Our hearts are joyful, our minds more fearful

By David Landau, October 19, 2011
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An IDF soldier weeps at the funeral of Nitai Stern, who was killed during Operation Cast Lead in Gaza

An IDF soldier weeps at the funeral of Nitai Stern, who was killed during Operation Cast Lead in Gaza

Begrudgingly, but sincerely, I used to praise Benjamin Netanyahu in my heart every time I passed the tent encampment outside his official residence in Jerusalem.

It took a certain courage, I conceded to myself; it took, yes, leadership, for a Prime Minister to go about his business, the business of the nation, knowing that night after night, month after month, Aviva and Noam Shalit were lying outside on their camp-beds, sleepless with anxiety for their captive son, Gilad.

Greater leaders than Netanyahu have lacked that courage.

Yitzhak Rabin, as Minister of Defence, withered before the relentless presence outside his home of Miriam Groff, the mother of abducted soldier Yosef. The result: 1,150 jailed terrorists, among them murderers and instigators of murder, were freed in exchange for Yosef and his two comrades. The result of that: half of the freed men reverted to terror. Many took an active, bloody part in the First Intifada, which broke out two years later, in 1987.

Ariel Sharon, too, as Prime Minister, tortured himself with the spectre of an abducted Israeli businessman reportedly having his teeth wrenched out, one by one, by his Hizbollah captors, only to welcome home a dentally intact Yohanan Tennenbaum while 435 Palestinian prisoners flashed their own toothy grins as they were ferried to freedom.

Running a state requires compassion. But sometimes it requires cruelty, too, and iron self-discipline. A leader needs to keep in mind, whatever the pressures and populistic temptations, that today's capitulation, ostensibly on grounds of compassion, is tomorrow's greater cruelty.

Jewish law and lore, even in the non-sovereign diaspora period, clearly objected to overpaying for captives. Now, speciously, a new "Israeli ethos" is being invented by advocates and apologists for the Shalit deal, an ethos in which no price is too high.

Rabin's was the mother of all capitulations, until Netanyahu's turnaround over Gilad Shalit which he now has the gall to label "leadership". Many Israelis were killed and maimed as a consequence of Rabin's weakness. (Yitzhak Shamir, the Prime Minister at the time, must share the blame.)

Israel collectively sustained a massive blow to its fortitude, to its resilience and, above all, its deterrent credibility.

The new blow could well, God forbid, be worse.

All this does not mean that critics of the deal do not, together with all Jews, weep with joy for Gilad and his family.

Nor does it mean blank stone-heartedness in the face of evil kidnappers and grieving families. There should have been an immediate, generous Israeli proposal - and then no negotiations. Now, Israeli officials say they will adopt such a policy for the future. But who will believe them?

Nor does profound discomfort over the Shalit deal mean opposition to the release of Palestinian prisoners, killers included, under any circumstances.

The right circumstances, the circumstances that would strengthen Israel instead of weakening it, would be a wholesale amnesty and exchange of prisoners in the context of a peace agreement.

The Shalit deal, a surrender to blackmail, brings us no nearer to that end.

David Landau is a former editor of Ha'aretz

Last updated: 12:04pm, October 19 2011