There is no Israeli who would say he does not wish to See Gilad Shalit home. Of course, let’s do it quickly, now; we should have secured his release two or three years ago. And what would a normal Israeli say when asked whether he is willing to see 1,000 terrorists “with blood on their hands” released in exchange for Shalit? The reactions would range from “heaven forbid” and “we need to think about it” to “there’s no other way. There will be some who say such deal is unacceptable.
Just like there is no biological correspondence between the heart and mind, we will never be able to bridge the compassion inherent in Shalit’s release and the toughness conveyed by the mind, which does not wish to see the murderers of Israelis rejoice. The memories of many Israelis are still etched by the horrifying images from attacks such as the Dolphinarium disco bombing, the Park Hotel bombing in Netanya, and others.
You want a small sample? Not too long ago, we saw the release – after decades in prison – of the murderer of the Haran family from Nahariya. He was received with great honors in Lebanon. What did you feel at the time, sir? Why did you close your eyes, Madam, when the “victory” images arrived from Beirut? We must admit that around here these were moments of helplessness, gloom, and even humiliation.
Gilad Shalit is not home yet, also (but not only) because Israeli leaders greatly fear the response around here “the day after.” Olmert, Netanyahu, and Barak, all of them masters of the media, know this feeling well; they knew and they know that the media will monitor every step in Shalit’s release – what he ate for the first time, what time he fell asleep, and what he said.
Yet a day or two shall pass, and the very same media, which turned the Shalit family and its noble struggle into a “commercial product” filled with tears, will slam the number of terrorists released, and especially their “quality.” The most will be written about the life sentences. Various media outlets will compete for the exact number: 2,000 life sentences, or is it 2,135? Not even one kind word will be dedicated to those who secured Shalit’s release from captivity. Plenty of bad blood and charges will follow. We’re world champions when it comes to that.
Right people at right time
In the history of Israel we have seen so far three or four leaders who were aware of the “day after” implications, yet nonetheless pounded the table, because they knew that it is never possible to bridge the compassion of the Jewish heart with our brain cells.
The first one was Levi Eshkol, in the wake of the first hijacking of an El-Al plane, in July 1968, to Algeria. Back then we saw an incisive debate, just like today, on whether we need to give in to terrorist extortion. The Israeli abductees were held for 40 years, and then Eshkol pounded the table: We handed over leading terrorists and bodies. A concealment effort was made in order to present those we released as a bunch of cripples and lames.
The second such PM was Menachem Begin, who in fact set the high “price tag,” along with Ezer Weizmann as defense minister. In the wake of the 1978 Litani Operation, Israel released 82 terrorists, almost all of them murderers sentenced to life terms, in exchange for one soldier – Avraham Amram. At that time there was a major concealment effort, and the censors were ordered not to allow the publication of the names of the released murderers under any circumstances.
The third such PM was Yitzhak Shamir, who in 1985 with Yitzhak Rabin as defense minister ordered the release of 1,100 terrorists in the Jibril swap. It appears that the number of critical articles written about this deal is greater than the number of terrorists who suddenly saw the light of day because of it. The media attention back then was focused on Japanese terrorist Kozo Okamoto (the massacre at Ben-Gurion Airport in May 1972 that left more than 20 people dead.) However, there were even more “heavy duty” prisoners among those released.
In many ways, Benjamin Netanyahu and Ehud Barak are the right people at the right time: The combination of a rightist prime minister who approves a swap for lack of any other choice and a leftist defense minister perceived as “Mr. Security” is an almost certain, proper, and required recipe for the moment they will take anti-nausea pills, pound the table at the cabinet conference room, and say “this is it” – and then, only then, we will see Gilad Shalit home. Yet the day after, we’ll be blasting both Bibi and Barak.