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Monday, March 16, 2009

How high a price is too high?

I have been avoiding discussing what is by far the biggest story in Israel this week: The ongoing 'indirect negotiations' in Cairo to cut an eleventh hour deal between the Olmert-Livni-Barak government and Hamas that would free kidnapped IDF corporal Gilad Shalit in exchange for hundreds of 'Palestinian' terrorists with blood on their hands. It was all supposed to be over by Monday morning, but Israel's negotiators remain in Cairo, and Hamas' politburo chief Khaled Meshaal has been summoned there - ostensibly to negotiate a Hamas-Fatah unity government - but realistically because of the ongoing negotiations with Israel. The cabinet meeting to approve a deal - if there is one - has been postponed to Tuesday. Let me set out the facts for you and then we can discuss whether and under what circumstances the government should cut a deal.

Life was much simpler until 1985. Until then, Israel took the position that it would not negotiate with terrorists, and instead went and rescued its hostages. Recall the Sabena plane on the runway at what was then Lod airport in 1972 and the Air France jet at Entebbe in 1976.

In 1985, Israel released more than 1,100 terrorists in exchange for three Israeli POW's from the 1982 Lebanon War, in what is known here as the Ahmad Jibril exchange. Since then, Israel's only attempt to rescue a soldier being held hostage resulted in that soldier's (Nachshon Wachsman HY"D) death and in the death of another soldier in the rescue team (Nir Poraz HY"D) in 1994. No government since 1994 has even regarded a rescue mission as an option.

Israel's negotiations with the terrorists have gone downhill since, first with a civilian who got himself kidnapped serving as cover for Israel trading more than 400 prisoners for three dead soldiers, then with Israel trading a small number of live terrorists 'with blood on their hands' for two dead soldiers in the summer of 2008, and now, apparently, with Israel about to trade hundreds of terrorists 'with blood on their hands' for one (hopefully) live soldier.

Most terrorists who are freed go back to committing terror attacks and murdering Jews in the process:
The proof is in a study released in September 2006 by the Almagor Terror Victims Association (which does not have a web site as far as I can tell), headed by Meir Indor, which was recently updated. The study reveals that 177 innocent people have been murdered in 30 terror attacks perpetrated by 'released prisoners' over the last several years. Most of those murdered were Jewish Israelis. When released, the 'released prisoners' did not 'have blood on their hands.' As the report states:
It should be emphasized that the term 'without blood on their hands' portrays these terrorists as less dangerous - but in fact they are 'without blood on their hands' only because the Israeli security services managed to arrest them before they could murder, or because they were indirectly involved in murder, or the like. In actuality, they would be quite happy to be 'with blood on their hands.'
The names of the terrorists and the terror attacks that they carried out after their release reads like a who's who of terror attacks in Israel over the last several years. The terror attacks included:
* the lynching of two soldiers in Ramallah (Oct. 2000)
* shooting deaths of Binyamin and Talia Kahane (Dec. 2000)
* suicide explosions in Netanya, 8 dead (March and May, 2001)
* Sea Food Market suicide blast, 3 dead (March 2002)
* shooting in Atzmona yeshiva, 5 youths dead (March 2002)
* Park Hotel suicide bomber during Passover Seder, 30 dead (March 2002)
* bus blasts at Megiddo, Karkur, Jerusalem, 55 dead (June 2002 - June 2003)
* suicide bombing outside Jerusalem's Cafe Hillel, 7 dead including Dr. David Yaakov Appelbaum and his daughter Nava – on the eve of her wedding. [Nava Applebaum HY"D was a classmate of my eldest daughter. CiJ] (September 2003)
* double suicide attacks in Be'er Sheva, 16 dead (August 2004)
The released terrorists included the following:
Marwan Barghouti - originally arrested in 1976; released; a leader of the first intifada; arrested and expelled to Jordan; allowed to return in 1994; became Tanzim terrorist leader in 2000, overseeing many terrorist attacks involving the murder of some 35 Israelis; arrested in 2002, sentenced to five life sentences; PA demands his release - Shabak objects.

