No Jew, and indeed no decent person in whom there beats a human heart, could fail to be moved to tears by the reunion of Gilad Shalit and his family in Israel. Looking pale from years of being held in a cell and deprived of sunlight, and extremely shy due to years of being denied virtually all human contact, Israel welcomed home a hero for whom they had traded one thousand murderers, terrorists, and criminals committed to its destruction to keep true to its promise, that no soldier is ever forgotten or left behind.
As Hamas and the Palestinians ululated and celebrated the return to their society of killers who had taken the lives of so many innocent men, women and children guilty of no other sin than going about their daily business, Israel cheered at the restoration of one of its sons who was kidnapped while trying to protect these innocent lives. The conflicting values systems of the two opposing camps -- one dedicated to the life and the other, tragically, having been overtaken for decades by a culture of death -- could not have been drawn in more stark terms than watching our Palestinian brothers and sisters welcoming terrorists home with parades while Israel reembraced a soldier whose first words to the world media, after having been treated like a caged animal for five years, were his hopes for lasting peace. It also goes without saying that when Israel is prepared to trade a thousand predators for one lonely soldier it is because of Israel's commitment to the infinite value of human life.
Still, the question remains whether the deal was worth it. Much comment has been made both pro and con, so I will here limit myself to a different angle of the story entirely, one that would obviate the need to trade killers for captured soldiers in the future. It is high time that Israel finally instituted a death penalty for terrorists. In the United States Timothy McVeigh, who murdered 160 people in Oklahoma in April, 1995, was dispatched after a fair trial and an appeal with no public outcry whatsoever. No man who takes that many lives may be permitted to live. So why would Israel lock up the most rancid, heartless, and cold-blooded mass murderers in its jails just so that they can serve as a lure for Israelis to be kidnapped in order that these killers be paroled?
A very partial list of terrorists now released by Israel, and who were previously fed three warm meals a day in an Israeli prison for years, includes Ibrahim Jundiya, who was serving multiple life sentences for carrying out an attack that killed 12 people and wounded 50. There is Amina Mona, an accomplice to the murder of 16-year-old Ofir Rachum. She lured him over the internet to a meeting where terrorists were waiting to kill him. Jihad Yaghmur and Yehia Sanwar were involved in the abduction and murder of Nachshon Wachsman, which also led to the murder of Matkal Unit member, Nir Poraz, head of the rescue mission sent to save him. I am an acquaintance of Nachson's mother and can only imagine her pain at seeing her son's killers celebrated as returning conquerors.
Also released are Ahlam Tamimi, the 20-year-old student accomplice to the Sbarro restaurant bombing in 2001 that left fifteen dead and 130 wounded, Aziz Salha who was famously photographed displaying his bloodied hands for the mob crowd below after beating an Israeli soldier to death, and Nasser Yataima who planned the 2002 Passover massacre that killed 30 and wounded 140.
The question this despicable list of the murderers being released begs is this: why were they still alive in the first place? Why were they not given fair and impartial trials and the right to appeal, and if found guilty of murder and especially mass murder, executed by the State?
Some will argue that this will only invite the Arab terror organizations to execute the Israeli prisoners they hold. It is therefore worth recalling that this is what the Palestinian terror organizations do overwhelmingly anyway and that Gilad Shalit is the first living soldier to be returned to Israel in more than a quarter century. In July 2008, Israel arranged another prisoner exchange in order to obtain the release of Ehud Goldwasser and Eldad Regev, captured two years earlier, sparking Israel's invasion of Lebanon, only to tragically discover they had been dead all along.
Others, especially Europeans, will argue that the death penalty is cruel and Israel is more humane for banning it. I disagree. While there is a robust debate here in the United States related to the death penalty over individual acts of murder, there should be no such debate whatsoever when it comes to premeditated mass murder and terrorism. The Europeans powers like Britain and France participated in the execution of Nazi leaders in the Nuremberg trials of 1945-1946, with no compunction whatsoever in mandating state-sponsored executions of mass murderers. Indeed, I argue that it is cruel and unusual punishment against the families of Israel's terror victims to leave these terrorists alive in Israeli prisons with the families not knowing day to day if they will even serve out their sentences should another Israeli soldier fall into captive hands. The families deserve closure.
For those who argue that if Israel puts its terrorists to death there will be nothing left to bargain with should an Israeli soldier or citizen become captive, I respond that other deals can always be made, be it with money, international pressure, or the exchange of Arab prisoners who are not guilty of terrorism.
And it's not as if Israel has no precedent in taking the life of a mass murderer, having put to death one abominable soul, the architect of the holocaust itself, Adolf Eichmann, at midnight in a Ramla prison on May 31, 1962. Eichmann's body was then cremated and his ashes polluted the Mediterranean a day later beyond Israel's territorial waters. And the last words of one of the most wicked monsters of all time? "I die believing in God." Let's make sure that others like him whose crimes make a mockery of G-d meet the same end.
Rabbi Shmuley Boteach has just published "Ten Conversations You Need to Have with Yourself" (Wiley) and in December will publish "Kosher Jesus" (Gefen). He is in the midst of creating the Global Institute for Values Education (GIVE). Follow him on his website www.shmuley.com and on Twitter @RabbiShmuley.