Reports of significant progress toward a deal for exchanging Gilad Shalit for hundreds of Palestinian prisoners have multiplied recently. All these reports, however, come from foreign sources whose credibility is uncertain. Israelis have received only the slightest of hints from the local media. Behind the delicate term "blackout" stands some serious censorship.

Perhaps it is best to conduct the negotiations, especially in their final stages, in secret to prevent the chorus of naysayers from paralyzing the government and halting a deal. But the details that have leaked out and the vigorous rumor mill surrounding the issue keep that scenario from happening, and the potential damage caused by secrecy is great.

In any case, it seems that a large majority of Israelis - if not cabinet members - are willing, three and a half years after Shalit's capture, to set free even the most heinous of murderers to end Shalit's suffering.

Precisely for this reason it is unclear why Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Defense Minister Ehud Barak and the few other ministers privy to the details refrain from disclosing the data without which public debate on the subject is pointless. The information is likely to be made public shortly, perhaps even during the two days when petitions against the exchange may be submitted to the High Court of Justice.

One can understand censoring intelligence, planning and the operational details of a military action to secure the release of a kidnap victim. And the censorship of news items based on intelligence reports should not be condemned. But it's difficult to accept comprehensive censorship whose purpose - or at least its result - is to influence the public's position on a deal.

Maybe Hamas favors excessive censorship. Maybe the German mediator requested the blackout; he seeks to achieve a specific goal and has no responsibility for the larger context of punishing murderers, deterring future abductions and allaying fears that the released prisoners will resume their terror activities.

The Israeli public carries a burden and responsibility. It must not settle for faits accompli. It must hear, know and make a considered decision before action is taken.