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A nation’s tragedy, a government’s dilemma
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A nation’s tragedy, a government’s dilemma

The big news out of Israel last week was the agreement between Israel and Hamas to free Gilad Shalit. Shalit was kidnapped in a cross-border raid by Hamas and kept in captivity in Gaza for five years, despite international appeals for his release and denial of visitation by the International Red Cross.

The short version of the deal is that Shalit will be freed in exchange for 1,000 Palestinians held by Israel. According to The New York Times, among the released prisoners are “perpetrators of some of the most notorious and murderous attacks.” While some of the released Palestinians are supposed to go into exile, a Hamas spokesman indicated that Hamas might not uphold this part of the deal. Additionally, “the history of such releases suggests that some released killers return to violence.”

For Israel, this was a battlefield decision. I am happy I did not have to make the call.

There are many reasons why the deal might not benefit Israel in the long run.

  • Israel entered into an agreement with a terrorist organization sworn to its destruction and can no longer demand that others not deal with Hamas.
  • Will the 1:1,000 exchange rate encourage future kidnappings of Israelis?
  • Will released “perpetrators of some of the most notorious and murderous attacks” return to the battlefield?
  • This changes nothing at the UN.

Then there is the Saving Private Ryan question, “Is the freedom, or life, of one person, worth the possibility of the deaths of many more?”

The Times said the decision affords Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu a significant political boost domestically. And yet, “One result might be a more confrontational — and Hamas-imbued — Palestinian movement that could, in the long run, increase Israel’s difficulties.” The Times also said that Israel was angry with PA President Mahmoud Abbas for seeking a unilateral declaration of independence of a Palestinian state at the UN, and dealing with Hamas was payback.

Hamas is looking at the Shalit deal as a coup. Senior Hamas official Mahmoud Zahar claimed Abbas would not have been able to bring about the release of Palestinian prisoners achieved by Hamas. He implicitly warned that there may be more Shalit-style kidnappings when he called on Israel to release all Palestinian prisoners gradually “to prevent the need for such transactions in future.”

A person with whom I correspond said the deal is about Israel’s values. As Hirsh Goodman wrote in the Jerusalem Post, “this is not about the price. What it is about is that Israel never leaves a wounded soldier in the field, that its servicemen and women know that no effort will be spared to get them back. What stronger message of national strength and unity could Israel send? It is a fallacy to see the exchange as weakness.”

On the other side is Vice Premier Moshe Ya’alon, who voted against the prisoner exchange. “On the one hand, we have a responsibility for Gilad — the need to save his life and redeem a captive,” he told the Post. “But to bring about his release, we would have to free 1,000 terrorists. From experience, we know that the terrorists we release will lead to the murder of dozens and maybe hundreds of Israelis.” He noted that the terrorists released in a 1985 prisoner exchange led the First Intifada and were directly responsible for the deaths of 178 Israelis and indirectly for many more.

Yossi Klein Halevi, on Tablet.com, summarized the situation: “The Shalit 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.”

On Oct. 16, Israel released the names of the first 477 Palestinian prisoners to be released. A majority of the inmates were convicted of manslaughter, attempted murder, or intentionally causing death. The list included the founders of Hamas’s armed wing, militants who kidnapped and killed Israeli soldiers and civilians, and a mastermind of the 2001 bombing of a Sbarro pizzeria in Jerusalem that killed 15. The list also included perpetrators of the 2001 bombing of the Dolphinarium nightclub in Tel Aviv that killed 21 and a Passover suicide bombing in 2002 at the Park Hotel in Netanya in which 29 died. The exchange has split the Israeli public.

What if Al Qaida had taken a United States special forces sergeant prisoner and demanded in exchange Omar Abdel-Rahman, the “blind sheikh” who masterminded the 1993 bombing of the World Trade Center; 9/11 perpetrator Khalid Sheikh Mohammed; and Major Nidal Malik Hasan, who massacred 12 and wounded 30 at Ft. Hood? Would the U.S. make the deal and, if it did, what would be public reaction?

I feel for Shalit and his family. I would not want to be in the position of either. On the other hand, I wonder if the greater good was served.

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