The government has completed one decision with high emotional costs, and it is coming up to another that will be even more difficult.
It has decided to accept a deal with Hizbollah. Israel will release a terrorist responsible for the deaths in 1979 of two young children, their father and another adult, as well as some Hizbollah fighters captured during the fighting in 2006, several dead bodies and an unknown number of Palestinians. In exchange, Israel will receive what is likely to be the bodies of two Israeli soldiers captured in 2006, and some information about an airman who parachuted into Lebanon in 1986, and subsequently disappeared.
Only 3 of 25 ministers voted against the deal. The others raised their hands for what many thought was a bad deal. Most likely, it was the only way of confirming the death of the soldiers, obtaining their bodies for the sake of the families, and freeing a young widow from the status of an agunah who cannot remarry.
Still at work are negotiations for the release of Gilad Shalit, a soldier known to be alive, who was taken into Gaza two years ago. His captors are demanding the release of about 1000 prisoners, including a number sentenced to multiple life sentences for attacks that killed Israeli civilians.
Similar to the campaign in favor of the men who disappeared into Lebanon, Shalit's family members, his friends, comrades in his army unit, and an increasing swath of the general public are demanding that the government pay "any price" for his release.
It will be hard not to. We frequently hear about how many days Shalit has been held captive, unhealthy conditions of his confinement underground without sunlight, as well as his deteriorating condition.
Numerous military and political figures have spoken out against the price that Hamas is demanding. The problem is not so much the number of prisoners, but the nature of the crimes committed, the number of victims, the short time they have served in prison, and the likelihood that many will return to a career of violence against Jews.
The Lebanese terrorist about to be freed served more than 25 years in Israeli prison. The widow and mother of his victims appeared in public prior to the government's decision. In a statement that was painful to hear, she urged that the government accept the deal for the sake of the soldiers' widow and other family members.
In the case of killers who may be released for Shalit, hundreds of victims' families will demand to be heard.
Among the sources of anger about both of these cases is the silence of official bodies, "civil rights" organizations, Israeli and others, as well as Christian Churches that complain loudly about Israeli actions in every forum attainable. None has mounted a sustained campaign against the Palestinian and Lebanese who have prevented all contact with the prisoners by the Red Cross or other organizations. United Nations Security Council Resolution 1701, that ended the fighting in Lebanon, demanded that Hizbollah return its prisoners immediately. It has bickered on and off for two years about their release, and still has not indicated whether they are alive or dead.
There is no shortage of suggestions as to how to pressure the people who are demanding so much for the release of Shalit. They include cutting off supplies of food, fuel, electricity, and other necessities to Gaza, and an artillery response for every rocket or mortar shell sent toward an Israeli settlement, perhaps with a prior warning for civilians to leave the areas in Gaza to be targeted.
Such suggestions invite ridicule from Israelis who call themselves realists. The humanitarians of Israel and elsewhere, plus the United Nations, other governments, and Christian Churches that tolerated the inhumane treatment of Israelis by Palestinians and Lebanese would find their voices. They will pass resolutions about the indiscriminate harm to innocent civilians, and threaten international sanctions. Within hours there will be petitions to the Israeli Supreme Court. If the justices' record to date is any indication of how they will rule, they will outlaw anything that threatens the civilians of Gaza.
It will not be clear for some time what the government will decide about Gilad Shalit. Whatever happens, it will not be pleasant.
Posted by Ira Sharkansky at June 30, 2008 04:33 AM
Ira Sharkansky (Emeritus)
Department of Political Science
Hebrew University of Jerusalem
Home tel: 972-2-532-2725
Cell phone: 054-683-5325