While we know we shouldn’t do it, all of us reward bad behavior. We may give a whining child a treat in the supermarket to keep them quiet or we may address a complaining customer faster to get them out of our business as soon as possible. Perhaps our motives are self-centered, but the behavior which ultimately ends up giving someone what they want is not the behavior we would have wanted to reward.
This is the main argument against the deal made for the release of Gilad Shalit. Freeing over 1,000 Palestinian prisoners seems to many to be an unjust reward for Hamas. This may seem like encouragement for future abductions of Israeli soldiers and what is worse, for those who either lost loved ones in the terrorist attacks perpetrated by the prisoners being released or in the operations to apprehend them, freeing the prisoners before their terms are served is a betrayal.
Even Prime Minister Netanyahu (before he was the Prime Minister) remarked:
Among the most important policies which must be adopted in the face of terrorism is the refusal to release convicted terrorists from prisons. This is a mistake that Israel, once the leader in anti-terror techniques, has made over and over again. Release of convicted terrorists before they have served their full sentences seems like an easy and tempting way of defusing blackmail situations in which innocent people may lose their lives. But its utility is momentary at best. Prisoner releases only embolden terrorists by giving them the feeling that even if they are caught their punishment will be brief. Worse, by leading terrorists to think such demands are likely to be met, they encourage precisely the kind of terrorist blackmail which they are supposed to diffuse….only the most unrelenting refusal to ever give in to such blackmail can prevent most such situations from arising.
If this is the case, why did most Israelis support the deal and why did the man quoted above make it?
As my children said when they heard how many prisoners were being released, “but it’s just one soldier!”
I have often sought to balance the conflict in defining the importance and value of just one person. On one hand, we are nothing. I am one person on a planet of billions of people. Our planet is just one mass that circles our sun. Our sun is one star in a galaxy filled stars and our galaxy is just one of the many galaxies in our universe. We are each just a speck of finite cosmic dust in an infinite environment. We are not important.
However, when viewed in the context of the human fabric which weaves our understanding of history and community, that of relationships with other people, we are everything. A single person can change the whole world, can make great discoveries and can be a historic force for either good or evil. Think of Edison, Franklin, Einstein, Ghandi, Martin Luther King, need I go on? There are so many, many individuals who have made a difference in this world, how can anyone say that each life is not important. As the Talmud teaches us, “He who saves a single life, it is as if he has saved an entire world.”
Redeeming captives is a paramount Jewish value and it is an intrinsic and necessary Israeli value. With so few soldiers who fight so bravely on the border and behind enemy lines, Israel is obligated to assure its defenders that it will do everything possible to redeem them should they be captured. As a citizenry army of sons and daughters in active service and of young fathers and brothers in the reserves, Israelis need this assurance and we are willing to pay a high price to ensure the safe return of one, even just one, of our own.
Ours is a culture that celebrates life and with rare exception exacts revenge. While Gilad Shalit’s life is not worth more than any other soldier who was sacrificed to apprehend a terrorist, nor is it worth more than any of the innocents killed by those who were released, Gilad is alive and the quality of his life and its very existence was in question after more than five years of imprisonment. Keeping terrorists imprisoned will not bring back the dead, but releasing them may have prevented another grieving mother to be among the many Israelis who have buried their sons and daughters.
I can certainly understand those who opposed this deal. I hope to never have to make such decisions and I pray that we will never need to be in this situation again, but as I look at my three boys as they grow up and the children around me who will soon be or who are already serving in the IDF, I have to agree with Yosefa Goldstein, whose daughter Sari, 21, died in a 2002 bus bombing. She told the Israeli daily HaAretz that she supported the deal saying, “To know your son is alive and not be able to hold him, this is the worst possible thing.”