Sheikh Ahmed Yassin - originally arrested in 1983; released a year later in the Jibril exchange; founded Hamas in 1987; arrested for ordering the kidnapping and killing of two soldiers and sentenced to life in prison; released in 1997, after the botched assassination of Khaled Mashaal; continued to organize terrorist attacks; killed by Israeli rockets in 2004.

Saleh Shehade - released from prison in 2000; headed the Hamas military wing; oversaw many attacks, including the infiltration into an IDF outpost in which four soldiers were murdered and the Atzmonah murder of five youths; killed in IDF air attack in 2002.

Abdullah Abdel Kader Kawasme - first arrested in 1988; expelled to Lebanon in 1992; after his return, imprisoned again for Hamas membership and terrorist activity; released in 1994; oversaw many terror attacks, including over 40 deaths, and became known as "Father of the Ticking Time Bombs; killed by Israeli forces while trying to escape arrest in June 2003.

Karim Yunis Awis - sentenced to life in 1991 for killing informant; released several years later as part of the "gestures" to Palestinian Authority; dispatched two terrorists to murder two Israelis in Afula bus station in November 2001; dispatched terrorists to murder three Israelis in Jerusalem in March 2002; later that year, an IDF Military Court ruled that "the gesture [of his release] was not justified, and the heavy price was paid by many Israeli families."

Nasser Abu Hameid - arrested several times, sentenced to life in prison in 1990 for murdering informants; released in 1999 in the framework of the Sharm a-Sheikh agreement; Dec. 2000 - murdered Eli Cohen near Givat Ze'ev and the Kahane couple near Ofrah; Feb. 2002 - initiated two murderous attacks in Jerusalem area; Dec. 2002 -sentenced to seven life sentences.

Nasser Abu Hamiyad – released as part of the Oslo Accords; took part in Ramallah lynch, mutilating bodies of IDF reservists Vadim Norzitz and Yossi Avrahami; February 25, 2002: Initiated attack on Jerusalem’s Neve Yaakov neighborhood, murdering a female police officers and wounding 10; March 5, 2002: Responsible for attack on Seafood Market in Tel Aviv, murdering Israelis Eliyahu Dahan and Yossi Havi, wounding 31.

Abbas ibn Muhammad Alsayd – released in 1996; had a part in three Netanya attacks: March 4, 2001: Dispatched Herzl street suicide bombing, murdering Naftali Din, Shlomit Ziv, Yvgeni Malkin and wounding 56; May 18, 2001: Responsible for suicide bombing of HaSharon Mall in Netanya, murdering Miriam Wachsman, Yulia Tartiakov, David (Moti) Yarkoni, Vladislov Sorokin and Tirza Tishbi, and wounding 86; Helped plan and carry out Park Hotel Passover massacre, murdering 29 and wounding 155.

Ramez Sali Abu Salim – released February 20, 2003; just seven months after release, on September 9: Blew himself up at Jerusalem’s Cafי Hillel, murdering David Shimon Avizdris, Yehiel Emil Toubol, Shafik Karem, Alon Mizrachi, Gila Moshe, Dr. David Yaakov Appelbaum and his daughter Nava – on the eve of her wedding. [Nava Applebaum HY"D was a classmate of my eldest daughter. CiJ]

Jihad Alamrin – released as part of the Jibril deal in 1985: Founded the Al Aksa Brigades terror group in Gaza; planted explosives that killed IDF soldiers Cpl. Asher Zagori, Cpl. Moshe Peled, Cpl. Ron Lavi, Cpl. Matan Biderman and others.
It is important to note that the original study only covered the 6912 terrorists released between 1993 (when the Oslo Declaration of Principles was signed) and 1999 and only covered terror attacks perpetrated through August 2003. If anything, the actual current numbers are even higher.
It's also important to note that the 'prisoners' involved in the study above did not have 'blood on their hands' at the time of their release.

Those 'in the know' have warned that even supporters of releasing terrorists in exchange for Shalit 'will cringe' when they see which terrorists are going to be released. To this point, Israel is insisting that some of the more heinous terrorists be released only to Gaza or be expelled outside the region altogether, but that is one of the sticking points in the 'negotiations.' With more than half of the cabinet willing to support an exchange 'at any price,' it is likely that Israel will concede this point too. The 'lesson' to the terrorists is stark: 'Don't worry if you get caught. Israel's prisons are like luxury hotels, and in any event we will get you out eventually.'

