Reprinted with permission from
Jewish Ideas Daily
The PLO’s first attack on Israel came in 1965, when Mahmoud Hijazi and five other terrorists attempted to bomb a water-pump station in southern Israel. Once captured, Hijazi received the second death sentence ever handed down in Israel (Adolf Eichmann‘s being the first). Though his sentence was later overturned, the story was far from over.
A new chapter began on January 1, 1970, when Fatah terrorists crossed into Israel from Lebanon and kidnapped a guard stationed in the border town of Metulla. That man, Shmuel Rosenwasser, was brutally tortured by his captors for over a year, until the Israeli government exchanged Hijazi for Rosenwasser’s release: a one-for-one deal.
Nine years later, the terms had already shifted, and the price for prisoners skyrocketed. In exchange for an Israeli soldier who had been abducted in Lebanon by Ahmed Jibril’s especially murderous branch of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP), the Israeli government released 76 PLO operatives, 20 with “blood on their hands.”
In 1985, Israel agreed to the infamous “mother of all prisoner exchanges,” again with Jibril’s PFLP, trading 1150 Palestinian prisoners for three Israeli soldiers. The exchange came in for harsh criticism, with Haaretz’s veteran military analyst Ze’ev Schiff writing at the time that with each successive agreement, Israel was “conceding more and more to the terrorist organizations” and thus demonstrating greater and greater weakness.
Schiff passed away in 2006, before Israeli concessions reached a previously unthinkable acme in a 2008 prisoner swap with Hezbollah. In that exchange, Israel freed five terrorists, including the notoriously savage Samir Kuntar, plus 200 bodies, in exchange for the bodies of two IDF soldiers. It was the first time that Israel traded live terrorists for corpses.
Israelis take great pride in their commitment never to abandon one of their own, whether dead or alive, behind enemy lines. But does the willingness to pay any price to bring home fellow Israelis reflect communal solidarity, or does it instead reflect an increasingly defeatist mentality? A recent conference at Hebrew University examined the legal, psychological, and political dimensions of negotiating with terror organizations for the release of Israeli captives. The painful dilemmas that these negotiations pose are exemplified in the heated discussion around the fate of Gilad Shalit.