On October 18, 2011, Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit was finally delivered into the waiting arms of his relieved and long-suffering family after years of terrifying imprisonment. Shalit was captured over five years earlier on June 25, 2006 by notorious Gaza-based terrorist organization Hamas and held in conditions we cannot even begin to fathom – utterly isolated for nearly two thousand days without a glimpse of sunlight and living in perpetual fear of execution. His return represents an enormous victory for Shalit’s family and friends, the state of Israel, the Jewish people, and other supporters all over the world. Jews have long prided themselves on the infinite value they place on human life, willing to go to extreme lengths to preserve its sanctity. The day of Shalit’s release will invariably go down in Israel’s history as a day of triumph and elation.
However, now that everyone has had some time to ruminate, it is prudent to address the firestorm of controversy accompanying the circumstances of Shalit’s return, namely the conditions of his freedom and the question of how the exchange of 1,027 convicted Palestinian prisoners for Shalit will affect Israel’s long-term security.
There is no doubt that Gilad’s freedom was worth the release of over 1,000 convicted criminals for his family, for Israel, and for the general principle of morality. As far as ethics go, nobody on earth has the authority to dictate the cost of a life. However, it is necessary to discuss whether the exchange could potentially harm more than one person.
Some argue that not all of the freed prisoners were terrorists – some were simply political prisoners, while others were in for more conventional crimes. Even so, many of the individuals in question murdered innocent Israelis with mothers, fathers, siblings, and children of their own. Victims of these people even include Palestinians suspected of collaborating with Israel by their neighbors.
While Shalit’s return relieves one family’s pain, it reopens the wounds of countless others—allowing a cold-blooded killer to roam the streets after incontrovertible evidence led to his or her conviction is simply a barefaced violation of the established justice system. Others claim that even the most hardened terrorists involved in this prisoner swap would never repeat their monstrous acts and have been essentially rendered harmless. To this end, I cite an interview with recently-freed Jordanian terrorist Ahlam Tamimi featured in news website The Blaze. Here is a particularly insightful quote from this woman, who is responsible for planning and helping to execute the deadly bombing of a Jerusalem Sbarro pizzeria in 2001:
“Of course. I do not regret what happened. Absolutely not. This is the path. I dedicated myself to Jihad for the sake of Allah, and Allah granted me success. You know how many casualties there were [in the 2001 attack on the Sbarro pizzeria]. This was made possible by Allah. Do you want me to denounce what I did? That’s out of the question. I would do it again today, and in the same manner.”
After reading something so despicable (a truly vile degradation of life), it would take quite a bit of naiveté to assume that Tamimi is an isolated case. In a Tel Aviv conference, former Mossad chief Meir Dagan said “I oppose the deal which was implemented…many of [the prisoners] will resume their terrorist activity. We bolstered Hamas and weakened the PA.” The chilling reality of the situation is that these terrorists have not and will not stop at anything to threaten the lives of Jews and Israelis. They have murdered daughters, sons, mothers, fathers, relatives, and friends before, and they will do it again.
It is important to understand that while the vast majority of the world sees the emphasis Israel places on life as a great strength, terrorist organizations view this as a crippling weakness to be mercilessly exploited. Indeed, multiple media sources report that an enormous crowd of over 250,000 Palestinians in Gaza met the release of the convicted prisoners with vehement, synchronized chants of “We want a new Gilad!” In fact, the message encouraging the imprisonment of Israeli soldiers has been shockingly pervasive, finding its way into television programs and news outlets. Furthermore, there is now a substantial bounty on the head of every Israeli soldier – a member of Saudi Arabia’s royal family is currently offering a $1 million reward for the capture of Israeli military personnel, for the singular (and obvious) purpose of forcing Israel’s government into releasing more prisoners.
Yes, this is sickening and ghastly, but it is also a heartrending reality that could (and should) have been anticipated. There is no reasoning with terrorists – they do not subscribe to the same moral principles as the majority of civilization. The Israeli government has made it blatantly clear that it is willing to negotiate with Hamas; even worse, it is willing to make massive concessions in the face of preposterous demands. My question is this: what will stop Hamas or any other similarly-minded organizations from setting up an encore? As far as the militants are concerned, it is now open season on Israeli soldiers, because Israel’s government has set a fatal precedent which is virtually impossible to retract.
It is understandable that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu made the decision to release the army of potential terrorists as a response to the enormous support rallying behind Shalit. However, his predecessor Ehud Olmert issued a firm statement saying, “There will be no negotiations to release prisoners…the government of Israel will not give in to extortion by the Palestinian Authority and the Hamas government, which are headed by murderous terror organizations.” Clearly, the decision has a little more political nuance than most admit – it is not purely based on the value of life. Had Netanyahu backed out of the deal, the immediate response would have been crushingly negative and possibly devastating to his political standing, even if a resolute repudiation of Hamas’s demands would have resulted in greater future security.
In conclusion, while millions of people (myself included) are overjoyed to hear of Shalit’s safe return and reunion with his family, I cannot help but worry deeply about the consequences of the concessions made by the Israeli government to appease a terrorist organization. It is very likely that such a move will incite additional violence against Israelis, encourage future acts of terrorism, and prove deadly to many more innocent people. No matter how much it hurts to admit, Israel is placing herself in an even more precarious situation by agreeing to the increasingly brazen and coercive demands of those who wish to see her destroyed.