer inhuman agony. The only thing we don’t know about these future victims is their names. But we know what will become of them as surely as we know that night follows day.
Netanyahu has proven once again that taking IDF soldiers hostage is a sure bet for our Palestinian neighbors. They can murder the next batch of Sinais and Gals, Noas and Ruths. They can kill thousands of them. And they can do so knowing all along that all they need to do to win immunity for their killers is kidnap a single IDF soldier. There is no downside to this situation for those who believe all Jews should die.
In his public statement on the Schalit deal Tuesday night, Netanyahu, like his newfound groupies in the media, invoked the Jewish tradition of pidyon shevuim, or the redemption of captives. But the Talmudic writ is not unconditional. The rabbinic sages were very clear. The ransom to be paid cannot involve the murder of other Jews. This deal – like its predecessors – is not in line with Jewish tradition. It stands in opposition to Jewish tradition. Even in our darkest hours of powerlessness in the ghettos and the pales of exile, our leaders did not agree to pay for a life with other life. Judaism has always rejected human sacrifice.
The real question here is after five years and four months in which Schalit has been held hostage and two-and-a-half years into Netanyahu’s current tenure as prime minister, why has the deal been concluded now? What has changed? The answer is that very little has changed on Netanyahu’s part. After assuming office, Netanyahu essentially accepted the contours of the abysmal agreement he has now signed in Jewish blood. Initially, there was a political rationale for his morally and strategically perverse position.
He had Defense Minister Ehud Barak and the Labor Party to consider. Supporting this deal was one of the many abject prices that Netanyahu was expected to pay to keep Labor and Barak in his coalition. But this rationale ended with Barak’s resignation from the Labor Party in January.
Since then, Barak and his colleagues who joined him in leaving Labor have had no political leverage over Netanyahu. They have nowhere to go. Their political life is wholly dependent on their membership in Netanyahu’s government. He doesn’t need to pay any price for their loyalty.
So Netanyahu’s decision to sign the deal with Hamas lacks any political rationale.
WHAT HAS really changed since the deal was first put on the table two years ago is Hamas’s position. Since the Syrian people began to rise up against the regime of Hamas’s patron and protector President Bashar Assad, Hamas’s leaders, who have been headquartered in Syria since 1998, have been looking for a way to leave. Their Muslim Brotherhood brethren are leading forces in the Western-backed Syrian opposition. Hamas’s leaders do not want to be identified with the Brotherhood’s oppressor. With the Egyptian military junta now openly massacring Christians, and with the Muslim Brotherhood rapidly becoming the dominant political force in the country, Egypt has become a far more suitable home for Hamas.
But for the past several months, Hamas leaders in Damascus have faced a dilemma. If they stay in Syria, they lose credibility. If they leave, they expose themselves to Israel.
According to Channel 2, in exchange for Schalit, beyond releasing a thousand murderers, Netanyahu agreed to give safe passage to Hamas’s leaders decamping to Egypt.
What this means is that this deal is even worse for Israel than it looks on the surface.
Not only is Israel guaranteeing a reinvigoration of the Palestinian terror war against its civilians by freeing the most experienced terrorists in Palestinian society, and doing so at a time when the terror war itself is gradually escalating. Israel is squandering the opportunity to either decapitate Hamas by killing its leaders in transit, or to weaken the group by forcing its leaders to go down with Assad in Syria.
At best, Netanyahu comes out of this deal looking like a weak leader who is manipulated by and beholden to Israel’s radical, surrender-crazed media. To their eternal shame, the media have been waging a five-year campaign to force Israel’s leaders to capitulate to Hamas. At worst, this deal exposes Netanyahu as a morally challenged, strategically irresponsible and foolish, opportunistic politician. What Israel needs is a leader with the courage of one writer’s convictions. Back in 1995, that writer wrote: “The release of convicted terrorists before they have served their full sentences seems like an easy and tempting way of defusing blackmail situations in which innocent people may lose their lives, but its utility is momentary at best. “Prisoner releases only embolden terrorists by giving them the feeling that even if they are caught, their punishment will be brief. Worse, by leading terrorists to think such demands are likely to be met, they encourage precisely the terrorist blackmail they are supposed to defuse.”
The writer of those lines was then-opposition leader Binyamin Netanyahu. Netanyahu wrote those lines in his book, Fighting Terrorism: How Democracies Can Defeat Domestic and International Terrorists. Israel needs that Netanyahu to lead it. But in the face of the current Netanyahu’s abject surrender to terrorism, apparently he is gone.
Caroline Glick is the senior Middle East Fellow at the Center for Security Policy in Washington, DC, the deputy managing editor of The Jerusalem Post and a contributor to the Jewish World Review.