Free Gilad

It is not the deal that will breed more terrorists, but reality itself.

It got lucky, this government. The three families with which it is dealing - Goldwasser, Regev and Shalit - are made of noble metal. They do not know how to create a scandal and are not cut out for pounding on the table. But people here, as we know, only begin to listen when you begin to yell.

I met Eldad Regev's brother by chance at a television studio. It was a long time ago. He spoke very nicely, with composure. When he was done, I said to him: If you continue in this measured, moderate tone, you won't get to see Eldad very soon. Ron Arad's family did not, either. To be too responsible is sometimes a form of irresponsibility. Later I thought that I should not have spoken.

Nearly two years have passed since the kidnappings, and it looks now like we will need to hold next year's Pesach seder, too, without Eldad, Ehud and Gilad. Their chairs will remain empty.

"Their release cannot come at any cost" is the determined refrain of official government spokesmen; but it is a false claim. Recently, some bereaved families were sent out to voice this claim in public; and so one mountain of pain collided with another. What an ugly tragedy. It is obvious, after all, that not at "any cost." Any civilized person, any rational human being, understands there is no such thing as "at any cost."

Let's assume, for one ridiculous moment, that Hezbollah made the release of the soldiers conditional on Israel's agreement to 156 civilian and military fatalities, or to having half the country terrorized by Katyusha rockets for 33 straight days. Such a condition might be met only if the Israeli government decided to enter an avoidable war in Lebanon for the purpose of a prisoner release that had no chance of happening in the first place; the government itself decided this, in its folly; it was not Nasrallah who decided it for us.

Indeed, "not at any cost" and "not under any condition," but the price would be very heavy; it is the foremost obligation of any state, and there is no choice but to pay it. And still, how could we release in return hundreds of Palestinian prisoners, leading to a surge of abductions? This, too, is a claim of little validity. Have not the members of Hamas tried recently to kidnap whomever they could grab, even though they were still holding Gilad Shalit? Will they not keep trying as long as their people are sitting in our prisons? A prisoner-exchange deal is not the incentive for future abductions; the thousands of prisoners and their hundreds of thousands of years of incarceration - that is the main incentive.

And another claim has been made against a high-cost deal: If we release dangerous prisoners, they will soon return to their evil ways and join the ranks of our haters and malefactors; this has happened before. It seems like a strong argument, but in fact it is very weak: Has there ever been a shortage of attackers?

After all, every day we kill, and not a day passes in which they do not suffer many fatalities, and the ranks are not dwindling, they refill immediately; and every one of the dead immediately finds more than one replacement. It is not the deal that will breed more terrorists, but reality itself - the reality of life and death; and so matters will continue, as long as the reality does not change in an essential way.

This week, a mother and her four children died. And the situation is explosive anyway, and requires precision - utmost precision in the sights of tanks and in the intentions of words, and there is no room for error in targeting or in reporting. In this case, too, there is reason to fear that the four small boys and girls will be replaced by four large terrorists, if not four hundred.

Our hands did not shed this blood. The people of Hamas are evil, the people of Gaza cooperate with them, and the mother is responsible for the deaths of the children, because she failed to play the part that the Israeli defense minister assigned to her - to drive the launchers of Qassam rockets out of her yard.

Even if I knew the address of Gilad Shalit's captors, I would not give it to the Israeli top commando unit, for fear of another disaster. I would instead send them the book "When the Shark and the Fish First Met," which Gilad wrote nine years ago. He was 11 at the time: how the sharks and the fish decided to live in peace, contrary to nature. But who are the sharks and who are the fish here? The roles keep switching.

But, since I have no other option, perhaps I will send this innocent book to the prime minister's bureau in Jerusalem. There is no point in further delay, and no justification for avoiding a decision. After 670 days in captivity, the time has come to free the goldfish, before it is too late.