For those who perceive that it is not easy being an Israeli citizen, consider the plight of Israeli pollicymakers. They are among the citizens, with spouses, children and grandchildren exposed to the problems of living on the edge. And they have the tasks of making decisions that may push the country closer to the edge, or over it.
Some time ago, Varda and I were visiting American friends. Our hostess and another friend spent considerable time arguing the aesthetics of competing salt and pepper shakers.
Often we remind ourselves of that when we tire of our problems.
News of an airforce exercise seemingly meant as practice for attacking Iran has stirred international concern to the point of increasing the price of oil, and dropping the indices at major stock exchanges.
Does Israel have a right to disturb the world in this fashion? Further, does it have a right to actually carry out such an attack, with its implications beyond the priced of oil and our favorite stocks?
The answers depend on one's view of the threats against Israel issued repeatedly by Iran's president, and the measured way (some would say the lethargic way) in which the International Atomic Energy Agency and the great powers are trying to convince Iran to desist from its nuclear program.
If actions that may affect many millions of people in numerous countries are too big to ponder, there are competing issues, no less sensitive, that concern only three Israelis. Gilad Shalit is a soldier held prisoner in Gaza for two years. His captors have not allowed visits by international organizations, but there is a high probability that he is alive. Ehud Goldwasser and Eldad Regev were captured in an incident that provoked the 2006 war in Lebanon. Their captors have not allowed visits by international organizations or confirmed their well being. It is widely thought that they died of wounds suffered during their capture, or since then.
All three soldiers, their families, and ranking policymakers are currently in the headlines, competing for attention with the prospect of attacking Iran.
The parents of Shalit have initiated a suit in the Supreme Court against the possibility that Israel will allow the opening of Gaza's borders without obtaining their son's release. They assert that the decision to go ahead with a cease fire not tied to the soldier's release violates a government decision that his release would be part of any agreement with Hamas.
Is this asking a judicial body to interfere in decisions properly reserved to political entities? Is the action fair within the primary concern of a family to look after itself, no matter what the implications for the public? Should the fate of one soldier endanger a cease fire with implications for thousands of Israelis living within rocket range of Gaza?
Some Israelis are willing to pay the price for Shalit demanded by Hamas: the release of 450 prisoners, including many who would add to Hamas' arsenal of committed fighters.
Others are saying the price is too high, and will encourage Palestinian extremists. Better to delay the return of one Israeli soldier, even if it endangers his life.
The case of Goldwasser and Regev is no less vexing. Hizbollah demands the return of a Lebanese kept in Israeli prison due to an especially gruesome killing of civilians in 1979, as well as several Lebanese fighters captured in 2006, and the bodies of several other fighters.
The mother of Ehud Goldwasser is sure that he is alive. She demands that the government pay the price of his return. Goldwasser's wife, Karnit, married shortly before his capture, has become a prominent and attractive media figure since his capture. She has appeared in Israeli and overseas settings demanding information about his condition and his release, all the while earning a engineering masters degree with honors at the Technion. She is an impressive woman, and arguably the key figure in the drama. Without proof that her husband is dead that will satisfy the Rabbinate, she must live in the limbo of an agunah, a woman who may be a widow but cannot remarry.
Few Israelis object to trading dead bodies for dead bodies. Many are willing to pay the price demanded for Goldwasser and Regev if the soldiers are alive, or if it will release Karnit Goldwasser from her difficult status. Some members of the government are not willing to go ahead with the agreement without confirmation of the soldiers' well-being. All signs are that Hizbollah is not willing to provide that information without the return of the Lebanese held by Israel.
Army policy is to thwart the capture of its soldiers. This is part of a larger policy that soldiers are trained to fight aggressively in order to achieve their objectives, and to avoid the protracted and difficult problems of having to free captors. Like other things that the army does, it involves teaching nice Jewish children to do ugly things.
It is not army policy to kill its own soldiers who have been captured. It is my understanding of army policy, however, to direct deadly fire at any group of enemy fighters that may be in the process of capturing an Israeli.
It is easier to argue about salt and pepper shakers.
Ira Sharkansky (Emeritus)
Department of Political Science
Hebrew University of Jerusalem
Home tel: 972-2-532-2725
Cell phone: 054-683-5325