On Sunday Prime Minister Ehud Olmert will bring the matter of IDF reserve soldiers Eldad Regev and Ehud Goldwasser before his cabinet. The two reservists, who are presumed dead, have not been heard from since they were kidnapped to Lebanon by Hizbullah on July 12, 2006. Olmert will instruct his ministers to vote on whether Israel should release Samir Kuntar and three Hizbullah terrorists from its prisons to secure the return of their bodies.
On April 21, 1979, Kuntar and four other terrorists infiltrated Israel from Lebanon. Kuntar entered the Nahariya apartment belonging to Danny and Smadar Haran and their daughters, two-year-old Yael and Einat, a four-month-old baby. Kuntar forced Danny and Einat to the beach below. There he shot Danny in the head and then drowned him in the sea. He crushed Einat's skull on a rock with his rifle butt. Smadar evaded capture by hiding in a crawlspace of their apartment with Yael. While trying to keep Yael silent, Smadar inadvertently suffocated her.
Kuntar has pledged that if released, he will join Hizbullah and continue his quest to bring about the destruction of Israel. He has no regrets.
As the government ministers vote to release Kuntar and his associates in exchange for Goldwasser and Regev's bodies, Ofer Dekel, Olmert's point man for hostage negotiations, will be sitting in Cairo. There he is negotiating the price of releasing IDF soldier Gilad Schalit, who for two years has been held hostage by Hamas and its fellow terror groups in Gaza. Unlike Regev and Goldwasser, Schalit is presumed alive. His captors have forced him to send messages to his parents demanding that Israel release Palestinian terrorists in exchange for his freedom.
According to the Egyptian media, Hamas is demanding 1,000 terrorists now in Israeli jails in exchange for Schalit. Most of them are convicted murderers. For its part, the government has expressed its willingness to release murderers for Schalit. But it is still unclear how many.
Among the many killers whose release Hamas demands are the masterminds of the Seder massacre at the Park Hotel in Netanya where 30 people were murdered on March 27, 2002. According to the Arab media, most of the masterminds of suicide bombings in recent years are on Hamas's list.
It is impossible to know precisely how many Israelis will be killed in the future if the deals now on the table are approved. But past experience shows that at a minimum, dozens of Israelis now innocently going about their business will be murdered by the terrorists Israel releases. And at a minimum, one or two Israelis will be abducted by Hamas or Hizbullah or one of their sister terror organizations. They will be abducted in Israel or while they are travelling abroad and they will be brought to Lebanon or Gaza and the cycle of blood extortion and psychological warfare will begin anew.
That Israel will pay a price in blood if the deals go through is a certainty. That more Israelis will meet the fates of Schalit, Regev and Goldwasser is a certainty. The only thing we do not know today is the names of the victims. They could be any one of us. Indeed, they are all of us. For all of us are equally targeted simply by virtue of the fact that we are Israelis.
Given these certainties, it is obvious that the deals now on the table ought to be rejected completely. And yet, they will both almost certainly be approved. The fact that this is the case is yet another damning indictment of Israel's elected leaders and its media. In equal parts, they share the blame for the fact that Israel is about to accede to Faustian bargains that will bring untold suffering to the country.
TO DATE, the only clear public call to reject these deals was made by former IDF chief of General Staff Lt.-Gen. (res.) Moshe Ya'alon. At a conference on military leadership Tuesday, Ya'alon argued against the deals explaining, "In some situations, the price to pay as part of the deal is much heavier than the price of losing the captive soldier."
Ya'alon's statement should have been a springboard for a reasoned debate. But the local media would have none of it. Rather than enable a responsible debate, the media called on Schalit's father, Noam Schalit, to rebut Ya'alon.
Noam Schalit brutally and unfairly denounced Ya'alon as a political operative. In his words, "No politician or political operative has the right to determine the fate of an IDF POW, except a commander during battle. Ya'alon was an army commander, but today he is mainly a politician and a political operative. He and anyone else can determine a POW's fate only if it concerns their own son."
Piling on, Goldwasser's father, Shlomo Goldwasser, said, "Such words can only be spoken by a man whose son is not held captive by the enemy. He would have spoken differently had the matter been a personal concern of his."
The brutal truth is that the hostages' fathers have things precisely backwards. With all due respect, it is they that should not be listened to.
Through no fault of their own, the Regev, Goldwasser and Schalit families have become the mouthpieces of Hizbullah and Hamas. This is as natural as it is tragic.
