Friday, October 21, 2011

Kushner - From Israel: Implications

Arlene Kushner
Arlene from Israel
21 October '11

A familiar but necessary refrain of mine: Shabbat is early and time for this posting is limited. But I -- along with many others! -- carry the consequences of the Shalit trade heavily on my heart. There are things that must be said, with continuation as necessary after Shabbat.

As it is, there are those outside of Israel who are still celebrating the holiday and will not see this until after Shabbat in any event.


There is no one, but no one, who is not glad to see Gilad alive and free. That is, as an issue separate from how his freedom was achieved. He came out in much better shape than had been expected -- which makes it clear not that Hamas has become humanitarian, but that they understood his worth to them in a trade. He has handled himself with intelligence, including in the horrendous interview to which he was subjected in Egypt.

May he heal in soul and body, and go on to live a meaningful and full life. He should never be begrudged this, now that he is out.


My empathy for his parents, however, and in particular his father, Noam Shalit, is considerably less. Not that I am without understanding of his pain, and his longing for his son to return. But, rather, that I am uneasy with how Noam conducted himself these last five years. There are those who say that he did what a father had to do -- this was his job: to make as much noise as possible to help bring his son home.

And I say no. It was not his job to try to influence the prime minister and the entire government with regard to a trade. It was not his place to push the decision-makers of Israel to make the decision they finally did, nor to generate grassroots opinion that would pressure the government. More than once, he suggested publicly that it was the prime minister's "fault" that his son was not home yet -- that if only Netanyahu would agree to the trade Hamas was demanding, all would be well (for the Shalit family, that is).

Quite simply, Noam Shalit's concern was only his son. Fine and good. However, it is the business of the government to be concerned with the wellbeing of all its citizens! And the decision that was made is most decidedly not in the best interests of the Israeli citizenry.


Andrew Friedman, the JPost's new opinion editor, in a piece on Wednesday, addressed this very point:

" [is]...worthwhile to consider the family’s campaign to win their son’s release, and to compare it to other hostage situations.

"From the beginning of the crisis, Noam and Aviva Schalit focused their campaign on the Israeli government, demanding the government bow to Hamas’s demands, rather than demanding on the international stage that their son be afforded the basic human rights afforded all other prisoners-of-war.

"...instead of enlisting the international community to demand Geneva Convention rights like Red Cross visits and a sign of life from the hostage, the Schalits demanded that Israel release terrorists. Instead of demanding that organizations like Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch throw the full weight of their influence behind Gilad’s case, the Schalits demonized successive Israeli governments for 'failing' to secure a deal.

"Compare the Schalits’ campaign to that of Avital Sharansky, who pounded Western capitals for nine years to win the freedom of her husband, Natan, from the Soviet Union, but would never have even raised the specter of a 1,027-to-one deal with president Ronald Reagan or British prime minister Margaret Thatcher...

"...In the current instance, one would have expected Noam and Aviva Schalit to have made themselves frequent visitors to Washington, London and Brussels, and especially to Ankara and Oslo, both of which maintain close ties with Hamas and consider the Islamist organization a legitimate player in the Middle East political game, in order to win Gilad’s release.


Other points Friedman makes include these:

[] "There is no proof to support the claim made by supporters of lopsided hostage deals that motivation to serve in the IDF goes down when soldiers are held captive...

"But there is anecdotal evidence that combat solders now question the wisdom of putting their lives on the line in order to arrest suspects in hornet nests like Jenin and Hebron..."

[] "Supporters of the deal...have praised...Netanyahu for his 'brave leadership' by agreeing to violate his stated principles in order to conclude the deal. But the opposite would seem to be the correct analysis of the prime minister's behavior. As a young man, pre-politics, and later as a member of the opposition, Netanyahu spelled out clear stances about prisoner swaps...As prime minister, he has about faced on all these issues..."


I think most important of all is Friedman's comment that:

"It is time now to initiate a full pubic discussion into Israel's policy of terrorists-for-hostages swaps and to publish the 2009 Shamgar Commission findings and to legislate a clear policy to guide future hostage crises... (Emphasis added)

Now that the Schalit hostage crisis is over, the Shamgar Commission should release its findings immediately..."


I could not agree more and I will return to this. It is time to establish guidelines that are publicly known before the fact of another abduction -- not secret guidelines that only the government may be aware of and may not be bound by. Hamas and similar groups need to know that "anything goes" policies by Israeli governments are a thing of the past, and that these governments are bound by restrictions in terms of what can be negotiated.

