The plight of young Gilad Shalit, and the struggle of his family and parents who have worked so hard for his freedom, have captivated the nation. Never before has the absence of one person been such a personal matter for all of Israel. Yet, even for Gilad, who is still alive, there are lines that cannot be crossed and deals that cannot be made.
"Thou Shalt not Kill" is probably the most important rule for civilization. No society could survive long, let alone flourish, if men could kill each other without consequence. We therefore have a justice system, at the head of which stand judges, who are, arguably, among the most respected members of society. These judges conduct fair hearings and render harsh judgments against those who have taken the lives of other human beings. Their judgments prevent the killers from killing again, exact retribution in the name of the victims, deter would-be murderers and enable society to function normally.
The worst of those who take life are those we call "terrorists," who kill because they hate Jews and desire to terrorize Israeli society. Due to the heinousness of their crimes, our justice system locks away these "beasts on two legs," as Menachem Begin called them, forever.
Today, organized gangs of these murderous animals seek to overturn the rulings of our justice system by having hundreds of terrorists, among them many convicted murderers, freed. Hamas seeks to boost its standing as a terror organization that can obtain the release of prisoners and bring Israel to its knees.
ENCOURAGED BY Israel's 2005 withdrawal from Gaza, terrorists attacked an IDF unit, killed two soldiers and kidnapped Gilad Schalit, holding him captive for over 1275 days. They knew that with an act of such barbaric simplicity they could get practically whatever they wanted from Israel, including the release of their murderous comrades. They knew this because, unfortunately, this is the public policy Israel: to release murderers when other murderers demand it.
The Lebanon War of 2006, in which over a hundred IDF soldiers and thousands of Lebanese were killed, was the result of this policy. Shortly before the war, Hassan Nasrallah announced publicly (as was reported in Time Magazine, July 25, 2006) that Hizbullah would obtain the release of the child-murderer Samir Kuntar by kidnapping IDF soldiers. This kidnapping sparked the war. Two years later, the Olmert government traded hundreds of terrorists for the bodies of Eldad Regev and Ehud Goldwasser. The Olmert government thought it were being merciful and populist. In reality it played right into the Hizbullah's hands.
Today, the Netanyahu government faces the same demand: Release a thousand terrorists in exchange for Gilad Shalit. But is this really the only way to obtain Gilad's release? Israel continues to have opportunities to obtain Gilad's release without sending hundreds of terrorists into the world. Israel could make Gilad's release a diplomatic imperative in which no discussion with foreign officials or press would begin without calling for Gilad's release. Gilad's release could be a precondition for continuing the construction freeze, for resuming negotiations, or allowing international aid into Gaza. Israel could resume targeted strikes on Hamas leadership in Gaza.
All of these actions, if done correctly and persistently, would force Gilad Shalit into the international arena, rally public opinion in the US to Israel's side and make his release a top priority for other international players who want to ease the Palestinian's suffering and resume the peace process, including US President Barack Obama.
Yet no such proactive steps have been taken. In Netanyahu's speech at the UN earlier this year, which was televised on major news networks in the US, Schalit was not even mentioned. The Goldstone Report, which was mentioned, is an important issue but is it more important than Schalit? Surely Netanyahu left Gilad out because he feared confusing the issues and ruining the chance to achieve other diplomatic goals, like defusing the Goldstone Report. It is this refusal to take the initiative which has left us with the passive option - releasing the murderers.
Netanyahu, who once harshly criticized prisoner exchanges, is surely taking into consideration the fact that some 80% of Israelis are reportedly in favor of the deal. If he concludes the deal, this 80% would hail him as a leader able to succeed where others (Olmert, for example) failed. But are Netanyahu and those millions prepared to take responsibility for the lives of the future victims of those released and any future "Gilad Schalits" who will be taken captive? For these are the consequences that will surely follow.
Releasing the terrorists may mean saving Gilad's life, but it also means that more Jews will die and more soldiers will be kidnapped. It means that justice can never be served even against jailed murderers.
Surely this is not the way for the Jewish state to conduct itself. Let us put an end to this dangerous and embarrassing policy of negotiating with hostage takers and releasing convicted murderers once and for all. Let us obtain Gilad Schalit's release without giving our enemies the opportunity to murder more Jews.
The writer is the chairman of the American Legal Forum for the Land of Israel.