Part of the same price
Releasing prisoners in a deal that will return an abducted and imprisoned soldier is not a separate matter. It is all part of the same price, a price that should have been paid a long time ago.
Once again, promises are being made in the media regarding "progress toward a deal for Gilad Shalit" and once again objections to a deal are being voiced - either by army personnel like Colonel Herzl Halevy, who stated "the entire infrastructure of the Islamic Jihad was made up of prisoners released in the Tennenbaum deal... and we have to know what we are headed for if there is a deal for Shalit" (Maariv, September 4); or by ideologues, like Israel Harel, in his opinion piece "The emotional blackmail returns" (Haaretz, September 10).
What constituted "emotional extortion" according to Harel was the recent publication of the letter written by Shalit describing his distress. To Harel's way of thinking, this is absolutely contradictory to both the "rational" analysis made by the military man, who said "a few suicide terrorists left [Jenin] and 40 Israeli civilians were killed," and that of the ideologue, who believes that if the family "were to choose the national interest over the private one, that will anyway only benefit Gilad."
It is ostensibly clear, therefore, that the release of Palestinian prisoners is tantamount to surrendering to Hamas and is a security hazard, and so runs counter to the national interest, whereas freeing prisoners in exchange for the release of one soldier is a private interest. It is also ostensibly clear that there is a contradiction between the national interest and the private interest. By this logic, the private interest must certainly give way to the national interest. But is this really the way things go?
If we take an objective look at the "national interest" arguments, and the fear that freed prisoners will become the pillars of terrorist organizations, we shall see that in any case the fact that they are being released is not an assurance that they will live forever. Israel has shown that it can eliminate or neutralize Palestinians whom it has released from prison, when it deems this necessary.
As for the claim that the release would constitute a surrender to Hamas, it can be argued that the organization's success in keeping an Israeli soldier captive and negotiating over him for over three years can also be seen as a victory. It is apparent, therefore, that there is no national benefit in leaving the situation the way it is.
Taking an objective look at what are perceived as "private interests," it is common wisdom that the contract between the state and its young people who go into battle, as well as their parents, provides that everything will be done to bring them back. Less has been said about this being part of what still makes it possible for young people to face the horrors of combat and put their lives on the line. Does anyone doubt that if that contract is altered, soldiers will find it harder to go into battle, or that their parents will be less motivated to send them? Is this a private interest, or a supreme national interest?
Soldiers doing compulsory service are not volunteers but conscripts. They are not independent factors, but are at the disposal of the army and the state. They have no free choice, and must obey the orders they are given. They do not volunteer to sacrifice their lives, and when they are taken prisoner the state cannot abandon those for whom it is absolutely responsible.
Israel pays a high price for its security. It sacrifices the lives of many people; marvelous civilians and soldiers have fallen on the altar of the security of the state. The state pays large amounts of money to the many who have been wounded and remain disabled. This is all part of the price we pay to fight for our homes and our lives. Releasing prisoners in a deal that will return an abducted and imprisoned soldier is not a separate matter. It is all part of the same price, a price that should have been paid a long time ago.