Ha’aretz columnist Bradley Burston thinks that Israel should agree to release thousands of Palestinian prisoners (also see here), some of them mass murderers like Marwan and Abdullah Barghouti, in order to recover Gilad Shalit. He also thinks that Israel should be prepared to trade the monstrous Samir Kuntar for Eldad Regev and Ehud Goldwasser, held by Hizbullah.
This is the most difficult kind of decision that anyone has to make, and no decision can be without painful consequences. The enemies of Israel, expert haters, do this as much to cause national pain as they do to get prisoners freed. Nonetheless, the decision has to be based on reason, not made to reduce the pain.
I’ve compressed Burston’s argument as follows:
In ways that cannot be counted, most of which went unnoticed by the media and the world, the one institution that got Israel through the war was the family…
It was families that gave shelter, food, and support to thousands of Israelis in the north routed from their homes by Katyusha rockets. It was families that gave their soldier children, soldier spouses, soldier brothers and sisters, soldier fathers and even grandfathers, the strength to keep on, despite their betrayal by the befuddlement of their government and their generals…
We owe it to their families to get them back. We owe it to their brothers in arms, as well, to do everything it takes to get them back. Soldiers and their families have to know that their leaders will risk their very political careers, if need be, to pay the price to get them back.
The price will be awful. The price to families will be awful. In the case of Gilad Shalit, kidnapped on June 25, the price may be 1,000 or more Palestinian prisoners, some guilty of having tried to murder Israelis, some perhaps guilty of having succeeded. The families of Israeli victims of terrorism will fall victim to a new phase of torture.
In the case of Ehud Goldwasser and Eldad Regev, abducted by Hezbollah on July 12, the price will be even worse. It will include the release of Samir Kuntar…
Samir Kuntar is our hostage. His release will do great injury to all those who loved and love [two of Kuntar’s victims] Danny and Einat Haran. But it’s time that he be released.
It’s a moral issue pitting families against families. But we cannot ignore the families of the living, and of the living themselves…
In the end, it will be pressure from families, from Palestinian families, from Lebanese families, from Syrian families, from Israelis families, that will turn the tide in favor of peace in this region…
Leaders will only end war if they are convinced that their constituents demand it. They will only make peace if they are convinced that families of the living care more about the living than they do about exacting pain on the other side.
Of all the issues in the Mideast thicket, normalization of relations, determination of borders, sovereignty of holy sites, freezing of settlements, the element that receives the least world attention is that of prisoners. Yet the issue is of paramount importance to large numbers of Palestinians and Lebanese, whose families love their imprisoned sons, daughters, and fathers no less than we do ours.
The issue must be of paramount importance for us as well.
Of course we need to try to get prisoners back. We can’t minimize the sufferings of the families of prisoners on both sides. If my child were one of the prisoners, I would not be able to make a rational decision. We owe something to families and comrades of soldiers.
But Burston only seems to think about the day of the prisoner swap. What about the future? What will be the results of the surrender Burston is asking for?
- How many of those murderers will kill again if they are freed? Just ask them. Even the ones that are only guilty of attempted murder and less are potential killers.
- We will prove that terrorism works. Shall we give them yet another victory? Have any of Israel’s previous surrenders, like withdrawing from Gaza or South Lebanon led to an improvement in the situation?
- We will prove that kidnapping works. Who or what will be demanded next? Suppose they ask for an Israeli F-16 to be delivered to Syria?
Burston’s comment about leaders and constituents is naive. Does Bashar al-Assad think about the welfare of his constituents? Does Hamas think about what’s best for families in Gaza when they allow rockets to be launched from near their homes? Do organizations that manipulate women whose ‘honor’ has been besmirched into becoming suicide bombers care about families?
Israel did not choose to be at war with the Arab world. Ending the war can come from making it too costly for the Arabs, or from surrendering. Surrendering in this particular battle will mean more casualties and more battles lost. But surrender is not the only option. Here is what I think Israel should do in response to the demands to free prisoners.
- As I’ve said before, establish a death penalty for terrorist murder and carry it out.
- Cut off electricity and water to Hamas-istan (Gaza) until Shalit is released.
- Capture Hezbollah leaders and trade them for Goldwasser and Regev.
- Maintain self-respect. In the nomadic ethic that the Arab world so values, a man that allows his enemies to injure him or take what doesn’t belong to them without responding has no value, and everything can be taken from him. The same is true of nations. Israel must retaliate when attacked.