Too high a price

History has shown us that large numbers of freed Palestinian terrorists go on to kill again.

noam shalit, yoav appel  (photo credit: Yoav Appel [file])
noam shalit, yoav appel
(photo credit: Yoav Appel [file])
Life is all about choices. Life in Israel, alas, is all about excruciatingly difficult choices.Terrorism - by design - cruelly creates for its victims any number of no-win situations, precipitating the painful choices that flow from them. Do we bomb an apartment building where a wanted killer is hiding, knowing civilian lives will invariably be lost in the process? Do we react harshly to an incursion of our borders, aware that this reaction will put our forces even further in harm's way? Do we follow our instincts and ignore international pleas to show restraint, straining our already-tenuous relationships with other countries? Perhaps the most complex dilemma we face is when IDF soldiers are kidnapped and taken to hostile territory, the situation that now confronts us with the abduction, first, of Gilad Shalit, and now, of Ehud Goldwasser and Eldad Regev. Invariably, the abductors seek to trade them for large numbers of Arab terrorists being kept in our jails, creating yet another impossible quandary. On the one hand, every life is precious beyond measure, a world unto itself, the highest of all values. Each of our soldiers is pure gold, worth hundreds, even thousands of the enemy. Furthermore, every soldier who goes into the field must know that his government will do whatever it takes to secure his release should he fall into enemy hands. The knowledge that we will relentlessly pursue his freedom and never abandon him to his fate strengthens his resolve to serve in a combat unit, and is one of the sacred, guiding principles of the IDF. Yet having said this, we must recognize that there is a limit to the price we are prepared to pay to redeem our boys. History has shown us that large numbers of freed Palestinian terrorists go on to kill again, leaving even more bloodshed in their wake. This was true of the 1,150 prisoners freed in 1985 in the infamous "Jibril deal," as well as the many Palestinians we let out of jail as part of the disastrous Oslo agreement. Murderers who train hard at their profession can hardly be expected to become accountants and history professors, even if they sign a document promising to be good little boys from now on. Moreover, paying too high a price and jacking up the market value of a captured soldier always serves to motivate the terror groups to kidnap even more soldiers, eager to trade them for jailed thugs of their own gang. This is precisely what has happened now, as one successful kidnapping was followed rapidly by another. Jews, unfortunately, are no strangers to the issue of redeeming captives, as we have been forced to ransom our loved ones time and again in history. Indeed, volumes of Jewish law are devoted to the parameters of pidyon sh'vuyim. However the concept that there is a limit to what we will pay is best illustrated in the story of Rabbi Meir ben Baruch, better known as Maharam of Rothenburg, the head of German Jewry in the last half of the 13th century. As conditions worsened for the Jews in Germany, many sought to escape the brutal pogroms and draconian taxation by fleeing to Eretz Yisrael. Emperor Rudolf I, fearing the loss of Jewish gold, declared the Jews his personal property and, in 1286, forbade them to leave Germany. Maharam vigorously opposed the emperor and attempted to escape the country with his family. But a Jewish apostate informed upon him and he was imprisoned by Rudolf in the castle of Ensisheim. The emperor demanded an exorbitant ransom before he would free Maharam. German Jewry was prepared to pay the enormous sum of 23,000 talents of silver for his release. But Maharam himself forbade the exchange, arguing that it would only serve to encourage more kidnappings and extortion within vulnerable Jewish communities. Maharam languished in prison for seven years until he died in 1293; his body was not released for burial until 14 years later, when it was redeemed by a wealthy Jew. His heroic act of self-sacrifice sent the message that there are times when the price of freedom can be too high. By refusing to pay the blackmail that was demanded of his people, Maharam assured that never again would rabbinic leaders be taken hostage. WE ALL have a role to play in this latest drama: Our soldiers must know that, while drastic measures must be taken to secure their safety, the good of the nation will also be part of the equation. Even parents of kidnapped soldiers must face this terrible truth, though we cannot expect their minds to overrule the emotions of their hearts. Our armed forces are to be commended for the decisive, forceful action they are pursuing in the wake of these blatant acts of war. Gaza and Lebanon must be punished in the harshest terms until they are made to understand that the costs of their terror far outweighs the benefits. As for our leaders, particularly the prime minister, they must understand that the head of government plays two primary roles: He is at once "Father of his Country," and commander-in-chief. The former role requires him to be a national role model, caring, compassionate, wise and benevolent. The latter designation, the hat he must now wear, obliges him to unabashedly use every means at his disposal to protect our safety and safeguard our future, in a strong and secure Israel. And we, the citizens? We must grit our teeth once again and pray that the price of this latest war is not more than we all can bear. The writer is director of the Ohel Ari Jewish Outreach Center in Ra'anana and father of Sgt. Ari Weiss, who fell in battle in 2002.