Comment: Soldiers, sacrifice and self-respect

There is one yardstick to measure what is good for Israel, and what is not: When there are smiles on the faces of the terrorists, there must be tears in our eyes.

Hamas PM Haniyeh celebrates prisoner deal in Gaza 311 (photo credit: Reuters)
Hamas PM Haniyeh celebrates prisoner deal in Gaza 311
(photo credit: Reuters)
Judaism, and Jewish history, is an amalgam of glory and grief, celebration and sadness. Remembrance Day and Independence Day are rolled into one. Yizkor memorial prayers are recited on Simhat Torah. The breaking of a glass punctuates a wedding, bitter herbs and salt water are a part of our Passover Seder.
Blessing and bitterness, it appears, always seems to operate in tandem.
And so it is with the Schalit deal.
On the one hand, we will get our soldier back, after five long years of waiting, weeping and hand-wringing.
We will save a precious life and return joy to his family.
At the same time, we will be risking many more lives, while sacrificing some of the most fundamental principles of Israeli policy, held sacrosanct since the founding of the state.
Is it worth it? In one fell swoop, we cross numerous red lines that once defined our national resolve. We turn our back on the policy of never negotiating with terrorists, an absolute which Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu once held sacred and vowed never to break. We release upon our civilian population more than one thousand murderous criminals, dedicated to the destruction of our nation and the genocide of our people. We strengthen our enemy Hamas militarily, diplomatically and politically, while mortally weakening our supposed partner, the Palestinian Authority. We embolden our foes to strike again; already there are warnings that efforts are being made to kidnap another soldier and hold him for hostage in return for more prisoners.
Is it worth it? Of course, we know all the clichés: We are a merciful people, who value life above all other values.
We are a strong people, who will “know how” to protect our citizens.
We are “men of our word,” who promised to rescue any soldier left behind in the field.
But clichés don’t save lives, and aphorisms don’t insure security.
There is a limit to mercy; the Talmud wisely teaches us that misplaced mercy is, in reality, abject cruelty.
When we release bloodthirsty monsters who shoot to death babies in their cribs, or blow up a Sbarro restaurant or a Moment Cafe full of customers, we show cruelty to the victims of these acts as well as of the next massacre they will surely plot to perpetrate.
While we bring a soldier home in return for freeing these terrorists, what message do we send to the soldiers who risked, and often sacrificed their lives in securing their capture? Why should a soldier put his life on the line to apprehend a terrorist, knowing they can be summarily freed for the next Israeli hostage? And how much faith can we put in a government that has failed, time and again, to do what it takes to make us safe after making sweeping, unilateral concessions to the enemy? When we ran out of southern Lebanon in 2000 with our tail between our legs, did not Ehud Barak swear that he would keep our northern border quiet and peaceful? Thousands of rockets later, we see how faithful he was to that pledge. And when we “disengaged” from Gaza in 2005 – splitting the nation and incurring national trauma – did the powers that be not insist that this would be the first step in a peaceful arrangement with the Palestinians? Sderot, Ashdod, Ashkelon and Beersheba may have a few words to say about that hollow promise, as Gaza has turned into the world’s largest, deadliest terror base.
Most frightening is the breakdown of law and order engendered by the Schalit deal. We held trials, presented evidence, convicted and sentenced criminals of the worst possible order to long sentences, including life in prison.
Releasing them in the face of blackmail and extortion not only proves that crime – against Israel – does indeed pay, but that justice is a wishywashy principle to be compromised, waived and discarded when we deem fit.
Former justice minister Dan Meridor, though he voted in favor of the deal, told me that the moment we agreed to make an exchange, we abdicated our moral high ground and traded principle for pragmatism.
Next week, our family will observe the ninth yahrtzeit for our son Ari, who fell in battle against Hamas terrorists in Nablus. At the shiva, Ari’s commander-in-chief Lt.-Gen. (res.) Moshe Ya’alon – one of just three cabinet members to hold his ground and vote against the prisoner “swap” – promised us that the IDF would do whatever it takes to bring our son’s killers to justice. Thankfully, two of the terrorists in the three-man cell were tracked down and disposed of; the third was finally brought to trial three years ago and sentenced to 27 years in jail. By what right will he, God forbid, be set free, after destroying our family? The Schalit deal, of course, is a fait accompli and will go through. The well-financed, well-run campaign to free Gilad will preclude any but the most resolute to stand in the way of the public opinion juggernaut. We caved in completely to Hamas – agreeing, in the end, to 100 percent of its demands; at the end of the day, they were stronger and more determined than we were to have their way and dictate the terms.
The real question is what will happen in the future. Will we now, finally, let it be known that we shall never again bow to terrorist demands? Will we institute verdicts of life in prison with no possibility of release, regardless of the circumstances? Will we consider the death penalty for the most heinous crimes? Will we stop coddling the terrorists we capture, and withhold from them the privileges they deny our prisoners? Most of all, will we recognize that we are at war, that we face a cruel, barbaric and motivated enemy, dedicated to doing whatever it takes to wipe us off the face of the earth? Will we be equal to the task, using all of our ample resolve and resources to defeat them? Will we have the courage to tell our soldiers that there are conditions under which they may have to give up their lives, times when the safety of the nation outweighs that of the individual? Will we have the self-respect to believe in our cause and to defend it, come what may, against any and all comers, regardless of world, or national, opinion? There is one yardstick to measure what is good for Israel, and what is not: When there are smiles on the faces of the terrorists, there must be tears in our eyes. But if, in the end, we have lost this battle, let us at least vow to win the war.
The writer is director of the Jewish Outreach Center of Ra’anana