With Sgt. Gilad Shalit safely returned in exchange for 1,027 Palestinian terrorists and murderers, celebration – propelled by wishful avoidance – spread throughout Israel.
It was said that peace in our time, even peace now, might be imminent. The disproportionate exchange could transform the relationship between Israel and Hamas, leading to a final peace agreement. Israel’s relations with Egypt, precarious ever since President Mubarak’s overthrow, and with Turkey, frayed since the Mavi Marmara flotilla confrontation, would improve. Even Shalit himself, interviewed on Egyptian television shortly before his return, envisioned renewed prospects for peace.
But Hamas, whose charter still proclaims the destruction of the Jewish state as its goal, has other plans. It immediately called for more Israeli soldiers to be kidnapped, the better to free 5,000 Palestinian terrorists still imprisoned. A far likelier scenario than peace is the collaborative tightening of the noose around Israel by Hamas, Hizbullah, the Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood and Iran.
There was, understandably, widespread euphoria among Israelis over the return of Shalit. “Bring Gilad Back,” the five-year campaign run by a well-known public relations firm with unremitting media support, had succeeded. Unrelenting pressure from the Shalit family, backed by public rallies and a tent outside the prime minister’s residence, finally prevailed.
But family members of victims brutally murdered in Palestinian terrorist attacks and suicide bombings, whose perpetrators now roam free, became mourners once again. They include the relatives of fifteen children killed in the Sbarro pizzeria bombing masterminded by Ahlam Tamimi; thirty Israelis killed in the Park Hotel Passover Seder bombing planned by Nasser Yataima; twenty-one Israelis killed at a Tel Aviv nightclub and fourteen diners killed at a Haifa restaurant, ordered by Husam Badran; and eleven Israelis killed at a Jerusalem café, orchestrated by Waled Anjes.
Now Tamimi, Yataima, Badran and Anjes, with hundreds of others, are free to murder once again.
Palestinian terrorists have a proven strategy: launch attacks; slaughter Israelis by the dozens; kidnap a soldier; and bargain for his release in exchange for prisoners who will then repeat the deadly cycle. The more fervently Israel pursues the return of a captured soldier, the greater his value in the eyes of Hamas and the higher the price that its negotiators will demand in return.
Eliad Moreh, severely wounded in the Hebrew University bombing nearly a decade ago that killed seven, said, “When the government releases these murderers…there is no justice.” Meir Schijveschuurder, whose parents and three siblings were killed in the Sbarro bombing, described the exchange as “madness” and announced the intention of surviving family members to return to Holland. “We have been betrayed,” said Sherri Mandel, mother of a murdered 13-year-old boy. “To pardon terrorists mocks our love and our pain.”
The Shalit deal climaxed forty years of exchanges in which escalating numbers of Palestinians have been released: 1 (1970); 76 (1979); 1150 (1985). Israelis claim the exchanges demonstrate their fidelity to the ancient moral obligation to redeem captives – which, however, is challenged by the Talmudic principle (in Gittin) that “We do not redeem captives for more than their worth, so that enemies will not dedicate themselves to take other people captive.”
In the past decade alone nearly two hundred Israelis have been murdered by terrorists who were released for soldiers, living or dead. The likelihood of more killings has now increased. But, as Yossi Zur suggested, now eight years after his son Asaf was among seventeen high-school students killed by a Hamas suicide bomber, “since the names and faces of the future victims are not known, it is permissible to…fantasize that nothing will happen.” Israelis are left to discover who among them will die from the Shalit exchange.