News this morning is that a deal for returning Gilad Shalit, the Israeli soldier kidnapped by the Hamas in Gaza in June 2006, is imminent. According to the report, Israel will release about 1,000 Palestinians in return for Shalit; 250 of these terrorists will have “blood on their hands”, meaning they were directly involved in the killing of Israelis.
A couple of comments on the price Israel pays for its kidnapped soldiers (and civilians).
First, it would do good to remind our Arab neighbours and the world about this price whenever someone brings up the “disproportionate” killing of Arabs by Israelis in times of conflict. If the other side is setting a price of 1,000 Arabs for 1 Jew in a prisoner exchange, then they shouldn’t complain when, in a war, more Arabs than Jews are killed. If they were to value life as much as we do, then the exchange would be 1 to 1.
More important, and painful, is the second point. If the deal goes through, Israel will be paying too high a price for Shalit. I say this with a broken heart, as I will be as happy as the next person to see Shalit back home with his family. But emotions aside, the harm will be greater than the gain.
The practice of paying a high price for prisoner exchange started with the Jibril exchange in 1985, a precedent that set the tone for future exchanges. It reached macabre proportions last year, when Israel released live terrorists in exchange for the dead bodies of Regev and Goldwasser. Israeli society has proven, time and again, that it will pressure its government to make unreasonable deals for the return of kidnapped soldiers. For some reason, most Israelis are willing to sacrifice the lives of soldiers and civilians to return kidnapped ones. This is not a hypothetical claim, about future victims of the terrorists being released. During the recent fighting in Gaza, many Israelis were in favour of continuing the operation until Shalit was released, knowing full well that many soldiers will die in the process. Everybody talks about Shalit; nobody talks about the two soldiers in this tank that were killed in the same attack.
I do not undestimate the psychological effect of future soldiers and their families knowing that Israel will go to great lengths to ensure the safe return of soldiers it sends to war. But I fear that the counter-effect of succumbing to irrational deal-making outweighs its benefits. I’ve been reading Tehillim daily since the capture of Shalit, Regev and Goldwasser in 2006, praying every day for their release. I continue to pray for Shalit to return home safely, and soon. But I pray also for the government of Israel to stand strong not only against our enemies but also against domestic pressure, to consider the national interest before other emotional considerations.