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Last week, in return for a video – not the freedom of a kidnap victim, but a video of a kidnap victim – Israel freed 20 Palestinian prisoners. This has to stop.
At one time Israel would release terrorists – but not those with “blood on their hands” and only in return for living Israelis. In July 2008, however, Israel had agreed to release to Hizbullah a gruesome murderer, Samir Kuntar, and four others prisoners in return for the corpses of two kidnapped Israelis.
In August 2008, Israel also freed a further 198 jailed terrorists, including two with blood on their hands and 149 others guilty of attempted murder, as a “confidence-building measure.”
Clearly, Israel is giving more and receiving less – and that is not the worst of it. The fact is, freed terrorists frequently return to terror and end up murdering more Israelis.
The evidence for this is clear: Col. Meir Indor, director of Almagor Terrorist Victims Association (ATVA), disclosed in April 2007 that 177 Israelis killed in terror attacks in the previous five years had been killed by terrorists freed on the basis that they were “without blood on their hands.”
An earlier ATVA report showed that 123 Israelis had been murdered by terrorists freed during the years 1993-99.
This exposes the fraudulence of the criterion “without blood on their hands,” which lulled the Israeli public into thinking no serious danger was courted by freeing terrorists.
This was an illusion, and the loss of more lives was inevitable. “Without blood on their hands” is a misleading criterion that encompasses those convicted for attempting to kill, for planting or throwing bombs or for shooting at Israelis in attacks that just happened to prove non-lethal.
Israelis were fooling themselves if they thought freeing attempted murderers and accessories to murder carried few risks.
Additionally, such releases provide a major incentive for more kidnappings of Israelis. As Hamas chief Khaled Meshaal said only days ago, “The resistance … is capable of capturing [another] Shalit and [another] Shalit and [another] Shalit, until not a single prisoner will remain in the enemy’s jails.”
Yet for years Israelis have been inundated with false arguments for releasing terrorists. It has been argued that Israel would not risk more kidnappings by releasing, for example, about 1,000 Palestinian prisoners in return for Shalit, because if Hamas could kidnap more soldiers it would, regardless of the price paid for Shalit’s release.
This is simply dangerous nonsense. As the cited evidence indicates, the chief security issue raised by releasing Palestinian terrorists is not only more kidnappings, serious and real as that problem is, but freed prisoners murdering more Israelis. This aspect of the problem is routinely ignored in discussion of prisoner releases.
The August 2008 prisoner release was described by analyst Yossi Alpher as a “smart and courageous move” because “draconian sentences” on jailed terrorists create “incentives” for other terrorists to kidnap Israelis in order to spring those locked up. This is shortsighted. Israel’s willingness to release live terrorists in return for even dead soldiers provided the terrorists all the incentive they required.
Alpher claims such releases could be used as “confidence building measures.” He did not mention that freeing even hundreds of terrorists has never improved Israel’s standing among Arabs, moderated their demands or mollified their hatred.
As Brig.-Gen. (res.) Shalom Harari of the Institute for Counter-Terrorism at the Interdisciplinary Center in Herzliya noted after the August 2008 prisoner release: “On the morning after … we heard Fatah blaming Israel. Whatever happens, they will blame Israel and fault everyone except for themselves.”
It has also been argued that those who oppose the exchange of jailed Arab terrorists in return for kidnapped Israelis should put themselves in the shoes of the families of the kidnap victims and then test their resolve.
This argument is no less false for being emotionally manipulative. Would we allow relatives of people held up by bank robbers to decide whether or not the police accede to the demands of their captors? The duty of the state is to protect its citizens. Therefore, the most important consideration must be preventing the loss of further lives to terror.
Moreover, when Israel frees terrorists for corpses, it endangers the lives of those kidnapped because it demonstrates that their deaths pose no obstacle to an exchange. This puts the lives of other kidnap victims in jeopardy.
Let us be clear: we deeply sympathize with Israeli families whose sons are kidnapped by bloodthirsty terrorists. We would support virtually any efforts to bring them home safely. But when the record plainly shows that releasing terrorists brings only more terror and tragedy, we must regretfully accept the fact that Israel will save more lives by not rewarding kidnappings through terrorist releases.
About the Author: Morton A. Klein is national president of the Zionist Organization of America. Dr. Daniel Mandel is director of the ZOA's Center for Middle East Policy.
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