Three Abductees and the Moral Dilemma that doesn’t Exist

Though I know what can be expected from the daily Haaretz regarding the Israeli Palestinian conflict, it is always an unpleasant surprise to find out how quickly this beacon of liberal light directs the beam to the wrong place. As common sense dictates, Netanyahu is right in holding the Palestinian authority responsible for the kidnapping of three Israeli teenagers. Haaretz’ senior analyst Amir Oren thinks otherwise. If hopes for the safety of the three are thwarted, “the blame will also be placed on the Israeli ministers,” he says. Oren thus blames Netanyahu for something he didn’t do, which is refusing to negotiate with the terrorists who kidnaped the three kids. No wonder Netanyahu refuses to give interviews to that newspaper.

Oren is all worked up because of the new bill that proposes limiting the government’s maneuverability in future negotiations for the release of Israeli abductees in exchange for convicted terrorists (Haaretz calls them “prisoners”). The bill proposes to allow Israeli courts to sentence murderers to life without parole. The idea behind it is to stop attempts to blackmail Israel into wholesale release of terrorists who murdered Israelis. This bill nevertheless allows for the release of any terrorist who didn’t actually do the killing.

Israel has come a long way from her 1970s principle of no negotiation with terrorists to what now appears as capitulation to their demands. The meltdown of this principle began in 1985 with Shimon Peres’ decision to release 1500 terrorists in exchange for three Israeli soldiers. The release of Gilad Shalit in 2011 for 1027 convicted Hamas terrorists, including 280 sentenced to life, brought this issue to a boiling point. The campaign for Shalit’s release that was headed by his father, Noam Shalit, created a fierce controversy. Noam Shalit represented something most Israelis found problematic. In the dilemma pitting the welfare of the whole against the welfare of the individual, Shalit and his supporters opted for the later.

The Shalit drama came to a shocking climax in September 2011 when the Supreme Court convened to decide on the legality of Israel’s deal with Hamas. Present in the court room was Shvuel Schijveschuurder who lost his father, mother and three siblings to a suicide bomb. He attended the meeting to protest against the release of those who murdered his family. During the session Shvuel turned to Noam Shalit and begged him to put a black ribbon on the Israeli flag he placed over his house, but Shalit didn’t even twitch. Cold as stone he didn’t show the slightest sign of sympathy toward a broken Israeli who lost his family to terror. His lack of reaction matched his campaign that essentially said: My son first, Israel second.

This disturbing episode exposed the real issue behind the bitter debate over the release of thousands of terrorists in exchange of even dead Israeli abductees. Shalit is representative of those who elevate self-interest over and above the interest of the community, in this case the state of Israel. Those opposing him believe that individuals should still be expected to protect their community, even at the cost of life. The prolonged negotiations to release Shalit were so controversial that a special committee headed by retired Judge Shamgar was instructed to form guidelines for future negotiations. Unfortunately however, the committee’s recommendations remained classified. I hope and pray that the three will be found safe and sound, but if not, Israel will be forced to choose who comes first, the individuals or the community. Difficult as it may be, Israel’s leaders must do whatever they can to guard the interests of the whole or else run the risk of turning Israel into a homeland not worth fighting for.

About the Author
Ph.D. in Jewish history. Born in kibbutz; author of the book Flesh of our Flesh: Jesus of Nazareth in Zionist Thought (Carmel, 2008). Freelance writer for the monthly magazine Israel Today.