Yesterday Israel agreed with Hezbollah to conduct a prisoner exchange in return for the bodies of the supposedly dead soldiers, Ehud Goldwasser and Eldad Regev. As one can imagine this creates a prisoners dilemma. Not the kind of prisoners dilemma that is relevant to political theory, but instead a Jewish prisoners dilemma.
The deal struck with Hezbollah, which will be done in two phases of exchanges, will eventually allow for the release of notorious terrorist Samir Kuntar, who in 1979 was imprisoned for his role in a Nahariyah terrorist attack. To be more specific he shot a man dead, in front of his four year old daughter, and then proceeded to brutally kill her as well. All the while the man’s wife was inside their house hiding where she accidentally suffocated her infant child trying to keep her quiet so as not to be found by Kuntar and his thugs. The question of how this man could ever be released must be raised. He has murdered several times and who is not to say that he won’t murder again. How can we, the Jewish people, be sure that he won’t revert back to his terrorist roots? Are we willing to risk more lives over the remains of a few casualties of war? Hezbollah has the world’s attention, already proclaiming Israeli weakness as a result of the trade, and certainly Kuntar will be welcomed back as a hero to the Islamic extremist world. It is not wise to fuel the fire of Islamic extremism as we have found out in the past. The release of Kuntar could add a large part of a formula for a major Arab uprising in what could arguably be the most unstable Middle East since the Six-Day War.
I think a hypothetical situation is in order to properly explain my thoughts. Let’s assume that Mexican rebels kidnapped two American soldiers on the border of Texas and Mexico. Let’s also assume that the United States is fighting a guerilla war with Canadian terrorists and dealing with the possibility that Brazil is developing nuclear arms and has made innuendos as to wanting to use them against the U.S. To finish the scenario we will say that America is holding Joe Black, a Mexican rebel known for his part as the leader of a cell that killed five American civilians, two of which were children under the age of 5, on American soil. Do you think that for one second the American government would even allow a negotiation for his release unless it was the direst of circumstances? No. Not one word would be negotiated under any circumstance less then full scale war. This has nothing to do with the lack of appreciation or caring for its soldiers, as many would argue, but instead the caring for the greater population. The bodies of two dead soldiers in most people’s minds simply are not worth the price of someone who you know will seek to kill as many of your people as he can, and most likely succeed. Enter Jewish values.
We as Jews pride ourselves on knowing that we are a unique community, one that has always looked out for each other (even in the midst of the inability to agree on most things), even the ones who have fallen protecting us. Though it is important in Jewish custom that a body has a proper burial, there is definitely something else, something special, and something…sincere about the lengths that Israel goes through to retrieve the bodies of its lost soldiers. The state is sincere in its feeling about the importance of each individual loyal citizen. Of course there is the obligation to those soldiers families to do everything in their power to get them back, however isn’t their a limit to the cost? Say Samir Kuntar? Apparently not in Israel. They have a mentality that stresses a higher importance on their citizens, not their enemies. That says something about a country. For all of its negative qualities, one can not say that Israel does not care for its people or soldiers. It is what gives Jews around the world a loyalty to Israel, even the ones who have never been! Israel has our back, for better or for worse. This is something that has not always been the case for the Jewish people, and quite frankly I like the feeling of knowing someone is watching out for me, making sure that in the long run they will help me in my most extreme time of need.
So where does this bring us? Do we face the harsh reality realizing that by giving up a man (a man only in the sense of gender) like Samir Kuntar, we are probably killing a few more Jews in this world, indirectly, or do we focus on the Jewish value of no man left behind? The latter may keep us pure of heart and maintain our ideals of looking out for every Jew, regardless of circumstance, which in essence is the reason for the existence of the modern state of Israel, is it not? However, unnecessary bargaining with our enemies could also be the downfall of the state considering the geographical size and emotional wear of the small wonder. The answer is that there is no right answer, only opinion, both sides are reasonable in their arguments with neither one being more correct then the other. But since I’m writing this article I will tell you that if I had my way, we would just keep a better look out on our soldiers and avoid putting ourselves in this position in the first place, l’chaim.