Last night I had a childish thought. It just flashed through my mind and was gone.
I thought that perhaps if we all prayed very hard, then tomorrow (today), when the time comes for Ehud Goldwasser and Eldad Regev to be returned home, they will be alive.
No, Imshin, not childish. Compassionate, caring, optimistic--the very heart of the Jewish tradition. It was Hitler who said conscience was a Jewish invention. One of the very few things on which he was right. Kol Yisrael arevim zeh bazeh. The Talmudic view: All Israel is responsible for one another.
And not only we Jews have this literally heartfelt commitment of identification with the plight of all political hostages and their families. When the Irish/British aid worker Margaret Hassan was kidnapped in Iraq and finally cynically videoed being murdered, I had so much hoped she would be safely released along with the others--and so did the overwhelming majority of the people of every ethnic group in Britain not marching under the deluded enrage banner of the SWP and the Islamists. And there is no shortage of cases of British and European governments making gruesome deals with kidnappers and murderers for the safe release of their kidnapped nationals.
Despite that, there's been widespread puzzlement and disbelief at the actions of the Israeli government amongst their sympathizers as well as a triumphalist reading by their enemies of the events of 16th July 2008 as a sign of Israel's defeat and weakness .
Can somebody explain to me why this was thought to be a good idea?
Are any of the points made in this article wrong?
I mean, I’m all for concessions for peace: but what is the policy aim, here?
The comments on David T's post are interesting, but I thought almost all were too wrapped up in the current and recent history of Israel, and, unsurprisingly for a strongly secularist socialist blog, ignorant of the specifically religious tradition behind Israel's policies.
This is an edited version of the comment I posted in response:
In the absence of any authoritative rabbinical commentary here's an extract from an outstanding discussion by Jewish legal experts who seem to be equally well informed about international and rabbinical law as applied to such kidnap situations.
Rabbi Meir’s approach has its source in the Mishnah which rules that one does not ransom captives for more than their value because of Tikkun Olam. The Talmud disputes the rationale for the Mishnah’s stipulation. One view is that it is intended to prevent the impoverishment of the Jewish community which would otherwise make extortionate ransom payments; the other is to avoid providing an incentive to the kidnappers to continue in their ways. Both Maimonides and the Shulchan Aruch adopt the second rationale. While both maintain that there is no greater mitzvah than the redemption of captives, ultimately, public security considerations take precedence when evaluating whether to pay a ransom. Interestingly, Tosafot maintain that where there is a danger to life, captives may be redeemed for more than their value, but this position has not been codified.
Application of Jewish law to contemporary prisoner exchanges is not straightforward. Two questions are particularly difficult to resolve. The first is how to establish the value of a captured soldier. The second, related question is how to apply Jewish law where the ransom payment consists of convicted terrorists instead of financial capital. In classical times, the question of value could readily be resolved by resort to the slave market or the market rate for the ransom of non-Jewish captives, but the question today is obviously far more complex. Moreover, as the payment consists of convicted terrorists, the state must engage in an unenviable balancing act, weighing the rights of the individual against the security needs of the country. What is clear, however, is that as a general rule, captives should not be redeemed for more than their value if it is reasonably believed that paying the ransom will increase kidnappings and thereby pose a threat to the public. In fact, former Israel Defense Forces Chief Rabbi Shlomo Goren was opposed to lopsided prisoner exchanges, noting that the safety of one or a few Jews in captivity does not take precedence over the safety of the entire public.
A growing number of senior defense and security experts, including the heads of the Mossad and the Israel Security Agency (Shin Bet), believe that the “more than fair value” test has once again proven relevant.
As Israelis lacking any family or other connection to the Goldwasser/Regev families, we are convinced that the current skewed deal threatens the public interest, undermines Israel’s ability to defend its legal rights and carry out its legal duties, and could threaten Israel’s strategic objectives. The optimal position, of course, is to rely on military action to free captured soldiers and/or civilians as in the famous Entebbe rescue. If such a rescue is not a viable option, any negotiations should be conducted within the context of national security objectives.
When Israel makes exchanges that are unequal, it is only natural for Israel’s enemies to view the illegal kidnapping of Israeli civilians and soldiers, and the violation of their legal rights in captivity, as an extremely profitable activity. These exchanges present Israel as willing to concede all its legal rights and to accommodate any and all demands of terrorist organizations. Additionally, by bestowing undeserved largesse upon terrorist groups like Hizbullah, these exchanges strengthen that group’s leverage as a political actor in the Arab and Muslim worlds, and enhance its support on the Arab street. Hizbullah has been able to successfully negotiate the release of a celebrated Lebanese terrorist, extract information on four missing Iranian diplomats, and secure the release of an unspecified number of Palestinian prisoners.
The Goldwasser/Regev deal – as a deviation from the Geneva Conventions model – discourages compliance with international humanitarian law, harms Israeli deterrence, encourages future kidnappings, and endangers the lives of those who may be taken hostage by Hizbullah or another terrorist group. The value Israel places on a single life is laudable, but its translation into a policy of capitulation to terrorist kidnappers’ demands magnifies the already grossly inflated price of prisoner exchanges. For terrorist organizations, kidnapped Israeli soldiers and civilians are valuable and relatively cheaply-acquired bargaining chips to bring home their terrorists imprisoned in Israeli jails. As Yoram Shachar, the brother of policeman Eliahu Shachar who was murdered in a terrorist attack involving Kuntar, said: “The release today is the kidnapping of tomorrow.”
According to Abu Mujehad, the Lebanese and Palestinian resistance will continue to work to kidnap soldiers in order to release prisoners "and in order to retrieve our rights, after it has been proved beyond any doubt that no diplomatic negotiations can release prisoners or return rights."
Yael's blog yesterday had a reference to a Facebook group of Lebanese who deplored the release of the most notorious terrorist murderer, Samir Kuntar, who has been ecstatically celebrated in Lebanon, Gaza and by the Palestinian Authority as a supreme hero, despite the fact that his "heroism" was based on breaking into a flat, shooting a father in front of his four year old daughter and then repeatedly bludgeoning and smashing the skull of the child to death. Lisa's post on Pajamas Media offers further evidence that not every Lebanese was celebrating, despite the shameful participation of the leader of every single Lebanese political party in the rally celebrating Kuntar on his release, including the leaders of those who had fought against Hezbollah. Now Lebanon has a very significant reckoning of the appalling cost to the Lebanese people of Nasrallah's "triumph", quoted by Lisa; Neil D on Harry's Place reports the Lebanese Political Journal's sardonic condemnation of those "achievements:
Am Yisroel Chai-- The people of Israel lives, which today tends to be a triumphalist slogan of the Israeli right. But I mean by invoking it a salute to the future of Israel, for it lives in the sense of being on the side of life.