Blood on Their Hands I (Extract)

Extract from an opinion piece in Issue 21, February 4, 2008 of The Jerusalem Report. To subscribe to The Jerusalem Report click here. With negotiations on the release of the abducted Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit moving into high gear and Hizballah leader Sheikh Hassan Nasrallah making new noises about wanting to exchange real or imaginary body parts of IDF soldiers, the domestic argument over whether Israel should release Arab prisoners with "blood on their hands" is heating up. The term "prisoners with blood on their hands" only came into use in the late-1990s, during negotiations with then-PLO leader Yasser Arafat on the post-Oslo release of Palestinian terrorists in Israeli jails. No such criterion had been applied before, not even in the so-called "Jibril deal" in 1985, in which Israel released over 1,000 prisoners. Moreover, the concept of "blood on their hands" is inherently problematic, since it is so obviously dependent on a particular cultural, political and social perspective. For example, the argument could be made that I and some of my colleagues in the Knesset have blood on our hands, as a result of our military service and our long war on terror in its various guises. But we see ourselves as honorable soldiers, who tried as best we could not to harm innocent civilians and to uphold the moral values in which we believe. In Israeli parlance, we call it "the purity of arms." We did not always succeed. Still, in our complex reality of bitter warfare governed by a genuine effort to maintain an ethical code of conduct, the words "blood on the hands," used even metaphorically, seem highly inappropriate. Reality on the Palestinian side is also complex. People we call terrorists are seen by them as national heroes fighting for life and liberty. They are regarded as freedom fighters, who were forced to kill women, children and other innocent civilians in the cause. Obviously from our point of view, their actions are profoundly immoral and must be stopped at all costs. There is a huge difference in the way each side views specific actions and the words "blood on the hands" take on a very different connotation depending on which side is using them. It is no secret that more than once during the years of conflict, we employed heavy weapons, like bombers, artillery and tanks, which killed innocent civilians. Although we regarded such actions as regrettable mistakes and not as deliberate policy, the other side refused to make these distinctions. The blood, from their point of view, was on our hands. Knesset member Avshalom Vilan, of the dovish Meretz party, served as a non-commissioned officer in an elite commando unit. Extract from an opinion piece in Issue 21, February 4, 2008 of The Jerusalem Report. To subscribe to The Jerusalem Report click here.