Defending the Gilad Shalit Deal

P. David Hornik is a freelance writer and translator living in Beersheva and author of the book Choosing Life in Israel. 

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That is not to say, of course, that there is no risk entailed; only that, in the eyes of Israel’s security chiefs and of most of its population, the risk entailed by the Shalit deal is within the bounds of the acceptable in return for bringing the soldier home.

The critics also raise a moral argument: simply, the moral horror entailed by freeing so many killers, some of them responsible for multiple dead and wounded, some of them having been jailed only a few years. The critics are right, and the only question is whether freeing so many terrorists or abandoning Shalit is worse. By my lights, for Israel to violate its obligation to its soldier is an even greater evil.

Some claim, of course, that Israel need not have faced such a dilemma and could have brought about Shalit’s release without freeing terrorists. As Steven M. Goldberg, for instance, wrote on FP:

The [Israeli] Prime Minister could have appeared on television and announced that all food, water, electricity and other goods that had been flowing into Gaza would be stopped until Schalit was released. He could have announced that, should anything happen to Schalit, the consequences to Gaza would be even more devastating. The international community would have screamed about collective punishment, but it’s a sure bet that an urgent effort would have been made to free Schalit to avoid these consequences. It is very possible that such a strong approach would have succeeded in freeing Schalit, especially if the threat were credible. Even if this approach did not convince Hamas to release Schalit unharmed, as long as Israel kept its promise of a crushing retaliation, at least future kidnappings would have been convincingly deterred.

It is just as easy, however, to imagine Hamas—which shows its concern for Gazan civilians by systematically using them as human shields in military engagements with Israel—sitting back and enjoying an all-out anti-Israeli diplomatic frenzy under such a scenario, one that would dwarf the Goldstone Report. I, too, would prefer to live in a world of win-win solutions, not the often infinitely cruel one Israeli political and security leaders have to grapple with.

It should also be noted that Israel used tough measures in trying to free Ron Arad, its airman captured in Lebanon in 1986. These included not only blackmailing and threatening Iran (see Ronen Bergman’s The Secret War with Iran) but also kidnapping one of Arad’s captors, Mustafa Dirani, jailing him as counter-ransom (along with another terror leader) for ten years, and torturing him to try and extract information. But none of it worked, and today, 25 years after his capture, Ron Arad is unaccounted for.

The other major contention of the Shalit deal’s critics—to my mind the strongest—is that the deal simply encourages further kidnappings and keeps Israel on the same treadmill that began with its Jibril Deal in 1985. Israel, indeed, has to get off that treadmill, and its leaders realize it. In 2008 Defense Minister Ehud Barak, after one of the least defensible prisoner deals, set up the Shamgar Committee to formulate a new approach. If the “old approach” was still applied to Shalit, who was kidnapped in 2006, it’s apparently because Israel’s top echelon concluded that other possibilities had been exhausted; getting off the treadmill at the expense of his life and freedom was unacceptable.

If, God forbid, I turn out to be wrong and the Shalit deal produces a wave of terror, I’ll have no choice but to acknowledge it. If, though, I’m right and it does not produce one, the critics should acknowledge that, too.

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  • mike

    Is Israel Its Worst Enemy?

    1. Prime Minister who is a full-time agitator-propagandist who should never have achieved such a high position. He exploited Schalit's capture as much as his parents, shlepping them around to meet Sarko and other heads of state.
    2. Israeli press and TV that waged a hysterical campaign is even more guilty than Bibi with his inability to have a long-term goal. Israeli leaders are often prone to hysteria and often cause huge harm to the Jewish state.
    3. In order to avoid such incredible stupidities Israel shouldn't accumulate thousands of Palestinian prisoners.
    4. These exchanges totally undermine Israeli judicial system. This Tamimi shouldn't have been given 16 life sentences and released after 8 years. If her sentence would be 10 years then her release wouldn't be a sensation.
    5. Israel should regularly release prisoners after several years except those with blood on their hands. Now this expression is meaningless.

    • Shalom Freedman

      This is a rare case in which I find myself in total disagreement with David Hornik.
      Those who have done horrible injustice are being rewarded. Those who were relatives of the victims of the injustice are being dealt injustice again. The cruel and evil are being given a reward.
      Civilized society is based on the prohibition of and punishment for Murder. Murderers here are getting a reward.
      David Hornik does not here go into the argument pointing out how 'compassionate' we Israelis are, and how this explains our going so far to make this trade. But how compassionate are we really, if we neglect the families of past and possibly future victims? Aren't we rather guilty of horde thinking as we have given in to a kind of propaganda campaign in which one family succeeded in making one soldier's return from captivity more important than the security situation of the state as a whole?
      Aren't we really over- compassionate fools who have injured ourselves needlessly?

  • Cliff

    Some of us still believe that one man is as important as many. Leave no man behind. Terrorists will have endless days in hell, that will make their prison time seem like a vacation.

  • SHmuelHaLevi

    As a resident and active person I made it my obligation to find details.
    As of now and to the best of my knowlege the Shalit family has not even once recognized the pain and horror caused to the VICTIMS of PEACE by those bestial entities on their way home. For them it appears to have been an utterly selfish process fueled by a totally devoid of values "media".
    Lets be aware that the Israeli media has invested heavily on the "deal" and interviewed endlessly those controlling the murderous beasts being released.

    The "deal" is to my view acceptable to bring the boy home but is a monumental disaster otherwise.
    Not much different from "oslo" and "disengagement" and the various retreats and releases of islamic trash from prison that later turned to be the cause of untold pain.

