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It would seem there is not a person in Israel who is not expecting, hoping and praying for Gilad Shalit's return home. But anyone with even a minimal sense of responsibility cannot avoid asking what the price of total surrender to Hamas extortion would be.

One's heart is torn between, on one hand, profound identification with Noam and Aviva Shalit and the terrible suffering that is their lot, and on the other, revulsion, anger and disgust at the media circus and the hysterical, demagogic, populist and unrestrained propaganda campaign that is raging around them. Nevertheless, it is the duty of every citizen to carefully consider the price of submission.

If the State of Israel does agree to release all or nearly all of the 450 terrorists on Hamas' list - that is, to accede to all the organization's demands and pay it everything it wants - then this is an intolerable price. And it is very important to make this clear now, so that no one will be able to say after the fact, after we have felt on our own flesh the dreadful results of the disgraceful surrender, that we did not know it would turn out this way.

The problem is not the price inherent in the very fact of releasing murderous terrorists - namely, that it will strengthen Hamas; erode Israel's deterrent capability; undermine our sense of justice and the feelings of hundreds of bereaved parents, widows and orphans who were victims of terror; risk fomenting a new wave of terror; and severely undermine the war on terror and those conducting it. We will have to pay this steep price in any case, and it is already clear that Israel is prepared, rightly or wrongly, to pay it. But there is still a tremendous difference between the release of hundreds of terrorists and total surrender to Hamas' dictates.

Calls to pay "any price" and claims that "there is no difference between 350 terrorists and 450 terrorists" are immeasurably outrageous, foolish and dangerous. There is a difference between releasing terrorists who have spent the best years of their lives in an Israeli prison and releasing planners of horrendous terror attacks after they have served only two or three years in prison.

But the price inherent in accepting Hamas' dictate is far higher than prisoner release alone. This is a price in the realm of morale and psychology, stemming from the message that utter capitulation would send to Hamas and other terror organizations, to Iran, to the Palestinians and to Arabs throughout the region. The message is that this nation is vulnerable to any extortion, that it has succumbed to weakness of mind and spirit and has lost its stamina. Such a surrender would immeasurably magnify the power of Hamas, a murderous terror organization that wants to eradicate us, and it would bring in its wake a wave of abductions - if not in Israel, then abroad. Surrender to all Hamas' demands would push Israel onto a slippery slope whose bottom does not bear contemplation.

I am incapable of understanding whence people derive the moral right to free one captive soldier at the nearly certain future price of the lives of dozens, if not hundreds, of civilians - elderly people, women and children. Or where they get the moral right to laugh in the faces of the Shin Bet security service and Israel Defense Forces fighters who risk their lives daily in order to capture these murderers. If a reasonable deal is struck, the public will support it. But if not, it is necessary to tell the prime minister, who alone is standing in the breach: Do not surrender!