The agonizing Schalit debate

Concerted US, European pressure on Hamas needed.

Noam Schalit speaking 311 (photo credit: Associated Press)
Noam Schalit speaking 311
(photo credit: Associated Press)
With yellow ribbons tied to their wrists, Noam and Aviva Schalit, accompanied by thousands of supporters, left their house in Mitzpe Hila on Sunday for an 11-day trek, to end outside the Prime Minister’s Residence in Jerusalem. The march is aimed at mobilizing public pressure to bring about the release of their son, Cpl. Gilad Schalit.
“Let [the Schalits] appeal to that place in your hearts where there is no debate of cost and effect,” singer and writer Shlomo Artzi urged Sunday in Yediot Aharonot, “just human understanding of what will happen to their son if we do not end this [tragic] story.”
Artzi’s call for Israelis to show solidarity and empathy with the Schalits should be heeded. His implication that Israel should suspend reason and cave in to Hamas’s exorbitant demands is far more problematic.
Hamas has not even bothered to answer Israel’s offer, made six months ago, to release 1,000 terrorists, including 450 Hamas operatives, 100 of whom are murderers responsible for the deaths of about 600 Israelis and an additional 550 Fatah prisoners.
The government had understandably rejected Hamas’s demands to include the “mega-terrorists” responsible for the 2001 suicide bombing in Jerusalem’s Sbarro restaurant that killed 15, the 2001 bombing of Tel Aviv’s Dolphinarium which killed 21, the 2002 Rishon Lezion attack where 16 were killed, and the 2002 Park Hotel massacre perpetrated on Seder night, which left 30 people dead.
The 1 to 1,000 ratio would be the most disproportionate in Israel’s long history of asymmetrical prisoner swaps.
The first crack in Israel’s “we-don’t-deal-with-terrorists” facade appeared in 1968, when Israel agreed to release 16 Arab prisoners in exchange for 12 hostages held by Palestinian hijackers of an El Al plane forced to land in Algiers.
In August 1969, Israel released 71 Arab prisoners in exchange for 113 hostages on board a TWA flight bound for Tel Aviv diverted to Damascus. In 1970, night watchman Shmuel Rosenwasser, abducted by Fatah in Metula, was released in exchange for Fatah’s Mahmoud Hijazi.
But terrorists’ demands grew. In March 1979, Israel released 76 Fatah operatives – 20 with blood on their hands – for the release of a single soldier, Avraham Amram.
The “Jibril deal” of May 1985 upped the ante even more. Israel released 1,150 terrorists for three soldiers.
In 2004, over 400 terrorists were released by Israel in exchange for alleged criminal Elhanan Tannenbaum, reportedly abducted while on his way to complete a drug deal in the Persian Gulf, and the bodies of three IDF soldiers.
In 2008 Israel secured the return of the remains of Eldad Regev and Ehud Goldwasser for the release of five prisoners, including terrorist Samir Kuntar, who in 1979 brutally murdered a four-year-old girl and her father and caused the mother who hid from him to suffocate her two-year-old baby.
In the Tannenbaum deal alone, 52 percent of those released returned to terrorism and are said to have been responsible for the subsequently deaths of 27 Israelis.
ARTZI’S EMOTIONAL plea to suspend “debate of cost and effect” is rooted in the obligation this country rightly feels to those it sends into battle for its defense.
But to suspend that debate is precisely what Israel has done over the past four decades, with devastating results. Terrorist victims and their families have stood by helplessly while those who inflicted so much pain are let free. IDF soldiers who risked their lives to arrest terrorists see their work squandered. And the pool of trained terrorists willing and able to kill Israelis is regularly replenished.
Israel has offered far more than would logically be expected to try to secure the release of Schalit – because logic is not the only factor here. But Israel dare not allow itself to suspend debate in this most agonizing of dilemmas, and to give the heart definitive rule over the head.
What is needed now, rather, is concerted US and European pressure on Hamas. Sadly, instead of seeking every means to pressure the terrorists holding Schalit, the international community has been pressing Israel to end the blockade against Hamas-controlled Gaza, one of whose goals was to weaken Hamas and create the circumstances for Schalit’s release.