Saving Shalit to Save Israel

With Israel’s international standing crumbling and its internal cohesion fraying, Netanyahu urgently needed to restore Israeli morale. ….  A Foreign Affairs article …

No one in Israel is calling the agreement signed for Gilad Shalit’s freedom a good deal. On many levels it is terrible. Israel is releasing more than 1000 prisoners, several hundred of them hardened terrorists, for one soldier. For the first time, the Jewish state essentially acquiesced as a terrorist organization dictated the list of prisoners to be released, including several responsible for mass deaths of Israeli citizens, a notion that would once have been unthinkable. Israel may well have given its enemies incentive to kidnap more soldiers. And the terrorists now being released are likely to attack and kill Israelis in the future.

Despite these facts, the deal for Shalit passed a cabinet vote by an overwhelming margin (26 in favor and only three opposed), and the vast majority of Israeli citizens support it. In agreeing to this prisoner swap, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and the Israeli public chose to return to their roots, to revive a central tenet of old-time Israeli ideology: we do not leave our sons in the field.

The tenet is as old as the country itself. It stems from the fact that the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) is a citizens’ army, in which conscription is universal and every family knows that it could face the same tragedy as the Shalits. And in the army itself, the “stretcher march,” in which soldiers in training are ordered to carry one of their heaviest comrades on a stretcher up hills and down valleys for miles, is a formative ritual meant to instill one message: there is never a case in which soldiers cannot bring their wounded home.

This ethic is taught in other armies, too, but it resonates differently in Israel. From the moment of his capture, Gilad Shalit has been a household name. Compare this to the silence in the United States regarding Bowe Bergdahl, the U.S. soldier held hostage by the Taliban since June 2009. Ever since Shalit’s kidnapping, Israeli society has been wracked by a sense that it failed in its obligation to him.

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About Daniel Gordis

Dr. Daniel Gordis is Senior Vice President and the Koret Distinguished Fellow at Shalem College in Jerusalem. The author of numerous books on Jewish thought and currents in Israel, and a recent winner of the National Jewish Book Award, Dr. Gordis was the founding dean of the Ziegler School of Rabbinic Studies at the University of Judaism.

9 Comments on "Saving Shalit to Save Israel"

  • I would love to read the transcripts of the negotiations, where it was determined that 1027 prisoners would be freed, and not 1028, 1050, or 1100. I would also love too see what criteria they used to determine who, if anyone, was too evil, or dangerous, to release, as opposed to those who were released.
    I only hope that Israel treats everyone of these prisoners like the USA treated Alwaki. Each released prisoner, every Hamas official, should feel as though they are walking dead, living with a target on his back.
    For the future, Israel must institute a death penalty for terrorists. The army should be instructed that in the future all efforts must be made immediately to free a captive soldier, that whatever the military costs of immediate action, they will be less than the political costs of allowing the soldier to be held hostage.

  • Saul LIeberman says

    More than Netanyahu restored Israeli morale, he restored Hamas morale.

  • Moishe (Thomas) Goldstein, Toronto Canada says

    Bringing Gilad home – we define ourselves.

    Not bringing Gilad home – we let others define us.

    Mo’adim LeSimcha.


  • Kalman Neuman says

    Gordis’ attempt to justify the Shalit deal answers the criticism that it strengthens Hamas at the expense of the Palestinian Authority . Basically, what Gordis claims is that there will never be any settlement to the conflict and thus there is no difference between the PA and Hamaas, in the words of Itzhak Shamir “The Arabs are the same Arabs”. One whould conclude that it is in Israel’s interest to weaken the PA percieved (in Gordis’ view, falsely) as being moderate.Thus, the deal with Hamas

  • Stephen G says

    The fact that this was decided by a cabinet vote rather than parliamentary I don’t know if it was done for political gains or for moral principal. I can only hope for the later and that it indeed is achieved and with minimal adversarial consequences. Meantime Welcome Home Gilad.

  • Jeff H. says

    I still can’t buy the rationalizations of this deal. I hate to say this, but just as all soldiers (and their families) realize that they may have to sacrifice their lives or become seriously wounded-for-life to serve and protect their country, so too must all accept that a soldier may become a prisoner for life to save other lives. It would be the highest level of Kiddush HaShem.

    Some costs and dangers are too high to allow or accept.

  • Brynn Sugarman says

    As an Israeli mother with a son in the army, I applauded Netanyahu’s decision: we all have spent five long years empathizing with the Shalits and their agonizing grief. It was a triumphant day when we could finally share their joy.

    Now of course Hamas is threatening to kidnap more Israeli soldiers and who can blame them? The first experiment of its sort worked so exceedingly well from their point of view. They may not care about their people the way that Israel cares about her own, as precious human beings (otherwise they would refrain from putting explosive belts around them,) but the over a thousand released prisoners certainly make for useful cannon fodder, and Hamas is no fool when it comes to wasting materials. And when the international media (and for that matter, the international community,) fails to morally distinguish between terrorist murderers and a soldier kidnapped from his own side of the border, equating chalk with cheese in its endlessly myopic and facile manner, then Hamas is further given the green light to attempt a repeat performance.

    What is Israel to do? Why, it couldn’t be more obvious. Hamas has made it clear that it only kidnaps in order to implement absurdly disproportionate swaps for jailed terrorist prisoners. Logic dictates that if there were no terrorists to swap, the game would be over. By implementing a death penalty for terrorists, the problem of deterrence would be solved and true justice would finally reign. I am delighted to say that many people I speak with agree with this wholeheartedly, and none of us are rabid Right-wingers. I have come to call us The Silent Majority. Why we are being so silent and are not screaming this from the rooftops is beyond me. Give me just one politician serious about pushing this through and he’ll get my vote. Time has shown that there is no other just or workable solution to our horrible dilemma: by being kind to the cruel, we have been outrageously cruel to the kind.

  • Brynn Sugarman says

    An addendum: the murderer of the Fogels has been found and is utterly repentant. When it comes to the perfect candidate for a new Israeli death penalty, I say that he should be first in line: the sooner, the better.

  • Brynn Sugarman says

    oops..that’s UNREPENTANT!

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