By: Morton A. Klein
October 12, 2011
ZOA Concerned About Dangerous Consequences Of Israel Freeing Hundreds Of Terrorists
Yet Thrilled for Shalit Family
The Zionist Organization of America (ZOA) has expressed deep concern about the dangerous consequences of the Israeli government’s decision to free 1,027 Palestinian prisoners, including hundreds of convicted terrorists, in exchange for kidnapped Israeli serviceman, Gilad Shalit. Shalit was kidnapped by the terrorist organization Hamas from an Israeli army base in 2006 and has since been held captive in Hamas-controlled Gaza. The ZOA has long argued that freeing jailed terrorists in exchange for kidnapped Israelis rewards terrorists; allows terrorists to go undeterred at the prospect of long prison sentences when experience confirms that they have good chance of being released early; boosts the standing and morale of the most extreme Palestinian terrorist groups; encourages further kidnapping of Israelis and, most importantly, will result in the murder of additional Israelis by terrorists freed under such deals. Among the Israeli cabinet ministers who voted against the deal is Moshe Yaalon, former Israel Defense Forces (IDF) Chief of Staff and current Deputy Prime Minister.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu wrote in his 1995 book, Fighting Terrorism: How the West Can Defeat Domestic and International Terrorism that exchanging terrorists for kidnapped soldiers is “a mistake Israel made over and over again” and that refusing to release terrorists from prison was “among the most important policies that must be adopted in the face of terrorism … The release of convicted terrorists before they have served their full sentences seems like an easy and tempting way of defusing blackmail situations in which innocent people might lose their lives, but its utility is momentary at best … Prisoner releases only embolden terrorists by giving them the feeling that even if they are caught, their punishment will be brief. Worse, by leading terrorists to believe that their demands will be met, they encourage precisely the terrorist blackmail they are supposed to defuse” (Quoted in Gil Hoffman, ‘In book, PM warned not to release terrorists,’ Jerusalem Post, October 12, 2011).
More specifically, when the previous Olmert government also concluded a deal that involved freeing jailed terrorists, then-Opposition leader Netanyahu rightly said that, “This weakens Israel and strengthens the terror elements. Most of the public – a huge part of the public – understands that this is faulty and reflects weakness and loss of way” (Amnon Meranda, ‘Netanyahu: Gov’t crossing dangerous line by freeing prisoners,’ Yediot Achronot, August 20, 2008).
Freeing terrorists causes additional murders of Israeli civilians. The Almagor Terrorist Victims Association (ATVA) disclosed in April 2007 that 177 Israelis killed in terror attacks in the previous five years had been killed by terrorists who had been previously freed from Israeli jails. An earlier ATVA report showed that 123 Israelis had been murdered by terrorists freed during the period 1993-99. Also, in September 2009, IDF Colonel Herzl Halevy told the Maariv newspaper that terrorists freed in the 2004 swap with Hezbollah comprised “the entire infrastructure of Islamic Jihad” in subsequent years, during which Islamic Jihad bombings killed at least 37 Israelis. Also, journalist Yitzhak Tessler has noted that, “former Mossad Chief Meir Dagan admitted that the terrorists released in the Elhanan Tenenbaum [prisoner exchange] deal caused the death of 231 Israelis” (Yitzhak Tessler, ‘Shalit deal wrong move,’ Yediot Ahronot, October 10, 2011).
Tzvi Goren, who lost his mother in a Jerusalem 2008 terrorist attack, said, “I oppose this deal, because the terrorists returned to terror activity.” One of the terrorists to be released is Ahlam Tamimi, the first woman to join Hamas and who drove the suicide bomber who carried out the attack on the Sbarro pizzeria in August 2001. Also included in the deal is Amna Muna, who, in January 2001, lured Ofir Rachum to Ramallah, where he was shot to death by terrorists.
Hamas terrorist leader Khaled Meshaal has boasted of the deal that, “This is a national achievement for the Palestinian people, we tried to include all Palestinian detainees in the Israeli jails, and we promise the rest of the Palestinian detainees to liberate them.” Meshaal also said that, “Those released will return to armed struggle. It is a great national achievement.”
