Gilad, Amir and Marla

by Brian on December 2, 2009

in A Parent in Israel,In the News,Living Through Terror,Only in Israel

With negotiations heating up over the release of Gilad Shalit in exchange for up to 1,000 hardened Palestinian prisoners, debate on the merits of the deal have been all over the news for days, as well as in discussions within our own family.

Two recent events have made it particularly personal.

The crux of the issue is, of course, over whether it is incumbent on the Jewish state to strive tirelessly to save any captive taken in war – a promise that the army makes to its soldiers and to which that the Shalit family has been campaigning these past three years – or whether the greater good outweighs the needs of the individual where, in this case, releasing prisoners may potentially lead to the death of tens if not hundreds of Israelis if those Palestinians return to terrorist activities.

This heartbreaking question represents a classic moral dilemma and one that was vividly portrayed on the TV series MASH. In the show, a group of South Korean refugees is hiding in a bus in the vicinity of enemy soldiers. In that group, a mother holds a crying baby. It is clear that if the baby does not stop bawling, the enemy will hear. The hide out will be exposed and all the refugees will be killed.

Does the mother smother her baby in order to save the others?

When this question is put out to test groups, about 50% of the respondents say they would kill the baby to save the group. But when the question is phrased differently – would you kill your own baby? – the number of yes’s drops precipitously. (In the MASH episode, the mother does kill her baby.)

The argument for not killing the baby is that you don’t know absolutely for certain that the enemy soldiers will find you. Perhaps a bomb will explode outside the hiding place and the soldiers will all die or flee. Calculating the odds is a zero-sum game that no parent, or any human being for that matter, should ever have to play.

The same is true for Gilad Shalit. We don’t know that the terrorists released will 100% for sure return to terrorism that will lead to more deaths. We do know, however, that if a deal is cut, Gilad Shalit will be set free. Is it worth it?

Danny Gordis, writing in The New York Times last week, says that releasing Shalit “makes no strategic sense.” But, he goes on, “with the conflict likely to persist, and with our sons and daughters asked to make extraordinary sacrifices to keep us safe, they need to know that we are no less devoted to them than they are to us.”

Now here’s where it gets personal.

Last week, our son Amir joined the army. He is now in the position to be kidnapped as a soldier, just like Gilad Shalit. Were we in Shalit’s parents’ shoes, wouldn’t we act in exactly the same way, doing anything to free our child?

On the flip side, among the terrorists slated to be freed is the mastermind behind the bombing of the cafeteria at Hebrew University in 2002 where our cousin Marla was killed. What kind of justice is there when the murderers of young 22-year-old Jewish studies student can now walk around free and plot similar atrocities? What will stop such a terrorist from killing again?

These are not easy decisions. They are ones that we wish we as a nation didn’t have to make. I’m not going to attempt here to take a stand. There are plenty of other pundits who have articulated the positions better and more vociferously than I could on the relatively small stage of this blog.

Ultimately, it is up to our elected officials to make the call. And they seem intent on cutting a deal. Right or wrong, that’s the nature of democracy and it’s the backbone behind our return to this land. Without it, we might have no Gilad Shalits. But we would also have no country. And that’s a calculation I can live with.

This article appeared last week on the Israelity blog.

{ 2 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Pamela Monheimer January 20, 2010 at 8:30 pm

Hello Brian,

I met your wife Jody in the Peace Park this morning. We chatted and she was intrigued by my husband Paul’s Fulbright grant as he is doing research with the Israeli Ministry of Education. I have spent the last 30 minutes reading you blog… and will probably continue doing so for a while. I wanted to send her my blog as well (though it’s not as professional as yours, it is certainly a fun vacation blog and an Oregonians point of view).

Thanks for making your blog public,

2 Steve Silberman October 31, 2011 at 12:02 pm

In today’s paper (Oct 31, 2011), there’s an article about several hundred reservists who signed a form asking the army not to release terrorists in exchange for their release if any of the reservists are kidnapped.

According to the report, the form was not sponsored by the army. It was initiated by a young religious zionists organization.

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