The Hostage Deal


After reading this press release from the IDF Spokesperson’s Unit website, one would be forgiven for thinking that Israel had just secured a deal for the return of four living Israelis.

The return of the three missing IDF soldiers The Government of Israel announces that pursuant to its 9.11.2003 decision an arrangement has been concluded regarding the return of the three missing IDF soldiers – Staff Sgt. Adi Avitan, Staff Sgt. Benyamin Avraham and Staff Sgt. Omar Sawaid – who were kidnapped on 7.10.2000 and abducted citizen Elhanan Tannenbaum. According to the arrangement and as was agreed on by the cabinet, in exchange for the return of the aforementioned abducted Israelis, the state of Israel will release prisoners and detainees being held in its prison installations and will hand over Lebanese bodies. The arrangement specifies a mechanism for carrying out a further arrangement, the goal of which is to secure tangible information on the fate of captive navigator, Ron Arad and return him to his home. According to this mechanism, Lebanese prisoner Samir Kuntar will be released after Israel receives concrete proof as to Ron Arad’s fate. The government of Israel will continue its efforts to fully implement the arrangement and reiterates its commitment to take any action and make every effort, and not to rest, until all POWs and MIAs are returned to Israel. The government of Israel expresses its deep appreciation for the continuing efforts of the German government in helping to bring our boys back home. The government of Israel appreciates the dedicated work of the team led by Ilan Biran.

Does this mean that the soldiers are alive? I do not think so. But the press release was probably worded in such an innocuous way so as to quell opposition to the prisoner release deal. You would have noticed that I have not commented on the deal. This has not been due to any ambivalence on my part, but rather due to a lack of time. I have alot to say about it, as you will now see. In short, I oppose the deal for the following reasons: 1. It will encourage further abductions. This was made manifest by Hizbullah leader Sheikh Hassan Nasrallah’s response to a question during a recent press conference.

When asked during his much anticipated press conference whether Hizbullah would resort to kidnapping again, Nasrallah, cracked a smile and answered, “Yes, yes.” —- “Some of Israel’s principles were broken today; they can never go back, in future negotiations.”

And the PLO Arabs have indicated a desire to join the party.

At a pro-Hezbollah rally in the Gaza Strip, several families chanted, “Kidnap a soldier and free a hundred” Palestinians. “Twist the Zionists’ arm.”

History has shown that the Arabs continue with those tactics that produce results. And clearly, these abductions are producing for them the desired results. 2. It will be viewed as another sign that Israel’s resolve is slowly cracking. The Arab world does not view compromise the same way as the Western world, but rather as a sign of weakness. This, in turn, encourages them to continue with their campaign of violence. The current intifada is a case in point. It is no coincidence that it was launched a few months after Israel withdrew from Lebanon. Clearly, the PLO Arabs drew much inspiration from Hizbullah’s apparent victory.

Palestinian Authority Chairman Yasser Arafat yesterday hailed the withdrawal of IDF troops from Lebanon as a victory for the Lebanese people and said he hoped Israeli troops would also leave Palestinian areas. “I express my admiration [for the Lebanese people],” Arafat told reporters in Palestinian-ruled Gaza. “We feel very proud today that it [Lebanon] is being liberated inch by inch.” —- In Gaza and the West Bank, Palestinians took to the streets to celebrate the news and praise Hizbullah. “They shouted slogans calling on Hizbullah to attack Tel Aviv,” a witness said at a rally in Hebron, where supporters of the Islamic Jihad group burned Israeli flags and handed out sweets to mark the pullout. In Gaza, members of Arafat’s Fatah faction joined Islamic Jihad supporters on a celebratory march. “Today Lebanon. Palestine tomorrow,” placards in the march read. “We see it as an introduction to the victory of the resistance in occupied Palestine to liberate Al-Aksa mosque [in Jerusalem] and to return our Palestinian people from exile,” the Hamas spiritual leader Sheikh Ahmed Yassin said, in a congratulatory message to Hizbullah. The Palestinian people “can’t believe their eyes and they are intoxicated by the Hizbullah experience,” said West Bank Fatah leader Marwan Barghouti.