Israeli journalist Evelyn Gordon has incisively noted in her definitive article on the subject in the May 2010 issue of Commentary, “In May 1985, Israel traded 1,150 terrorists for three captive soldiers in what became known as the Jibril exchange. The freed Palestinians included mass murderers and other heavyweights like Ahmed Yassin, who later founded Hamas. Deadly consequences swiftly ensued: the freed terrorists formed the backbone of the first intifada, which erupted in December 1987. A traumatized Israel vowed never again to make such a deal, and for almost 20 years it did not: it released thousands of Palestinian prisoners to bolster the peace process, but not as ransom payments … I have seen figures ranging from 13 percent to 80 percent for the proportion of freed terrorists who return to terror. [Regarding the December 2009 murder of Rabbi Meir Avshalom Chai, the father of seven] of his three killers, one was a recently freed prisoner and another a wanted man to whom Israel had granted amnesty under a deal with the PA. The day after this emerged, two Haaretz reporters who had previously supported the Shalit deal (albeit unenthusiastically) published a sobering reflection: ‘That former terrorists should take up arms after their release should give Israel pause ahead of the expected release of more than 1,000 other prisoners, many of them former terrorists, in exchange for Gilad Shalit.’”
Of such prisoner release deals in general, Gordon argues that, “First, by proving that terror pays, such deals encourage terrorism in general, and more abductions in particular. Second, they undermine prospects for peace by proving that violence wins more concessions from Israel than do negotiations. Though Israel has often released prisoners to the Palestinian Authority as a goodwill gesture during talks, the scale of these releases (aside from the thousands freed under the 1993 Oslo Accords) has always been far more modest than what Israel is offering for Shalit – and never, despite repeated pleas from the Palestinians, have they included serial killers. Third, many freed prisoners would certainly resume terrorist activity, resulting in many more dead Israelis, as has happened after every previous deal. And finally, such lopsided deals project an image of weakness, reinforcing a growing Arab conviction that Israeli society is no stronger than a “spider web,” as Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah has said. It would thereby encourage the Arabs to believe that through continued pressure, they can achieve their decades-long dream of eradicating the Jewish state … In December , the veteran journalist Amir Oren published a column in Haaretz entitled ‘The Weakest Tribe,’ in which he argued that the Middle East is still a tribal region where being the strongest tribe matters. Instead, Israel ‘is acting like the weakest tribe in the region, thereby inviting threats.’ And ‘the most depressing manifestation of Israel’s weakness is the Gilad Shalit deal’” (Evelyn Gordon, ‘Ransoming Gilad Shalit,’ Commentary, May 2010).
Yediot Ahronot journalist Yitzhak Tessler adds, “We are now dealing with a terrible, fateful moment where government members must internalize the rule articulated by ‘Baal HaTanya,’ Shneur Zalman of Liadi – the mind rules the heart. That is, on this sensitive and painful issue, the mind should overcome emotion, and we must therefore reject the Shalit deal.”
As the ZOA pointed out in December 2009 when precisely just such a prisoner release deal was being contemplated by the Netanyahu government, there is an important Jewish precedent which argues against freeing terrorists in order to secure the life of an innocent Jew. Rabbi Meir of Rothenberg (1215-1293), a preeminent Jewish sage and leader of Jewry in his day, was kidnapped and imprisoned by King Rudolf I in 1286. A large ransom of 23,000 marks silver was demanded by the authorities for his release. Rabbi Meir himself ruled against the payment by the Jewish community of any such ransom on the basis that, while the obligation of redeeming captives (pidyon shivuyim) is indeed an important Jewish commandment, no ransom should be paid for fear of encouraging the imprisonment of other rabbis and Jewish leaders. Rabbi Meir died in prison.
In the case of Gilad Shalit, the argument against ransoming him from Hamas terrorists is even more compelling than it was in Rabbi Meir’s case. In Rabbi Meir’s case, the main risk was encouraging more such kidnappings and ransoms. Here, as the ZOA has previously argued, the record shows that there is a significant percentage of released terrorists who have gone on to commit more murders and violence against Jews.
The appeals to put ourselves in the shoes of the families of the kidnapped are deeply moving and understandable, but cannot be the basis for our decisions. The duty of the state is to protect its citizens. It follows that the most important consideration must be preventing the loss of further innocent lives to terror.
If this dilemma was posed to any other government, it is hard to believe that they would accept the demands of terrorists and kidnappers. If a U.S. serviceman was kidnapped by terrorists in Afghanistan who demanded the release 100 terrorists from Guantanamo, would the U.S. government agree? Clearly, it would not.