The news in Israel, as we are about to enter the week-long celebration of the holiday of Sukkot, is that Israel and Hamas have agreed on the terms required for Hamas to release the captured Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit after over five years of captivity. The price? Israel will release over 1,000 Palestinian Arab prisoners it now holds in its jails in two phases, half now and the other half after Shalit is brought to Egypt from where he will come back to Israel and the waiting arms of his parents. Many of the prisoners to be released have been convicted of multiple acts of terrorism leading to the deaths of hundreds of Israelis. The general understanding, based on prior releases of this type, is that when they return to their homes in Judea, Samaria and Gaza, many will also return to their former terrorist activities.
Is the price worth it?
We have been through this before, and there is always much debate relating to the redemption of captives or pidyon shvuyim as it is known in Hebrew. Historically, it has been a cardinal principle of Jewish life that, whenever possible, one is obligated to redeem captive Jews. The Talmud terms this a “mitzvah rabbah,” a “great” good deed which we are obligated to perform, adding that captivity is worse than starvation and death. Other strong support for this principle can be found in the writings of Maimonides and the Code of Jewish Law as well. There are authorities, of course, including former IDF (Israel Defense Forces) Rabbi Shlomo Goren who argued against such exchanges, as he felt doing so, and thereby releasing terrorists back into society, would endanger the general public. However, a case can be made that IDF soldiers will be less effective in their tasks if they have no faith that, should they be captured, Israel will pay any price to bring them home. In that case there is actually a fear that our troops would prefer retreat to capture, ergo the significant concern.
Finally, there is the general opinion that our enemies will continue to attempt to kidnap our troops regardless of what we do, so the price of redemption is really not an issue and it does not, prima facie, increase terror. What might increase the incidence of kidnapping, of course, is the fact that by making this exchange, we are permitting our enemies to claim that the process works. That is, capture an Israeli soldier and hold him/her long enough, and Israel will meet the demands of the enemy.
But all of these arguments beg one question that none of the articles in the press have chosen to address, and that is the trauma parents face in such a situation. The loss of a child is such an incredibly devastating experience for a parent and so obviously personal as well, that no one who has not had to go through this can possibly understand what it does to the parents, to their psyches and even to their relationship. In Israel specifically, where we ask all parents to send their 18-year-olds to the IDF to serve their country and where the attendant risk is real and palpable, parents (and the young men and women who serve) must believe that our country will do all it can to bring their children back in situations like the one in which Gilad Shalit found himself.
So today, once again, I am proud to be an Israeli and proud of my country, a country that cares so much about its sons and daughters that it understands its obligations to its citizens.
Aristotle is reputed to have said, “We do not act rightly, because we have virtue or excellence, but we rather have those because we have acted rightly.” And so we have! Am Yisrael Chai …The people of Israel live…and proudly!