    I doubt too many soldiers will endanger themselves to capture that ghastly element to see them go free and serve as electoral points for a very little respected "leadershi…p"

  • Sound Doc

    Sounds like a fair trade. One JEW is worth thousands of Muslims.

  • sedoanman

    I vaguely remember an obscure provision in the Geneva Convention that a combatant who is captured by his enemy and subsequently escapes or is recaptured can be executed. And that applies to LEGITIMATE combatants. If this exchange doesn't have a similar provision, then the Israelis are negligent at best.

  • sedoanman

    Correction: the above should read: "… a combatant who is captured by his enemy and subsequently escapes or is released and later recaptured …"

  • Old soldier

    This is not only a major defeat for Israel (no backbone will encourage all it's enemies) but it encourages enemiers of all civilized . "Light unto the nations"?? No. it's a GREEN LIGHT to terrorists worldwide.

  • R Qiddis

    It's obvious that nearly all commentators have a common denominator,the very precious Jewish ego vs the animalistic nature of any human being who would resist the Israeli occupation of the land of Palestine .I'm sure I can't persuade any of these with an incompatible stand off .Well, just think about this 1,Schalit was not playing marbles when he was arrested ,he was an armed soldier on duty,so arresting him was a 100% military operation 2)You have to get out of your bats dark cave -hating whoever and whatever non-Jewish- 3)Have you considered thoughtfully your slogans of cutting electricity, water and food from Gaza strip ?,you know things around "Israel" are changing dramatically ,do you accept to be threatened with the same means someday?4)I think that the stiff necked right in Israel instead has lost very valuable chances of making peace with unprecedented concessions from the weak helpless PA in the last three years, but again it's another Shylock story ,a nonfiction this time.

  • Jacques

    David, for once, I am in disagreement with you. The worst effect of this ill-advised trade will be, as with police risking their lives arresting criminals only to see them freed by liberal judges, to demoralize the brave soldiers and operative who risked life and limbs putting those terrorists behind bars. Clearly, it will also embolden the terrorists, who see this as a victory. You should never negotiate with tyranny.

  • aspacia

    I too disagree with Hornik. Israel needs to amend its capital punishment law to include terrorists with blood on the their hands. This release is a moral outrage against the victims' who families have suffered.

    • winston

      and what of the loved one's of innocent Palestinians killed when Israel exacts some brutal collective punishment it deems 'appropriate' against an entire population>?
      I mean, what would we say of the Pali's if they committed such atrocities against innocent Israelis? If they, in three weeks of slaughter and destruction, killed 1,387 people including 252 children, Used phosphorus weapons against a civilians population, destroyed thousands of structures; including homes, factories, schools, mosques, and even hospitals? See report by B'Tselem on Operation Cast Lead.
      I know that no conflict lasts long in which only one side of at fault. But let's keep things real. There has been tremendous suffering on both sides/ It's ironic because Jews and Palestinians are so closely related.. but that's religion for you. It is great at one thing; dividing people from what are in fact, their own cousins.

      • aspacia

        These fakes elected a terrorist organization sworn to destroy Israel. Hamas starts violence, hides in schools, ambulances, hospitals, homes, mosques and in areas crowded with civilians. Some of these terrorist sympathizing civilians are accidentally killed when Israel retaliates, and the fakes use silly liberals like you to promote their cause of annihilating Israel and all Jews in the area.

        The Hamas have launched thousands of rockets into Israeli civilian areas without one word of protest from the likes of you and the UN. Years and numerous rockets later, when Israel responds, and the fakes die, both you and they cry.

        I have zero sympathy for any bully who begins a fight, and cries when her/his nose is bloodied. I have zero sympathy regarding the civilians who elected Hitler and suffered after causing us to suffer. I have zero sympathy for Japanese civilians who supported their government after the Nanking Massacre and Pearl Harbor and the Bataan Death March. I have zero sympathy for Arab/Muslims who perish at the hands of Israel–THEY HAVE IT COMING.

        My mother survived WWII while living in Plymouth England, the second most bombed city in England. My father survived WWII while serving on a tin can that was blown to bits off the coast of Italy. Three-fourths of the crew died. The destroyer's name was the Roan if you want to check my claim.

        When it comes down to facts, you are too blind to realize that you are an infidel, and these fanatics want you dead too. Remember how they cheered and passed out candy on 9/11.

        You are a fool. So what if they are related, the bloodies wars have been civil wars, brother against brother.

  • Black Zionist

    I disagree with Hornik.

    When terrorists are released, they are lauded as heroes throughout the Arab world. And this only encourages more terrorist attacks. Israel needs to take the gloves off and start taking apart terrorist organizations.

    I have no problem with Israel releasing 1,000 Palestinian terrorists, as long as they are released in a casket.

    • aspacia

      Each should have a tracking device implanted. After their release, assassinate them.

  • Raymond in DC

    The appallingly asymmetric Shalit trade* has had the unintended (but predictable) consequence that others now think they can engage in such trades with Israel. Egypt is currently holding without cause two Israelis – one a Jewish tourist (Ilan Grapel), one a Bedouin. But Egypt is willing to "trade" them for 81 Egyptians (including several convicted on terror charges) currently being held in Israel. And since Grapel is also a US citizen, Egypt is extracting a few concessions from the US as a bonus. If the US utilized its so-called "smart power", it should have been able to get them freed without such ransom payments.

  • Raymond in DC

    Agree. "Justice justice shall you pursue" it says in Deuteronomy. Where is the justice for the families of the thousands killed and maimed when the perpetrators are welcomed home as heroes and role models? This deal has reopened painful wounds for them. One bereaved family, betrayed by promises that the killers would never see the light of day, have announced they are leaving Israel for good.