The Scales of Human Value

I have been trying to make sense out of what appears to be a strange bargain between the Israelis and Hamas to exchange a single kidnapped Israel soldier, Gilad Shalit, for a thousand Palestinian prisoners, many of whom have blood on their hands for having participated in the murder of Israelis. My understanding is that all of the Palestinian prisoners have been tried and convicted of their crimes in Israeli courts.

On the surface, the imbalance seems preposterous, its maddening inequality and disproportion makes the Israeli position seem alarmingly weak and counter productive, while the Hamas position appears strong, powerful and victorious. It appears to reward the strategy of hostage taking and opens the door to repetitive attempts at kidnapping tactics by Hamas as a key to freeing further Palestinian prisoners.

Beneath the surface is the agony of parents, siblings, friends and relatives of those innocent civilians who were murdered by the deliberate acts of many of the prisoners, who indiscriminately exploded or helped explode bombs to extinguish the lives of people who had the bad luck or timing to be eating in restaurants, traveling in buses or simply walking the streets.

It must be awful to see the killers of their children go free, whatever the political rationalization. To them, such an exchange must appear as a knife opening old wounds.

The Hamas side reveres these killers as martyrs and trains its army of suicide bombers by brainwashing them to believe that welcoming death by murdering enemies offers martyrdom and greater rewards in their religiously imagined heaven.

Why some mothers and fathers on the Arab side extol and praise these deaths by their children is beyond my comprehension, both as a parent and a human being. Yes, I do understand the psychology of passionate religious devotion and the politics of nationalism, tribalism, and i affinity, although, to be fair, I admit my ignorance of Islamic imperatives.

But looking beneath the surface for motives, one discovers that such a simple analysis is far from clean cut. For example, looking at it from the point of view of a father of sons, nothing, but nothing would ever deter me from moving heaven and earth to spare my children's pain and suffering. Gilad's parents spent the past five years of their son's captivity in a 24/7 campaign to get the Israeli government to find a way to affect the release their beloved child.

One assumes that the Israel Defense Forces spent days trying to figure out a way to release Gilad by military action that would not result in the young man's death. Apparently, every plan they conceived had too many risks, and it is clear that Gilad's captives had cunningly created an impregnable prison for the young man.

The Israelis also had to wrestle with secular and religious interpretations. On the secular side, the Israeli's have a largely conscript Army that vows to leave no soldier, dead or alive, on foreign soil. This is Israel's solemn pledge to its military and has been proven again and again in numerous ways.

The Palestinian side, knowing of this promise and what was interpreted by them as vulnerability, have cleverly exploited this in the past, extracting other prisoner exchanges even for dead soldiers and citizens resulting in the return of thousands of Palestinian prisoners, many of whom resumed their bloody terrorist attacks against Israelis.

On the religious side, a powerful force in Israeli political and cultural life, there are admonitions in Talmudic biblical interpretations that state that redeeming captives takes precedence over sustaining the poor and clothing them, and there is no commandment more important than redeeming captives.

Indeed, in the Torah, the sacred Jewish text reputed to be the five books of Moses, it tells of Abraham's early life when he raised an Army to release his nephew Lot who was taken captive in Sodom by enemy invaders. There are other passages as well in holy texts that favor release of captives through barter.

But in the end, after much inner debate about the rights and wrongs of such a decision, I come out with a persistent thought that after all the political, military, strategic, moral, religious, ethical and practical considerations are dispensed with, Hamas unwittingly has given worldwide credence that on the scale of human value, the life of one average Israeli soldier is worth the lives of a thousand Arabs.

Warren Adler is the author of 32 novels and short story collections published in numerous languages. Films adapted from his books include "The War of the Roses," "Random Hearts" and the PBS trilogy "The Sunset Gang." He is a pioneer in digital publishing. For more information visit Warren's Website at