Noam Schalit, politics and future kidnappings

Even before his political debut last week, Noam Schalit had already begun pontificating.

Noam Schalit 311 (photo credit: Reuters)
Noam Schalit 311
(photo credit: Reuters)
Even before his political debut last week, Noam Schalit had already begun pontificating. In an address to a Knesset conference in early January, Schalit offered some puzzling advice. The conference, organized by the National Union party, focused on a bill sponsored by MK Uri Ariel that would prohibit the release of more than one prisoner for any future Israeli captives.
Schalit declared that “the fight against kidnappings should be won by restoring our deterrence and not via legislation... The terrorist organizations need to know that kidnappings don’t pay off for them.”
Of course, the major lesson the terrorists learned from the deal to free Noam’s son, Gilad Schalit, is that kidnappings not only pay – they’re the jackpot. The deterrence of which Schalit spoke was virtually demolished by Israel’s release of 1,027 Palestinian prisoners in that exchange.
Perhaps consumed with his brewing political launch, Schalit was too busy to pay attention to Col. Tal Hermoni’s warning, uttered just a few days before the Knesset event. Apparently, the motivation to kidnap a soldier has increased since the Schalit swap and Hermoni, commander of the Gaza Division’s Southern Brigade, said Hamas, Islamic Jihad and other terrorist groups in the Gaza Strip were working “on a daily basis” to abduct Israeli soldiers.
Hermoni added that terror groups have been hard at work digging tunnels for such an attack similar to the one that allowed Hamas to nab Gilad Schalit near the Kerem Shalom crossing in June, 2006. Israel is currently gathering intelligence to assist it in locating those tunnels.
SEVERAL OTHER speakers at the conference criticized the Schalit swap. MK Ariel, former defense minister Moshe Arens, Nobel Prize winner Prof. Robert Yisrael Aumann and terrorism expert Dr. Boaz Ganor all highlighted the failures that led to the swap and the huge blow it had dealt to Israel’s security.
They proposed alternatives for handling any future kidnappings, ranging from total refusal to negotiate (Arens) to offering to release only enemies captured in combat with the IDF and never terrorist murderers of civilians (Ganor).
Schalit opposed Ariel’s bill, saying, “We can’t tell our soldiers that they are worth only one Palestinian prisoner.”
But the real flaw in the proposed legislation is its impotence.
In hearings of eleventh-hour petitions to block the release of terrorists, the High Court has repeatedly determined that it lacks the standing to second- guess such political decisions. Several weeks ago, it gave that same ruling as Israel stood poised to release 550 Palestinian prisoners in the second stage of the Schalit swap.
Since no Israeli lives were endangered, the release of hundreds of would-be murderers could have been postponed to enable a thorough adjudication of the issues. Instead, within hours, and true to form, the judges ruled that the release was a political matter and could proceed.
The military courts have expressed clear viewpoints in at least some of the terrorism cases brought before them. But they have been ignored.
My daughter’s murderer, Ahlam Tamimi, was sentenced to 16 consecutive life sentences for the deaths of 15 Israeli civilians in the Jerusalem Sbarro restaurant terror bombing. At her sentencing, the court recommended that she never be eligible for pardon or early parole. Nevertheless, she is a free woman today, living in her homeland, Jordan, with her family. She has already traveled to Lebanon and Algeria and frequently addresses her admirers at public rallies.
Our legislators are as ineffective as our judges. Thus the only way to prevent a repeat of the disastrous Schalit swap is via action by the Israeli public.
Noam Schalit is aware that this was his most effective weapon.
“You can’t replace the public,” he told the conference. “I say [the swap] was a victory of the spirit of Israel.”
And at last week’s press conference with Labor Party chair Shelly Yacimovich where he morphed from pained father to politico, he said: “Israeli society recruited itself for Gilad in our times of trouble and we managed to recruit Israeli society.”
Many of the 80 percent of Israelis whom the Schalits “recruited” knew Hamas would be strengthened by the swap and spurred to kidnap again, and that many of the freed prisoners would return to terrorism. Yet they threw logic and good sense to the winds.
Israel cannot afford another such “victory.” To prevent one, it is imperative that those 80% recover from the inexplicable mass hysteria that gripped them last year. Perhaps then, the warnings of the marginalized terror victims will be heeded.
The push for change received additional impetus when Defense Minister Ehud Barak announced last week that the recommendations of the Shamgar Committee, which he appointed in 2008, had been released. Led by a former Supreme Court justice, the committee was instructed to examine the issue of abductions but to deliver its findings only after the return of Gilad Schalit.
The 100-page report is classified, but Barak hinted that it urges an overhaul of government policy. He said that Israel would find it difficult to protect itself “unless we change the rules, the reality and the results of deals like those we have witnessed.”
But if the Israeli public embraces such change, it will first need to reject the politicians – both veteran and new – who oppose it.
The author is a freelance writer based in Jerusalem. Her daughter Malki was murdered at the age of 15 in the Sbarro restaurant bombing (2001). She and her husband founded the Malki Foundation ( to provide concrete support for Israeli families of all faiths who care at home for a special-needs child.