As Friedman wrote:

"...hostage crises require nerves of steel and a keen eye on the future.

"Decisions, especially in situation of life-and-death, must be made as the result of cold, calculated reasoning. Allowing emotions to overtake rational thinking is a recipe for disaster." (Emphasis added)


The Shamgar Commission was a special committee headed by former chief justice Meir Shamgar and including Professor Asa Kasher and retired general Amos Yaron, which was established at the order of Defense Minister Ehud Barak. It was mandated with establishing recommendations for guidelines for future prisoner exchanges.
Those recommendations were drawn up, but were never ratified by the Cabinet and have been kept secret.

According to Ha'aretz:

"The Shamgar expected to update its report to reflect lessons learned from the deal to free Gilad Shalit. According to an anonymous military source the panel will meet in the next two weeks with special envoy David Meidan and other figures involved in reaching the agreement with Hamas, before submitting its report to Defense Minister Ehud Barak."

Now is the time for a huge amount of noise on this.


For the record, I know of IDF soldiers with great courage and wisdom who have told their parents that, should they be abducted, they would not want to be traded for terrorists.

And here (with thanks to reader Michael P.) is an article that talks about the adamant opposition of Yonah Baumel to the precedent-establishing Jibril deal of 1985, in which over a thousand terrorists were traded for three Israeli soldiers captured in the first Lebanon War, even though his own son, Zack Baumel was held in captivity.,2771?sub_id=2771&print=1


Jonathan Rosen has written an article about the need to institute the death penalty for terrorists in the most extreme cases. He makes some significant points.

Says Rosen:

"The risks [of releasing terrorists] are all very real and, regrettably, are likely to have a personal and painful impact on Israeli individuals in the future, either in the form of violent attacks or kidnappings.

"Beyond that, however, another danger lurks beneath the surface, a danger that is posed to Israeli society as a whole and which threatens its democratic and law abiding nature.

"It should be eminently clear that a recurring decision by the political echelon to circumvent due legal process and to grant clemency to murderers and other convicted terrorists will necessarily produce a loss of public faith in the justice system, which is a pillar of democratic society." (Emphasis added)

"...repeated political intervention in the legal system -- and that is precisely what a government decision to grant clemency en mass in a prisoner exchange deal is -- renders the legal process a farce...the more frequently it recurs, the more inescapable it becomes to all the parties involved...that they are participating in a farce."


With this, my prayers to one and all for a peaceful Shabbat and for wisdom in the days to come.


© Arlene Kushner. This material is produced by Arlene Kushner, functioning as an independent journalist. Permission is granted for it to be reproduced only with proper attribution.

See my website at Contact Arlene at

If you enjoy "Love of the Land", please be a subscriber. Just put your email address in the "Subscribe" box on the upper right-hand corner of the page.


  1. Everyone knows that this prisoner exchange will almost certainly have devastating consequences for the Israeli public. Just like everyone knew that the Oslo Accords were a mistake of Biblical proportions, just like everyone knew that the Barak abandonment of the Lebanon security zone would lead to war, and just like everyone knew the Sharon Disengagement would end in an ongoing tragedy, everyone knows that the Schalit prisoner exchange is a time bomb waiting to explode.
    There is a limit to how many bad decisions any government can make and inflict on itself and it's citizenry serious and deadly consequences.
    Everyone knows that the Israeli public will pay a very high price in blood for the Schalit exchange.
    We can only hope and pray that the price will not be unbearable.
    God help us!

  2. Let's be honest. These prisoner/hostage situations are like poker games in that the the endgame often hangs upon a side's ability to read the psychology of the other.

    Hamas did a world-class championship job of reading the Israel matzav: a free-wheeling democracy in which public opinion is more important than anything else.

    Israelis do a mediocre job of reading the mind of the other side. A lot of Israelis think they're up against the Taliban. But actually, the Shalit deal happened in good part because the PALESTINIAN public was demanding their own sons back. IT's a very tribal society.

    So it is fitting that Israel act in that context.

    The proper way to put pressure on the Palestinian public is as follows: When a terrorist is captured after doing a capital crime, he should be sentenced to death... then put into cold-storage.

    When Hamas succeeds to kidnap the next soldier, that is when the terrorists should be executed.... one per day, in public, with front-row seats reserved for the Al Jazeera cameras.

    The attention span of the Palestinians is short. There needs to be an IMMEDIATE connection between kidnap-an-Israeli and Palestinian sons getting shot on a stage in front of cameras.