A Question of the Bottom Line

The families of the kidnapped soldiers live with the belief that they could bring about the return of their sons. The only question is whether their strategy is beneficial or harmful to the bottom line.

The Book of Genesis describes one of the most wonderful stories involving two parties engaged in a bargaining session. In it, Abraham is negotiating with God over the fate of the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah. God reveals to Abraham his intention to destroy the cities, prompting Abraham to work up the courage and request a stay of execution.

Abraham's first arrow in his quiver is the claim, which he makes somewhat apologetically, that these cities may be inhabited by 50 righteous men. It turns out there is a partner for the negotiations, and the price drops accordingly. It is remarkable that Abraham ceases bargaining after God agrees to go back on his plan to destroy the cities on the condition that there are 10 righteous people.

"And he said: 'Oh, let not the Lord be angry, and I will speak yet but this once. Peradventure ten shall be found there.' And He said: 'I will not destroy it for the ten's sake.' And the Lord went His way, as soon as He had left off speaking to Abraham; and Abraham returned unto his place" (Genesis 18: 32-33).

Despite Abraham's earlier successes, the Lord's willingness to spare the cities, and the certainty that in Sodom there was at least one righteous man, Abraham decides the deal isn't worth it.

Maybe this is what is missing among the Goldwasser, Regev and Shalit families, because the bottom line is that it is certainly unfair that they in particular would determine the price of a prisoner-swap deal. But it is difficult to shake the sense of bitterness that arises from their willingness to pay any price for the return of their sons. It is an all-too-human willingness, but it is illogical.

Three families are demanding the State of Israel and the person leading it pay any price as long as they receive their loved ones in return. To that end, the Shalit family is willing to risk the cease-fire with Hamas, and the Goldwasser and Regev families refuse to recognize the difference between captive soldiers who are still alive and returning dead bodies, God forbid.

The lives of all three families and their set of priorities changed in one day, the day of the kidnappings. From that day on, the need of the individual superseded the need of the general good. Their struggle is being waged in public, in the backrooms, before the High Court, and on the streets. This is a war without borders. This is another painful battle, like the one waged by the Arad family, and the successful struggles of the Avitan, Avraham, and Sawaid families, who retrieved the bodies of their sons for the release of hundreds of security prisoners in a 2004 swap, along with businessman Elhanan Tennenbaum.

The State of Israel boasts an impressive record in returning its soldiers held captive by the enemy. It is hard to pinpoint the cause behind this. Is it the willingness to pay any price, or is it the wise management of prisoner exchanges? The bottom line, and there is indeed one, the Ron Arad tragedy notwithstanding, is that an overwhelming majority of captive soldiers are returned home, dead or alive, irrespective of the circumstances in which they were taken prisoner.

Israel pays a heavy price on each occasion, but this is still not enough to prevent doubts about the feasibility or amount of time needed to return our sons home. This is a reflection of the negotiations and their outcome, particularly in an age where that outcome is in plain view for all to see.

Perhaps the apparent public support of the demands raised by the Regev, Goldwasser and Shalit families to pay any price actually makes the return of the soldiers more difficult. Each statement they make to that effect, every line in a letter, every film that documents their nightmarish experience, every poll that indicates public support for their positions, could convince the other side to raise the price tag. It might convince them that it may not be a good idea to set a final price.

Perhaps it is the families that ought to be stingy, at least publicly, and allow the state to be generous, especially in the absence of any piece of information that indicates that any type of public pressure has affected the price tag the government has set for the soldiers' return.

The families of the kidnapped soldiers live with the belief that they could bring about the return of their sons. There is no stone they won't turn, no course of action they will be deterred from taking. Their sense of time is apocalyptic based on the reasoning that the health of their loved ones, perhaps their own well-being during the hellish negotiations, is only getting worse. Their obligation to their sons is unconditional. These are all fact. The only question is whether their strategy is beneficial or harmful to the bottom line.