Besides the fact that I am finally blogging again after a very extended break, this is going to be an unconventional blog for me. Usually, when I have something on my mind, I have a general idea what I believe, and what I hope to convey. How I'll get there is usually less clear when I begin writing, but it takes shape as I go along. Tonight, however, I still haven't decided what I believe, and I am hoping that putting it in writing will help me reach some conclusion.
For anyone not in the loop of recent events in the Middle East, it was announced last week that a deal has been reached to release Gilad Shalit, an Israeli soldier who was kidnapped by Hamas in June 2006 and has spent the last 5 years and 5 months in captivity. In exchange for this solitary Israeli soldier, 1,027 Palestinian terrorists will be released from Israeli prisons – many of whom have blood on their hands, and most of whom have shown zero remorse for the death and destruction which they have wrought.
With the amount of debate about this deal and the high level of emotions surrounding it, I would have expected the Israeli public to be fairly evenly divided on the prisoner swap. So I was more than a little bit surprised to see a poll which was released yesterday in which 79% - nearly 4 out of every 5 Israelis support the swap. When the Israeli cabinet voted last week on the deal, the support was an overwhelming 26 votes to 3.
But the more I think about it, the more I realize that we are even divided on the question - if not as a nation, then as individuals. Each and every one of us.
The conventional wisdom is that negotiating with terrorists is wrong. It is capitulating to blackmail, and it sets a deadly precedent for the terrorists to continue doing what they do in order to get what they want.
I don't know anyone who would disagree, or who could disprove the logic of this wisdom. It is an accepted "given".
At the same time, I also don't know any Israeli who has not been hoping and praying every day since June 2006 for Gilad's safe return home. When Israelis are victims of terror, the entire country feels it. We all mourn with the families of those killed and we all feel the loss on a very personal level. This is even truer when the victim is not murdered, but kidnapped, and held prisoner by animals who have no regard for human life, whose only value seems to be death.
Gilad Shalit has been on the minds, on the tongues and in the hearts of Israelis since June 25, 2006 – nearly 2,000 days. Who in Israel will not rejoice to see Gilad in the arms of his family? Who would deny him or his loved ones that happening?
Yet, we are torn. Deeply. The price for Gilad's freedom is absolutely astronomical. Not in terms of actual numbers, but in terms of repercussions.
Nobody doubts that many of the terrorists being freed tomorrow in exchange for Gilad Shalit will return to terrorism.
And nobody doubts (and Hamas leadership has already said as much) that in light of the prisoner exchange to which Israel has agreed, there will be more kidnappings in the future in order to release the remaining Palestinian terrorists in our jails.
Gilad is scheduled to come home tomorrow, and about 450 Palestinian terrorists will be released at the same time. The remaining terrorists are to be released in about two months.
Will these released prisoners return to terrorism? Most likely, yes. Maybe some of them will decide that they are no longer willing to risk Israeli prison, but the majority of them will gladly risk whatever it takes, including (or especially) their own lives, in order to kill Israeli civilians.
But it seems to me that when these terrorists were in prison, it didn't lead to drop in terror attacks. Any decrease that has been is a result of Israeli security measures, not a "shortage" of volunteers. So perhaps the number of attacks will not really be affected by the release of these prisoners. We can always hope…
An additional thought is that Israel will undoubtedly keep a very close eye on these released terrorists and if we need targeted hits to prevent them from killing again, then we know how to do that. Just ask any of the Hamas leaders who spend their lives hiding from us (apparently their high regard for death does not apply to their own – only those of their people).
The other argument which I have heard against the deal is a very emotional one. What about the families of past terror victims, whose murderers are set to go free? Don't they deserve to see the monsters that tore their lives apart rot in jail forever?
Of course they do.
But how can anyone say to Noam and Aviv Shalit that the son they have not seen, held or kissed for nearly five and a half years, should stay in the hands of the animals holding him captive so that other families can feel justice in done for the murder of their loved ones? While every Israeli mourns with the families of past terror attacks, no amount of "justice" will bring them back their children. How can we deny the Shalits this chance that the others cannot have? No matter the possible – or even probably – cost.
So, it would seem that I have come to some conclusion of my own. I was uncertain when I began typing this blog an hour or so ago, but I have now decided that in spite all of the air-tight arguments against paying the price for Gilad's safe return, I'm glad that we are doing it. More than that, as an Israeli I am proud of my country for the value that we as a nation place on every human life.
I cannot pretend to know everything that went on in the more than 5 years of negotiations for Gilad Shalit. I have no doubt that the Israeli representatives involved in the negotiations for Gilad's freedom were even more aware of all of the dangers and pitfalls of this prisoner exchange than I am. Yet, they were "there" – they knew what was going on, and they determined that this was the best, if not the only chance of ever bringing Gilad home alive. A part of me has to trust that they honestly did what was best for Israel.
There is one additional clause I would love to see added to this prisoner swap tomorrow. As soon as Gilad is safely back in Israel and the 450 murderers are safely back in Gaza, the leadership of Hamas should be forced to announce to the world, in both English and Arabic, that this deal is absolute proof that one Israeli soldier is worth more than 1,000 Palestinian terrorists.
Every Israeli, as well as most right-thinking citizens of the world already know this to be true. But it would be nice to force Hamas to publicly acknowledge it as well.
After all – as long as we're paying such a heavy cost for freedom, they should at least pay a little bit.