Steve Wenick

How to handle the hostage situation

In Judaism, a major value in our tradition is pidyon shvuyim, the redemption of captives. Although the Torah addressed the topic millennia ago, the issue is as relevant today as it was in hiblical times.

Our Sages teach that mipnei tikun olam, for the sake of repairing the world, we need to right a wrong by securing the hostages return, therefore it warrants negotiating for their release.

However, in the case of an ongoing war between Israel and Hamas, our Sages also teach not to give in to coercion on the part of the enemy. Because if Israel were to concede to the demands the terrorists by negotiating, the enemy would view that as a sign of weakness and that would serve to increase the likelihood of their continuing the practice of hostage taking, thus increasing the danger to the community at large. And the safety of one or a few Jews in captivity does not take precedence over the safety of the entire public and a person does not have to put himself in danger in order to save his fellow Jew from definite danger.

Additionally, terrorists would not be concerned about imprisonment, knowing full well that eventually the next prisoner exchange, would include their release. Also, released terrorists invariably return to attacking Jews. Therefore, despite the pain of the matter, we are not to give in to coercion and pay an excessive price for the hostages, as in the case when Israel exchanged 1,000 terrorists for one Israeli soldier, Gilad Shalit, who held the low rank of corporal at the time of his capture.

But the Sages further advised that even in the event the enemy takes one hostage, Jews should not enter into negotiations for their rescue, but rather set off to war. The reason being that the next time the terrorists will take two hostages. So there you have it, a classic example of two Jews – three opinions.

But rather than citing opinions, let’s take a look at a precedent we find in world history, because those pressuring Israel to not pursue the recovery of hostages at all costs have much to learn from it.

In 1993, Gen. Mohamed Farrah Aidid’s men in Mogadishu, Somalia (the “Black Hawk Down” incident), captured American pilot Michael Durant. Former U.S. Ambassador Robert Oakley sent the following message to Aidid:

…I guarantee you we are not going to pay or trade for him in any way, shape or form. So what we’ll decide is that we have to rescue him, and whether we have the right place or the wrong place, there’s going to be a fight with your people. The minute the guns start again, all restraint on the U.S. side goes. Just look at the stuff coming in here now. An aircraft carrier, tanks, gunships . . . the works. Once the fighting starts, all this pent-up anger will be released. This whole part of the city will be destroyed, men, women, children, camels, cats, dogs, goats, donkeys, everything . . . That would really be tragic for all.

Durant was released unconditionally the next day.

About the Author
Since retiring from IBM Steve Wenick has served as a freelance book reviewer for HarperCollins Publishing and Simon & Schuster. His reviews and articles have appeared in The Jerusalem Post, The Algemeiner, Jerusalem Online, Philadelphia Inquirer, Attitudes Magazine, and The Jewish Voice of Southern New Jersey. Steve and his wife are residents of Voorhees, New Jersey.
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