3. Releasing hundreds of prisoners is too high a price to pay for three likely dead soldiers and one live Israeli. While I am proud that we value our dead even more than the Arabs value their living, I cannot help but feel that we are paying too high a price. And there are practical implications to this as well. For one, this lopsideness can only serve to encourage more abductions, as previously discussed. Secondly, there is a strong chance that some of these prisoners will engage in violence against Israel, threatening the lives of many. We have seen this happen before. Thirdly, paying such a heavy price for dead bodies may encourage terrorists to kill their captives, instead of keep them alive. As Imshin posted a while ago:

Paying such a heavy price for dead bodies, for one things, means terrorists need not worry about keeping their captives alive anymore. Dead bodies are far less trouble and if they are just as valuable as living captives, why not just kill captives straight off?

4. The release of Samir Kuntar is too heavy a price to pay for mere information on Ron Arad. Anything short of Ron’s release is unacceptable, especially considering Kuntar’s bloody legacy. Having said all of that, I feel for the families of the four Israelis abducted by Hizbullah. They deserve closure one way or the other. However, I believe that the greater good dictated that we refuse the hostage deal.
Update: And apparently so does Jewish law. I just found this article by Rabbi Eliezer Melamed:

The Law Regarding Prisoners in Wartime Though, as we have said, there are opinions that when the captive’s life is at stake it is permissible to pay even more than the generally accepted amount, in wartime it is forbidden to give in to any such extortion whatsoever. The rule is that in times of war one does not submit to any of the enemies demands. In fact, even in a case when the enemy only stole some straw and hey from a border village, the response must be a strong military one. For, as soon as one gives in to them regarding a small matter, they will gain confidence and increase their efforts to strike at us (see Eruvin 21a). Therefore, if an enemy of Israel takes even a single hostage, we must go to battle against them in order to save the captive, for if we allow them to succeed in taking one hostage they will gain incentive and step up their efforts to strike at us. To this effect we find in the Torah (Numbers 21:1): “And when the Canaanites, the King of Arad, who dwelt in the Negev, heard tell that Israel came by the way of Atarim, he fought against Israel and took prisoner.” According to the sages, they took only a single maidservant. Yet, in order to retrieve her Israel did not suggest negotiations, but went to battle against the Canaanites. An additional example can be brought from king David: When the Amalekites attacked the town of Ziklag, taking the women captive, David did not sit down at the negotiating table, but went to war against them and saved the prisoners (Samuel 1:30). In a case where Israel lacks the military capacity to engage the enemy in battle it is permissible to exchange prisoners in the generally accepted fashion, but any more than that is forbidden. This is all the more true considering that we are today in an ongoing state of war with surrounding countries and terrorist organizations and that every concession is interpreted by them as an sign of weakness. Such submission merely leads to more attacks and more attempts to take hostages. What’s more, as a result of our willingness to free large numbers of prisoners for one or two Israeli hostages, the terrorists fear us less, for they figure that even if they do get caught, they will most likely be freed before long in a prisoner exchange deal. It should also be noted that many of the terrorists who have been released by Israel in the past simply returned to their terrorist activities, murdering, in turn, hundreds of Israelis. Hence, as a result of our receiving one Israeli hostage, tens and perhaps even hundreds of other innocent Israelis have been murdered. It is important to realize, though, that at the end of the war, when a final cease-fire agreement is reached between the sides, it is permissible for Israel to release all of the enemy prisoners in its possession in turn for all of our own captives being held by the enemy – even if we have taken many captives. The reason for this is that such exchanges are recognized as accepted practice at the end of the war and are hence not considered acts of extortion. Unfortunately, though, we do not foresee such an end to war and terrorism arriving anytime in Israel’s near future.

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A lawyer by education, David Lange - founder and managing editor of Israellycool - found his calling in advocating for Israel and the Jewish people. He is available for public speaking engagements.