Gilad Schalit 248.88.
(photo credit: Courtesy)
The tradition of the IDF, inherited from the underground forces that preceded the State of Israel, was never to leave a comrade in the field of battle. This was the strength of the army and each soldier went out to fight secure in the knowledge that his comrades would look after him, even if he made the supreme sacrifice.
This worked as long as there were two elements in place: The Israeli soldiers actually lived up to their creed and the enemy did not excessively use it against individual soldiers.
The first part of the equation went by the boards in the Yom Kippur War. There were many acts of individual heroism but the overall performance was every man for himself. The second part came to an end in the First Lebanon War when Israel traded 1,150 terrorists for three Israeli soldiers held by Ahmed Jibril's PFLP-GC.
At that time it was the relentless pressure of Miriam Grof on Yitzhak Rabin that caused him to enter an agreement that had two long lasting effects. Many of the freed terrorists were permitted to remain in Judea and Samaria. And many of them resumed their violent ways. Relatives of those killed questioned the validity of freeing three soldiers at the expense of so much Jewish blood.
The other aspect was not long in coming. Jibril had set a precedent. It was now clear that any reward could be demanded for the release of an Israeli captive. Too late Rabin realized that he had opened Pandora's box. The first and most visible case to suffer was Ron Arad. If the Arabs would have been content with their usual lopsided exchanges, both sides could have benefited. But they wanted more - something in line with the Jibril exchange. By this time the pendulum had swung to the other extreme and Rabin was doubly careful. The results are known to all.
IT IS A sad fact, but since the Jibril exchange in 1985 no live IDF soldier has been returned.
Before I continue I would like to make clear who I am. I am the father of a soldier who has been missing in action since the First Lebanon War. On June 11, 1982 there was a battle at Sultan Yacoub in the Lebanese Beka'a Valley. The top command of the IDF acted in a totally irresponsible manner. There was never a detailed report on the battle issued by the IDF historian.
Over 20 young men were needlessly killed, many more were wounded and three are listed as missing in action to this very day: Zvi Feldman, Yehuda Katz and Zachary Baumel.
Efforts to declare them dead were thwarted by the High Court of Justice. To this day reports are still coming in that some of them are still alive and are being held incommunicado. There is considerable evidence that my son Zack is still alive. I mention this because of what I am about to propose.
It breaks my heart to hear Karnit and Micky Goldwasser plead for information about their husband and son. I know firsthand what the Regev and Schalit families are going through. Unfortunately this just hardens the resolve of the heartless, lawless captors.
It is very difficult trying to negotiate under these circumstances. It is more than difficult - it is impossible.
The first thing that Israel must do is publicly renounce a policy that has not been in existence for over 30 years, namely not leaving a comrade in the field. Israel has always prided itself on living up to international law concerning prisoners. There comes a time when in dealing with terror organizations this is counterproductive, especially to the prisoners. My long experience in dealing with the Arabs has taught me that there is a vast difference between what the leaders proclaim and what the families feel.
I favor humanitarian treatment of prisoners, but not at the expense of our own. If Hizbullah and Hamas do not let the ICRC visit Israeli prisoners we should stop ICRC visits to members of these groups.
If no proof is forthcoming whether a prisoner is dead or alive we should act accordingly. Visits by family members should be suspended, let them pressure their own leaders to provide access to our soldiers.
The Talmud and Jewish medieval law codifiers stated emphatically that hostages and prisoners should not be exchanged beyond their worth. They had daily experience with this problem and knew that it would only breed more cases. Unfortunately modern Israel has yet to learn this lesson.
Very early on the Sultan Yacoub families were told in no uncertain terms that the government was the only power to decide what price to pay. I think the decision was correct. I do not envy those who must make such life or death choices.
In 1989 while I was a guest of the PLO in Tunis I personally brokered the return of the body of an IDF soldier in exchange for one terrorist. This feat was never repeated and the IDF hasn't forgiven me yet. For the future of the State of Israel a new code must be established - one that will give security to our soldiers and security to our people. It can be done.
The writer lives in Jerusalem.