Is it ethical to for Israel to make a prisoner exchange with Hamas, a body that denies the right of Israel to exist?
Apparently, Israel is considering exchanging Hamas terrorists for IDF Sgt. Gilad Shalit.
Shalit was kidnapped by Hamas terrorists in a cross-border raid in June, 2006. Hamas militants, who have refused to allow the International Committee of the Red Cross to visit him, have held him for three and a half years. In exchange for Shalit's release, Hamas is demanding the release of 1,000 Palestinian prisoners.
Shalit's plight has captured the hearts of Israelis, who in a country where military service is compulsory at age 18 view the taking hostage of Israel Defense Forces soldiers with grave concern.
Of course, all Israel-supporters, and those who value human life, are praying for this young man's safe return home.
Historically, Israeli/Palestinian prisoner swaps have been grossly disproportionate, with hundreds of Palestinian prisoners-including those with blood on their hands-being released for just a few Israelis.
Or worse. In June 2008, the Israeli government, by Knesset vote of 22 to 3, decided to exchange numerous live Palestinian and Lebanese prisoners for the dead bodies of Eldad Regev and Ehud Goldwasser, whose plight had consumed the nation, and broken the hearts of Israel-supporters around the world. (Regev and Goldwasser had been kidnapped by Hezbollah militants in July, 2006).
That's right, in exchange for dead bodies, Israel freed many live Palestinian prisoners, including a convicted child murderer/terrorist.
At the time, even outlets that normally blanch at Israel's self-defense seemed appalled by this decision.
It may be easy-too easy-for armchair warriors to critique the decision to undertake a prisoner exchange when it will save the life of a beloved brother, husband, son, or father.
Prisoner exchanges may be counterproductive by encouraging the practice of terrorist hostage taking (after all, the terrorists see their tactic works to get more of their people released. Is it any mystery they keep trying it?) But when, in the present moment, such an exchange will save even one life, it is hard to argue against the practice, even though it is will possibly endanger innocent lives in the future.
But whatever the understandable and heart-wrenching ethical and practical dilemmas of live prisoner exchange, this commentator can see no logical or ethical justification for prisoner exchange for a dead body.
In Judaism, the body after death is sacred and to be honored. But Judaism does not exalt death above life. Indeed, this difference-this dedication to the protection and prioritization of innocent life-separates Israel from its most pernicious enemies.
That exchanges have taken place in which Israel has traded, for the dead bodies of its soldiers, live Arab prisoners who could endanger innocent lives in the future and indeed probably will, is dangerously misguided. It has likely rewarded and possibly reinforced not only the practice of terrorist hostage-taking, but terrorist hostage-killing.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu should not accept any assurances or promises, but consider an exchange if and only if Shalit is returned alive and healthy, to Israeli soil. Questionable as any prisoner-swap with terrorists may be, at the very least, a live, healthy prisoner, safely returned home to Israel, should be the absolute prerequisite.
May Gilad Shalit return home soon, alive and healthy.