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The Trillion Dollar Question


Imagine for a moment that all of Israel’s enemies – both declared and tacit – form an alliance and appoint a single governing body to represent them. They then declare publicly and unequivocally that they are prepared to make a genuine, everlasting peace agreement with Israel. Further imagine that the authenticity of this declaration can somehow be proven beyond any shadow of a doubt.

Indeed, these cold-blooded killers and their ruthless supporters are ready to beat their swords into plowshares and forever respect the right of a Jew to live in present-day Israel or anywhere else he sees fit. In search of new meaning in their lives, they are prepared to spend their remaining days writing poetry and meditating on existential matters.

Yes, they are really prepared to this – on one condition

Alternatively, imagine that the United States promises Israel an immediate payment of one trillion dollars, to be used to equip Israel’s armed forces to a science fictional degree. As a result of this aid Israel will become so technologically superior to its neighbors that the most sophisticated or primitive terrorist attacks will be thoroughly preventable. These trillion dollars will be given immediately and with no further strings attachedsave one small condition:

A single Jew will have his life taken from him.

For purposes of poignancy we will imagine that this Jew is the sweetest, most innocent child – though in reality the age, health, and presumed “value” of the individual should not change matters.

For purposes of public relations we will state that the Jew will be brutally and painfully murdered – though no distinction should be made if the cause of death is painless, the victim happily volunteers for the greater good, and the death is euphemistically referred to as a “national sacrifice” (or, if you will, a “martyrdom”).

Finally, for purposes of pure shock value, we will stipulate that the Jew must be killed on public television, broadcast the world over, by his very own people – though, of course, it hardly matters if his fellow Jews are “merely” complicit while someone else does the deed.

In exchange for this one life, this single killing of a Jew that would otherwise not occur, Israel will dwell in true peace and security for the foreseeable future. We can only speculate how many lives would be spared by this development. An estimate in the tens of thousands would not be far-fetched.

It is a tempting offer, is it not? When we let our imaginations produce idyllic fantasies of true peace, as opposed to a brief cessation of open warfare that passes for peace nowadays, the cost of one life, even at our own hands, seems rather insignificant.

What we have just done is rationalized nothing less than murder. We have placed a price tag on an infinitely valuable human life, and attempted to vindicate the spilling of an innocent Jew’s blood for a peace agreement or a large sum of money. Regardless of how many lives will indirectly be saved down the road, it is a horrific idea, and it is even more horrific if we are not horrified by it.

Yet this rationalization has not only been performed, it has long since achieved mainstream acceptance. For, in all honesty, would the present and past Israeli governments not have protected their citizens far more urgently if not for political considerations of just this sort? Would the advice of military experts not have trumped the concerns of political analysts if not for the carrot of foreign aid that dangles before Israel at all times?

I remember reading an article in the New York Post several years ago, when several Jews in Hebron were massacred while returning home from shul on a Friday night. The article noted that the Israel Defense Forces had recently pulled out of the area as a “gesture of goodwill.” I wondered, sick to my stomach, if all the goodwill toward Israel fostered by this and similar gestures, if all the millions and billions of dollars in foreign aid, would bring back even one of those murdered Jews. If not, I could never believe it was worth it.

As the price of Jewish blood continues to sink, it behooves the Jewish people, and the government whose job it is first and foremost to protect them, to decide that Jewish life is not up for negotiation. How many nations in the history of the world have knowingly allowed their citizens to be killed in exchange for foreign aid or fleeting approval in the court of world opinion? It is a tragedy on many levels that the Jewish nation, which believes in the infinite worth of a single human life, is today just such a nation.

Worse still, it is not even ironclad guarantees of peace that we receive in exchange for our blood sacrifices, but whimsical wisps of hope that somehow we are moving in the right direction. The warnings of military experts that certain political maneuvers will result in disastrous losses of human life are cast aside. Only one side of the negotiation is in doubt, and that is what we will receive. What we are knowingly giving up is nothing short of infinite.

Until our nation’s answer to the trillion dollar question changes, we can expect only more of the same. After all, if Israel doesn’t value the lives of its citizens above all other considerations, why should anyone else?

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