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Anyone who reads the interview with Noam Shalit in Haaretz today, or who has heard him speaking recently in other media, will find no decency or compassion in the government's behavior. As described by Shalit, a lawyer and accountant somehow morphed together and became our prime minister.

Shalit says he does not feel that anyone in the cabinet is agonizing over his suffering. This should resonate loudly. He said the prime minister told him that "he had no contract that obligates him to release any citizen from captivity," referring to Noam's son, the abducted soldier Gilad Shalit. This too evokes grave thoughts.

The evasive response of the prime minister's bureau - "We have no desire or intention to get into a public confrontation on this matter" - does not exempt the prime minister from the responsibility not only to bring Shalit home, but to treat his anxious parents properly.

For what is that argument about not releasing prisoners with blood on their hands? Hasn't Israel released prisoners in the past who have killed people? Are the 11,000-odd Palestinian prisoners incarcerated in Israel such a national asset that we cannot let even some of them go to satisfy Shalit's abductors? Is the revenge and punishment involved in locking up terrorists equal in value to releasing an abducted soldier?

And what about the argument that the freed prisoners would resume their terrorist activity? Hasn't reality in the territories produced - and is producing daily - enough terrorists, criminals and murderers without requiring the services of the jailed prisoners? And after arresting hundreds of thousands of Palestinians over 40 years of occupation, would Israel have any difficulty in filling the quota of prisoners who would be released in exchange for Shalit?

Israel, having preferred, justifiably, to try out the cease-fire with Hamas rather than embark on a military operation, is now attempting to bite off more than it can chew. It is linking the cease-fire and opening the Rafah crossing to Gilad Shalit's release. Two for the price of one, as though it were a special offer in a supermarket chain.

This approach may be suitable for gamblers, who are willing to pay the price of a failed negotiation, but not for a state that has learned a bitter lesson in POW exchanges. A state that knows the price of a POW, dead or alive; a state that knows that the public does not forget the prisoners.

In spite of this, during the two years since Shalit - whom every Israeli family has come to regard as its own son - was taken prisoner, the government has offered a variety of excuses, forgetting the heart of the matter. A state's prestige is not measured only by its military ability to deal with a terror organization or enemy state, and its might is not measured merely by its deterrent ability. It leans on the public's confidence in its fairness, its ability to act compassionately and its willingness to pay a high price, as its citizens are required to.

The Israeli government's reasons for preventing the Shalit deal don't hold water, and it would do well to set aside the futile arguments it is clinging to. Gilad Shalit must come home. He is the national asset, not the Palestinian prisoners.