While all eyes are on the Iranian front, we must not forget Hamas! While all eyes are on the Iranian front, we must not forget Hamas! Two Israeli citizens are in Hamas-controlled Gaza. One or both are reportedly mentally unstable. Even if this is correct, it does not make the slightest difference in terms of how we should react. One is a Jew whose parents came from Ethiopia, one is a Muslim Beduin.
Nor does this make the slightest difference as to what we ought to do.
Neither had any business going to Gaza. The government should take many steps to attempt their return. But neither was a soldier on duty or a civilian who was abducted. It is a human tragedy for their family and friends. It is another inhuman tactic of Hamas.
But they entered Gaza on their own.
The state must distinguish between them and the abducted, or captured.
Hamas should indeed release them on humanitarian grounds. But when has Hamas been humanitarian? The State of Israel should use only diplomatic and financial pressure to get them released.
And even for soldiers or civilians taken capture or kidnapped, it is time to change policy, to stop rewarding Hamas. Israel and our forces should do everything to free captive soldiers or civilians abducted by Hamas or by any anti-Israel grouping in Gaza. We should do so by exacting a heavy price from Hamas. Whether that price is assassination of Hamas leaders, kidnapping of Hamas operatives, missile strikes, bombing, or other overt and clandestine means, we leave to our intelligence and military planners. But Hamas should not get off scot-free. And Hamas should certainly not be rewarded for war crimes.
In a series of “confidence-building steps,” Israel has released hundreds of terrorists. Experience shows how this worked. Many of the most dangerous terrorists returned to their terrorism.
The confidence built by the Palestinian Authority and by Hamas was that they confidently knew we were being played for fools. Next time the United States asks for such moves, we should answer in one word: “Guantanamo.”
Next time the EU preaches to us, say, “Clean up your own act first!” As The Jerusalem Post editorial on Monday clearly stated, the Gilad Schalit precedent is a wrong precedent. Kidnappers and Islamist gangsters should not dictate terms to us. If we choose to free imprisoned Palestinians, it must be our decision based solely on our own interests.
As I write, information has come to light about the primitive and insulting way that Prime Minister Netanyahu’s man responsible for the return of Israelis, Col. (res.) Lior Lotan, spoke to the Mengistu family, whose son and brother, Avera Mengistu crossed the fence to Gaza 10 months ago.
Of course the color issue arises. The ugly truth is that Lotan spoke condescendingly, crudely, brutally to the pained and silenced family, who had been asked not to go public with their painful issue. He referred to the Ethiopian anti-racism protests and tried to keep a finger from being pointed at Netanyahu.
On the last point, as a civil servant it was not his business to involve politics.
The prime minister quite properly went to see the family and apologize. Credit to him where credit is due. Still, I would have expected that Lotan resign and be reassigned to a less public posting.
Okay, he “apologized.” Not enough. As a citizen, I am also insulted. Lior – wittingly or unwittingly – spoke as a racist.
He should leave the job the PM assigned him. Full stop. The return of kidnapped or captive Israelis should be put in the hands of experienced intelligence officers, chosen for the S (for sekhel=common sense) quotient and for decent human relations.
To return to the original question of what do to free captives, our tradition is clear. Jews were held for ransom by kidnappers and pirates centuries ago.
The Mishnaic sages, about 1,800 years ago, established a general guideline: Do not pay kidnappers more than the captive is worth. The lesson is the more you pay, the more you encourage future kidnappers.
All this when the nation was led by men of sense and responsibility. (Can I refrain from comparing them to today’s Chief Rabbinate?) The precedent should be stronger today, when Jews live in in a sovereign state. Over the years we have paid about a thousand to one. We have released prisoners to retrieve bodies of our soldiers killed in action; we released over a thousand Palestinians in exchange for Gilad Schalit.
Enough! We have only encouraged the enemy to raise the ante. If we are holding any killed terrorists’ bodies, we can either take the moral high ground and return them unconditionally, or we can play the same cynical card as Hezbollah or Hamas. I have used gambling terms such as “ante” and “card,” which may indicate how cynical we have become. Trading in dead bodies! This is not new to us. In the cemetery of the Jewish community in medieval Vermaise, today’s Worms, Germany, in the Rhine valley, lie two graves, side by side. One is of the great Rabbi Meir ben Baruch of Rothenburg, known by the acronym Maharam. The other is of Alexander ben Solomon Wimpfen, whose life’s wish was to be Rabbi Meir’s eternal neighbor.
Rabbi Meir was kidnapped and incarcerated by King Rudolf I of Germany and held in captivity for seven years till his death in 1293. The Jewish community, led by Rabbenu Asher (the Rosh) raised a huge, truly fabulous ransom to free him. But Rabbi Meir ben Baruch refused to be released. He would not set the precedent of paying an exorbitant ransom. This would only encourage the greedy bishops and “nobility” to kidnap more rabbis.
Only 14 years after he died was Alexander ben Solomon allowed to pay a ransom to retrieve the revered rabbi’s body and bring it to rest in the Jewish cemetery of Worms. Alexander received his reward and was buried side-by-side with Rabbi Meir.
Facing another ugly ruler over eight centuries later we ask: do we have Rabbi Meir’s wisdom? His strength of will? Avraham Avi-hai has returned to journalism after a distinguished career in government and public service. He has written both non-fiction and a novel. Comments to [email protected]