To Ransom or Not to Ransom?

A History of Israeli Captives and Their Redemption.

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Because Israel eschews the death penalty, Israel keeps terrorists alive in Israeli custody and thereby inadvertently creates a "bait" situation where terrorist groups attempt to free their men by ransoming newly-kidnapped Israelis.

The admittedly harsh conclusion implied in Weiner and Morrison's argument is that Israel should return to the situation that existed before Mahmoud Hijazi was exchanged for Shmuel Rosenwasser and reinstate the death penalty for terrorists. This argument was made explicitly by Ze'ev Schiff, for whom sentencing terrorists to death was the lesser of a number of possible evils:

In the fight against terrorism, we should not refrain from using the death sentence in cases involving acts of brutal murder. Somebody killed by the court is preferable to the killing of prisoners by our soldiers or the release of murderers as an act of surrender.

But the death penalty for terrorists isn't going to be reinstated any time in the near future, if ever, and in the meantime, the Israeli public continues to insist that their government is obligated to bring Gilad Shalit home, even at the cost of the release of hundreds or even thousands of Palestinian terrorists. Bergman praised Netanyahu for so far withstanding public pressure.  The prime minister will most likely continue to do so, but at the same time, he must keep trying to bring Israelis to the recognition of a bitter truth: that true mercy sometimes dictates harsh policy.


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Aryeh Tepper

Aryeh Tepper completed his doctorate in Jewish Thought at the Hebrew University in Jerusalem in July, 2010. He presently writes for Jewish Ideas Daily.