On the other hand, there is no Israeli who cannot envision himself in the Shalit family's position. Each of us knows that if it were our child, we would go to the ends of the earth to attain his or her release. For the last week, the Shalit family has gathered outside Olmert's residence in a 'protest tent' that has been visited by the families of Ron Arad, Nachshon Wachsman HY"D, and Ehud Goldwasser and Eldad Regev HY"D. All of those families have 'been there' (and in the Arads' case, they are still 'there' since 1986).

Three families who have not shown up at the Shalit tent perhaps bear noting: The families of Yehuda Katz, Tzvi Feldman and Zach Baumel, all of whom have been 'missing' since the battle of Sultan Yaqub in 1982. And it also bears noting that before Operation Cast Lead, many IDF soldiers signed requests that in the event that they are captured and killed, the government should not make 'trades' for them.

There are no clearcut decisions that can be made about this issue. Given that the Israeli government has been bargaining with terrorists for 25 years, those who say that there are no circumstances in which we should trade for Shalit may be wrong, but those who say we should bring Shalit home 'at any price' are even more wrong. I could agree with a trade in which those who have committed minor offenses (note - not just that they don't have 'blood on their hands') are released. I cannot agree with a trade in which major terrorists are released. If a deal were proposed that falls somewhere between those two extremes, I would have to see it in order to decide. In this regard, I am guided by the Maharam, who placed limits on the all-important commandment to redeem captives.
Jews, unfortunately, are no strangers to the issue of redeeming captives, as we have been forced to ransom our loved ones time and again in history. Indeed, volumes of Jewish law are devoted to the parameters of pidyon sh'vuyim.

However the concept that there is a limit to what we will pay is best illustrated in the story of Rabbi Meir ben Baruch, better known as Maharam of Rothenburg, the head of German Jewry in the last half of the 13th century. As conditions worsened for the Jews in Germany, many sought to escape the brutal pogroms and draconian taxation by fleeing to Eretz Yisrael. Emperor Rudolf I, fearing the loss of Jewish gold, declared the Jews his personal property and, in 1286, forbade them to leave Germany.

Maharam vigorously opposed the emperor and attempted to escape the country with his family. But a Jewish apostate informed upon him and he was imprisoned by Rudolf in the castle of Ensisheim. The emperor demanded an exorbitant ransom before he would free Maharam.

German Jewry was prepared to pay the enormous sum of 23,000 talents of silver for his release. But Maharam himself forbade the exchange, arguing that it would only serve to encourage more kidnappings and extortion within vulnerable Jewish communities. Maharam languished in prison for seven years until he died in 1293; his body was not released for burial until 14 years later, when it was redeemed by a wealthy Jew.

His heroic act of self-sacrifice sent the message that there are times when the price of freedom can be too high. By refusing to pay the blackmail that was demanded of his people, Maharam assured that never again would rabbinic leaders be taken hostage.
What would the Maharam say to the current proposed 'prisoner exchange?' I doubt he would support it.


At 1:31 PM, Blogger NormanF said...

There is also the rabbinic ruling going back to the Talmud, that one may not sacrifice the community for the sake of individual if it involves harm to the community. "Your blood is not redder than your fellow's." Redeeming captives is a mitzvah, not a legal obligation. What is certain is that if all the terrorists Hamas demands were released by Israel, is more Jews will surely die.

And there is no guarantee Gilad Shalit will be returned alive. The price is too high and if I was in Shalit's place, I would not want my freedom purchased at the expense of the lives of my fellow Jews. My freedom is not more important than their well-being.

I can understand the feelings of the Shalit family who want their loved one returned safely to them. But I am opposed to this proposed trade because it would place all of Israel at risk and there can be no moral justification for doing it. Israel should try to rescue Shalit even before releasing terrorists from its prison and that step only as a last resort.

Other options to pressure Hamas have not even been tried. There is no excuse for surrender when every other measure to obtain Shalit's freedom has not even been exhausted.


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