Israel's dilemma

After more than five years as a prisoner of Hamas, the Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit was freed on Tuesday. The move came after Israel transferred hundreds of Palestinian prisoners to Egypt for their eventual releases into the Gaza Strip or abroad. Shalit is “alive and well,” according to the IDF, and he has already returned to Israel, where his family greeted him at the border. Israel will release 1,027 prisoners in total in exchange for Shalit.
— The Daily Beast, Oct. 18, 2011

Israel’s latest dilemma resulted from the release of captured soldier Gilad Shalit. Under other circumstances, no one would call the negotiated release anything but morally powerful — one life of an Israeli is worth whatever it takes, so important to Israeli morality is the preservation of its citizens. It is a profound moral statement. And surely I would champion the move were I the parents of soldier Shalit.

As a matter of state, the decision was more complicated. Many Israeli citizens have protested that it is corrupt to release 1,027 Palestinian prisoners to compensate Hamas for the Shalit exchange. What kind of exchange is 1 for 1,027? That sound fair? Won’t it encourage more captures of Israelis and further disproportionate settlements? Many of the now-free Palestinians are terrorists who killed innocent Israelis — citizens, not soldiers. Understandably, their victims' parents were outraged, even as the country celebrated the return of one of its sons.

The post-Holocaust philosophy that one life makes a world applies to this situation, but in conflicting ways. On one hand, Shalit’s life is so valuable that a Jewish world is saved by saving him. But on the other hand, it demeans the many lives of the victims of the 1,027 released prisoners.

The hope and rationale is that this exchange will open the way for broad peace negotiations, and onlookers can only pray this is so. The world that is so quick and vocal to criticize Israel will not praise Israel for its humanity. Hamas's record on peace undercuts the hope for peace, and as the releases have occurred, onlookers can only pray that the gamble will prove a wise and correct one. Hamas’s track record for terrorism is not encouraging, and during their celebration of the release of the 1,027 Palestinian prisoners, the threat was made that they will look for other Gilad Shalits, and continue to wage war against Israel.

The bottom line is that Israeli values are admirable — saving one of its citizens — a captured prisoner of war — is worth freeing more than 1,000 of its enemies, dangerous as the act is. Israel knows danger, and values life.

Ronald Goldfarb is a Washington, D.C.- and Miami-based attorney, author and literary agent.

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