In the days since Gilad Schalit returned home safely to his family after five
years in captivity, much has been made of the fact that Israel is a country
which values life over everything else.
A host of commentators have
repeatedly stressed this point, proudly insisting that no one can compete with
the Jewish state when it comes to upholding human existence.
what other country would have traded more than 1000 prisoners to free one
The point was driven home last week by Chief of Staff Lt. Gen. Benny
Gantz, in a letter to IDF soldiers in which he asserted that Schalit’s release
reflects the army's commitment to the values of camaraderie and the importance
And the prime minister himself went out of his way to stress
that the Schalit exchange proves that “we believe in the sanctity of life. We
How I wish that it were true. But the sad fact is that as
a society, we do not value life nearly as much as we might like to
The Schalit deal notwithstanding, anyone who has driven a car in
this country or waited in a hospital emergency room can tell you that the safety
and well-being of our fellow humans is not always at the top of our priority
For all the noble sentiments and lofty principles that were
expressed in recent days, the truth is that in a range of areas, life seems to
come in second.
Take, for example, the carnage on the
According to statistics compiled by the National Road Safety
Authority, a total of 315 people were killed in traffic accidents in the first 9
months of this year, a rise of 5 percent over the same period last
And a report released last year by the road safety advocacy group
Or Yarok found that over the past decade, Israel was first among developed
countries in child mortality as a percentage of total traffic-related
deaths. Think about that the next time you take your car out for a spin.
Take note of the number of traffic violations and dangerous moves made by your
fellow “lovers of life” on the road.
Pay attention to how many times you
are cut off, the number of people who run red lights, ignore traffic signals or
tailgate you, and drivers who talk or text on their phones.
of those celebrating Schalit’s freedom would not hesitate to endanger his life
on the highway if he happened to be driving in their lane.
If we truly
valued life, we would make a far more concerted effort to protect it when it
happens to be behind the wheel or in a crosswalk.
The same goes for our
underfunded, understaffed, collapsing health system. For months, a prolonged
crisis involving doctors and residents led to shutdowns, surgery cancellations
and other painful delays that directly affected patients.
medical residents are still threatening to resign after the Finance Ministry
refused to meet their demands for a living wage and better working
If life was really something of utmost importance to us,
would we have allowed this predicament to drag on for so long?
IN OTHER fields,
too, one need not look far to find a similar level of apathy and indifference to
human existence. For years, experts have been warning that Israel is
unprepared for the large earthquake that seismologists believe will hit the
In chilling testimony to a Knesset committee last year, expert
Dr. Avi Shapira warned that when a quake strikes, “what kills people are the
buildings. Death will occur as a result of building collapse, meaning that it is
a man-made tragedy. There is a continued failure to build stable buildings,
turning buildings into death traps."
Although building standards are on the
books, Shapira noted that they are “insufficiently enforced.”
same committee meeting, the Israel Mapping Center submitted data indicating that
96,000 residential buildings in Israel are at risk of collapse during a strong
This is all public knowledge, readily available to anyone who
bothers to look. But seemingly because of the costs involved, successive
governments have done little to address the problem, in effect putting untold
thousands of lives at risk.
So much for placing life above all other
Don’t get me wrong. I rejoice for Schalit and his family and
thank God he is out of harm’s way, even if I disagree with the price that was
paid for his release. Furthermore, if Schalit’s freedom prompts us all to think
more deeply about the sanctity of life and to take corrective action, it might
just ensure a better future not only for missing soldiers, but for society as
So instead of merely patting ourselves on the back and moving on,
let’s seize this opportunity to truly recommit ourselves to upholding and
safeguarding life, whether on the roads, in the hospitals or in our
The writer is Chairman of Shavei Israel (www.shavei.org), which
assists lost tribes and hidden Jewish communities to return to the Jewish