Tuesday, March 17, 2009

What would Kafka do?

Tuesday - Two funerals & a prisoner exchange


Both Jewish law and rational analysis should instruct Israel's cabinet to conclude that this country must under no circumstances release hundreds upon hundreds of murderous Palestinian prisoners as ransom for our captive soldier Gilad Schalit.

Yet, just as soft-hearted Diaspora sages of old tended to interpret Halacha creatively to enable ransoms to be paid when, prima facie, religious strictures demanded the opposite, so too, contemporary Israeli politicians, generals and spymasters are leaning toward jettisoning the no-nonsense strictures of security in order to reunite Noam and Aviva Schalit with their son Gilad.

NO PARENT of a soldier, or of a child about to enter the army, would find fault with how the Schalit family has mobilized public support for the unconditional release of over 1,000 prisoners, including the most dangerous killers incarcerated in Israel's maximum security penitentiaries, in return for their son. The Schalits have a right - nay, an obligation - to put Gilad first. Few of us can truly feel their anguish, even as Hamas refuses to confirm that their son is alive.

His torments are the last, upsetting thoughts they have before each night of fitful sleep; and they are surely the thoughts with which they arise to face yet another day of pain and uncertainty.

Gilad's parents are admirably fulfilling their role as his truest advocates. We cannot say, however, that our politicians, generals and spymasters are performing their fiduciary responsibilities equally.

The Schalits have every right to allow emotion to govern their actions. But those charged with protecting the national interest must be guided by other considerations.

AS THE cabinet meets today, the hunt is on for the Palestinians who shot dead at close range two traffic policemen Sunday night near Maswa in the Jordan Valley. David Rabinowitz, 42, and Yehezkel Ramzarker, 50, apparently stopped their patrol vehicle to assist what they thought was a motorist in distress.

Writing - before Sunday's attack - in support of an unconditional surrender to Hamas's prisoner-exchange demands, A.B. Yehoshua appealed "to the bereaved families who lost their loved ones in the terror attacks committed by some of the prisoners who may be released: Don't think only of revenge, think rather of the future of Israeli-Palestinian coexistence, which will last forever."

One might expect the Ramzarker and Rabinowitz families, as they sit shiva, to be dwelling not on revenge but on this Kafkaesque scenario: that the yet-to-be-captured killers of their loved ones will one day be released in some future, lopsided prisoner exchange.

MOST OF the men and women Hamas wants freed may not kill again directly; but these masters of the craft will mentor and inspire the next generation that will menace café-goers, bus riders, children in pizza shops, teens at Tel Aviv discos, participants in hotel Seders and motorists driving down lonely roads at night.

Untold numbers of Israeli high-schoolers yet to be conscripted may one day be called upon to undo the damage caused by the "Gilad Schalit prisoner release of 2009" - to seek out the terror chiefs again, and protect us against their evil - just as their older classmates have had to stand ready to reverse the damage of every previous asymmetrical trade, from the Jibril deal in 1985 to the Regev and Goldwasser exchange in 2008.

Granted, the terror war against the Jewish state will continue regardless of whether Israel does a prisoner deal or not. And yet setting these incarcerated exemplars of Islamist values free would doubtless provide an immense boost to enemy morale; for, paradoxically, in Palestinian mythology shahids have a "future," while those taken alive and sentenced to rot in Israeli prisons are monuments to the futility of waging war on the Zionist enterprise - provided, that is, that they are kept in those prisons, with the possibility of their release arising only when the Palestinians make real peace with the Jewish people.

WHILE THE Schalits' campaign and the Olmert-Livni government fumbles, Prime Minister-designate Binyamin Netanyahu's deafening silence is sending a message of acquiescence.

Yet however the Schalit dilemma pans out, Israel must, at the very least, consider declaring a new, irrevocable and sacrosanct policy: There will be no more lopsided prisoner exchanges with terrorist organizations.

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