The moment their sons were abducted, the Schalit, Regev and Goldwasser families also became prisoners. In constant agony over the fate of their sons, these families are incapable of acknowledging the cruel and devastating fact that the safety of three soldiers cannot be placed above Israel's national security. In their unmitigated suffering, they cannot come to terms with this horrible fact because for them the country, and indeed the world, is made up of their loved ones. This is the natural human condition. Each person's world is defined by the presence and absence of his loved ones. For the Goldwassers, Regevs and Schalits, Israel is a meaningless, cold, dark place when it doesn't include their sons Ehud, Eldad and Gilad.
And it is precisely for this reason that they cannot be allowed to dictate policy. It is precisely for this reason that the only ones who can responsibly weigh Israel's options for releasing them are those who are not personally affected by their plight.
IN 2005, then-prime minister Ariel Sharon had his ministers vote on a proposed deal in which Israel would release hundreds of terrorists in exchange for the bodies of IDF soldiers Benny Avraham, Omar Suweid and Adi Avitan, and for Elhanan Tenenbaum, an Israeli drug dealer held hostage by Hizbullah. Among the few ministers who voted against the deal was former Prisoner of Zion Natan Sharansky.
Sharansky recalls that Sharon called him the evening before the vote in an effort to secure his support. "He told me, 'As a former prisoner, you above all should understand our moral responsibility to bring about their release.'"
Sharansky responded that, indeed, "As a prisoner, it is important to know that your country is doing everything it can to secure your release. But it is also true that you are not willing to be released at any price. There are things that are more important than your personal survival."
It is a stinging indictment of Israel's political and media culture that the debate about these life-threatening deals has been dominated by the impassioned and tragic pleas of the hostages' families. As Sharansky notes, if as Messieurs Schalit and Goldwasser argue, issues of paramount national security are to be determined by the parents of soldiers, then no government can ever commit forces to battle. It is an abdication of national responsibility for Olmert to send the Goldwasser, Regev and Schalit families to his colleagues to beg them to vote in favor of these blood deals. And it is an abdication of responsibility by the media when they provide these terrified, victimized families with an open microphone to rail against our politicians for refusing to have mercy on them.
Due to Hizbullah's and Hamas's deliberate, evil des
igns, the Goldwasser, Schalit and Regev families find themselves set apart from the rest of their countrymen. And since their personal suffering is easier to understand than the general suffering of the public if the murderers go free, it is difficult, but not impossible to understand what is at stake.
Again, that the price is not clear is the fault of the media and the pandering politicians. Disgracefully, both have left the Israeli people as a whole unrepresented in this debate.
AND THIS is not a unique situation. In recent years, led by the hydra of its media and self-interested politicians, the Israeli public has had next to no representation in the public square. This came across clearly in the politicians' handling and the media's coverage of the other major story of the week. That story of course was the backroom deal forged Tuesday night between the Labor Party and Kadima that torpedoed the opposition's plan to hold a preliminary vote Wednesday to dissolve the Knesset and move to general elections in November.
The deal, in which Kadima committed itself to holding a primary for its leadership post in September, guaranteed the Kadima-Labor-Shas government another nine months in power. Olmert, Labor Chairman Ehud Barak and their surrogates have defended the deal by arguing that what Israel needs most now is political stability. The only one harmed by their decision, they proclaimed, is Likud leader Binyamin Netanyahu. The media parroted their arguments, scoffing at Likud politicians for "sewing their ministerial suits too early."
As with the hostages-for-terrorists deals, by personalizing the issue at hand, both the politicians and the media ignored the public. The reason that "stability" can only be assured by preventing elections is that for the past two years, public opinion polls have consistently shown that the public wants to replace the Kadima-Labor-Shas government with a Likud-led government. It is not the personal ambitions of Likud politicians that were scuttled on Tuesday night. It was the public's will.
It may seem crass to conflate issues affecting Israel's national security with issues affecting the identity of Israel's national leadership. It can be argued that they are unrelated. But the fact of the matter is that in both cases, no one is representing the public interest. In their rush to treat general issues as personal stories, whether of victimized families or of ambitious politicians, both our media and our leaders behave as if there are no general consequences for their actions.
Personal stories are always powerful. Whether they are tragic, titillating or irritating, they never fail to attract our attention. But their attraction must not dwarf matters of national concern. Looking ahead, Israel's troubles will not end until our leaders and our media finally accept that Israel's collective fate is not the personal affair of any one of us.
Originally published in The Jerusalem Post.