The people of Israel, which has suffered much over the years, has gained much experience both recently and in the distant past when it comes to the difficult dilemma associated with the redemption of captives. Jewish law declares that there is no greater mitzvah than the redemption of captives, but also notes that the community must not pay an exorbitant price in exchange for Jewish captives. This limit stems from the proven fear that paying a high price once would encourage the abduction of many other Jews.
For this reason, Rabbi Meir from Rotenberg, the leading Ashkenazi rabbi in the 13th century, refused to be released from prison in Germany in exchange for an enormous sum of money. Community members raised the required funds and wanted to release him, but the eminent Jewish leader chose to die in his prison cell following about seven years of solitude and suffering. His burial was delayed by another 14 years.
The question of a reasonable price is a highly fundamental one and must be measured on the basis of one criterion: Does the price paid by the State worsen the situation and encourage the next abduction, or does it merely leave the danger at its current level? Against this backdrop, any agreement to pay a higher price than the one paid in previous times, such as: Releasing prisoners with blood on their hands or the release of a prisoner that constitutes a symbol, such as Marwan Barghouti, is forbidden, despite the associated grief.
Of course, we cannot ignore the great sorrow of the abducted soldier and his family. The terrible thought that Gilad is alive and located relatively close to them, but is not released because of Israeli insistence on the price of his release, is unbearable. As such, Noam Shalit's effort to secure his son's rapid release, at any price, is understandable, justified, and natural for any father whose son is facing such grave distress.
Yet against the backdrop of this terrible distress, the government must examine this question only in terms of the public good, and not that of a loving father who seeks his son's immediate release.
What about Pollard?
Many fateful decisions are taken based on the principle of the public good, at times even with the clear knowledge that as a result many citizens will be hurt and possibly even pay with their lives. The question of body part trade is one example: It is very difficult to face the tears of a father who desperately needs a kidney for his dying son. Still, the State does not allow him to purchase a life-saving kidney from a person who is willing to sell his own kidney.
The overall allocation of the budget is based on the same principle: The healthcare budget determines, in practice, who shall live and who shall die; the welfare budget determines who shall live in poverty and neglect and who shall avoid such life.
Against this backdrop of the public good, we must object to the deal being formulated at this time. After all, many of those released in previous deals went back to hurting Israeli citizens. Therefore, not only Gilad Shalit's fate is hanging in the balance, but also the lives of many others. We do not know who these people are at this time, and therefore we cannot interview them, but the duty to save them â€“ or, heaven forbid, the responsibility for their death â€“ rests on the shoulders of the Israeli government with any decision it takes.
For many years, Israel was guided by the policy of no capitulation to terrorism and blackmail when it comes to abductions. In the name of that same policy, our soldiers were sent to distant Uganda and freed with admirable success all the abductees, even at the price of risking their lives, and the death of operation commander Yoni Netanyahu, among others.
The State also acted this way after children were abducted in Maalot and after IDF soldier Nachshon Waxman was kidnapped, although regrettably these operations failed. The current situation where Gilad Shalit is in the Gaza Strip (at least based on what is publicly known) while the State of Israel is not utilizing a military option to release him is difficult to fathom.
Against this backdrop of the sweeping Israeli willingness to finalize the Gilad Shalit deal at almost any price, despite its many dangers, it is difficult not to mention Jonathan Pollard.
Pollard is an Israeli soldier without a uniform, who Israel is not only failing to release but also knowingly ignoring. Without any pangs of conscience it allows him to rot in prison for almost 22 years now. Efforts aimed at securing his release do not involve any danger to Israeli citizens, yet despite this the State prefers negotiations with Hamas whose destructive implications are known in advance over simple negotiations that do no pose any risk with our greatest ally.