While I was waiting for my flight back to Australia at the Ben Gurion airport when I was in Israel last month; I walked into a store and bought the Jerusalem Report, a political magazine printed in English about Israeli politics. I was looking through the magazine and found a section called ‘Viewpoint’. You can find an extract of the article called ‘Blood on Their Hands 2’ found within ‘Viewpoint’ here; I can not find an extract of the other one. The quotes are from the Jerusalem Report: February 4, 2008, page 46-47. The section basically consists of two opinions from, usually from different sides of the political spectrum; two different people about one issue. The topic of this issue was the negotiation of captured Israeli soldiers and what price Israel was prepared to pay for them. The first viewpoint was Avshalom Vilan, a Knesset member of the Meretz party.
He believed that the first goal of the Israeli government should be to get these soldiers back, naturally I agree. However it was his methods that troubled me. It is true that he believes the first way to do that should be through “…high grade intelligence and/or military operations…” However he also said that if those were unsuccessful then “…we should conduct negotiations [with those that have our soldiers]…” Furthermore, Vilan argues that:
“I have no doubt that a day will come when Israel will free Marwan Barghouti, who was sentenced to five life terms for ordering the killing of Israelis, but who might one day lead the Palestinians to a compromise agreement with Israel.”
I personally think that is a disgusting thing to say. Israel would never let someone like Barghouti free, a person, as it says above, who killed that many people. If Israel where to ever do that, I would have lost faith in the justice system of Israel. Vilan continues his argument by stating that:
“…Israeli leaders should be conducting intensive negotiations for the release and return home of our prisoners. Even if the price is as high this time as on previous occasions when prisoners with blood on their hands were released…”
I am sure you can see after reading this why Vilan is part of the Meretz Party and a founding member of the Peace Now movement. What he is saying, if it were to be put in practice in the present situation is that terrorism works and yes we will give in to your demands.
Now in contrast to this, on the other side of the political spectrum, you have Effie Eitam who is a Knesset member of the National Union party. He starts off his response by posing a question to the reader:
“As negotiations for the release of Gilad Shalit, the Israeli soldier held by Hamas since June 2006, progress, two questions arise: Should Israel free terrorists with blood on their hands? Should it ease the definition of blood on the hands to close a deal?”
His answer to this, and also incidentally mine is as well, is a no. Eitam explains this by stating that:
“The aim of terror is not only to kill people, but ultimately to destroy the machinery of statehood. And when, through extortion, terrorists succeed in freeing hundreds of people convicted of murder, they render the state’s judicial system meaningless. If Israel were to free someone like Marwan Barghouti, the Fatah leader sentenced to five terms of life imprisonment, the message would be that there is no longer a system of justice in the country.”
This ties in directly with what I was trying to say earlier. Give in to terror and you should only expect more terror. As well as this, freeing criminals like Barghouti starts to change the definition of the word murderer. If Barghouti can walk free because of a deal, why shouldn’t criminals with ‘less’ or even ‘more’ blood on their hands not walk free as well? Eitam also addresses this important point.
“Worse: If the government were to change the “blood on the hands” definition, in other words give formal imprimatur to the assertion that murder is not murder but something else, it would eat away not only at the system of justice, but at the country’s moral core. We would not only be freeing murderers, which is bad enough, but the murderers would no longer be murderers. And that kind of ethical haziness constitutes an even higher degree of moral corruption.“
No state should sacrifice its morals on the basis of freeing three of their own soldiers, which as I have repeatedly said before only encourages more kidnappings as a tactic. For me, when countries start to engage in negotiations like that, especially with prisoners with blood on their hands, I start to lose all respect for their sense of justice and responsibility. However, there is an even bigger problem that revolves around Israel’s security, besides the obvious of setting terrorists free, Eitam explains:
“If this is indeed what happens, there could be immediate consequences in the field. Many of the soldiers sent to capture terrorist killers won’t be prepared to take the risks involved. They will say to themselves, “If those murderers are going to be freed anyway, why should we endanger our lives to capture them?” The result will be a significant erosion of morale.”
Imagine that, Israeli soldiers refusing to carry out operations because of a lack of faith of the government. How would Israeli society react to something like that? Worse still, a situation like that can quickly get out of control. The IDF is already suffering from a 25% draft-dodging rate, how could its own morale survive if IDF soldiers are refusing to carry out their missions? As Eitam correctly points out, cold-blooded though it may sound:
“We have great respect for Gilad Shalit and his life. But in a very profound way, the moral issues involved are more important.”
He continues by saying that:
That does not mean that we abandon soldiers in the field. On the contrary. But instead of negotiating with the other side and bowing to its dictates, we should be doing all we can to pressure Hamas to release our soldier. For example, we should warn Hamas that unless they release Shalit, we will kill Ismail Haniyeh and the rest of the Hamas leadership and turn off the supply of water and electricity to Gaza, not for eight hours, but for good. Then perhaps they would come to their senses and free Shalit.
That is the sort of rhetoric that needs to be applied against Hamas and organisations like Hezbollah. Anything less is meaningless for these people. All they seem to understand is violence. Personally if violence is what they want, then violence is what they will get. Hamas can end the situation they are in very easily, release the Shalit, stop launching rockets into Israel. Just by fulfilling those two wishes they would be able to start the first step in the peace process with Israel. I don’t know why there is talk about hostage negotiation in the first place with Hamas, especially after seeing what they are capable of. Eitam continues with his point:
“So far we have done nothing to make them think that holding Shalit is too costly, and it would be better to let him go…Even assuming we were to take out the Hamas leadership and in revenge they killed Shalit, the end result would by this: They would abandon the practice of abducting soldiers because it would be so clearly not worth their while. They would know that holding an Israeli soldier exacts an intolerable price, and brings no reward.”
And this is where the hammer falls. The last nail into Vilan’s argument has banged in. By refusing to give into demands and by destroying the Hamas leadership, Hamas would have no benefit in this tactic of kidnapping Israeli soldiers. Terrorist organisations go by the philosophy of sticking with whatever works to get their demands and as Eitam has said, so far they have no reason to not keep kidnapping Israeli soldiers and lobbing rockets at Israeli civilians.