In October 1938, Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain triumphantly returned from Munich carrying an agreement with Adolf Hitler that achieved “peace with honor.” Although the English people were overjoyed, Winston Churchill was less sanguine. In a speech to the House of Commons, Churchill stated that England had “sustained a total and unmitigated defeat.” He then prophetically warned: “And do not suppose that this is the end. This is only the beginning of the reckoning. This is only the first sip, the first foretaste of a bitter cup which will be proffered to us year by year unless by a supreme recovery of moral health and martial vigor, we arise again and take our stand for freedom as in the olden time.”
Churchill’s chilling words should haunt the decision of the Israeli government to release more than 1,000 Palestinian terrorists in exchange for Gilad Shalit. Notwithstanding the approval of the media and much of the Israeli public, the decision is a tragedy, both morally perverse and strategically shortsighted.
One must sympathize with the Shalit family and the agony it endured. It is normal for a parent to implore the government to pay any price to save the life of his child. The prime minister and his Cabinet, however, have a more profound responsibility. They were obligated to resist emotional appeals and instead safeguard the people of Israel as a whole. They have failed abysmally. Their capitulation to Hamas is disastrous on several levels.
First, the deal with Hamas is a betrayal of the families of the victims of the terrorists who will be released. Imagine the searing pain of knowing that the person who murdered your son or daughter will be released.
Second, the decision has validated kidnapping as a valuable “get out of jail free” card. Israel can expect more soldiers and citizens to be seized and held hostage, and to face ransom demands that will continue to escalate.
Third, it sends a message to the members of the Israeli security forces, whose jobs are to hunt down and capture terrorists, that their efforts are wasted. It makes no sense to confront danger and risk one’s own life to arrest terrorists who are likely to be released.
Fourth, statistics show that a substantial percentage of released prisoners return to terrorism. It is a virtual certainty that many Jews will pay for this deal with their lives; we simply do not yet know their names. What will Israel’s leaders say to the families of the future victims of terrorist attacks? One thing is for sure: They will not be able to claim they did not know what would happen.
There was another way for the government to demonstrate its determination to free Shalit. The prime minister could have appeared on television and announced that all food, water, electricity and other goods that had been flowing into Gaza would be stopped until Shalit was released. He could have announced that, should anything happen to Shalit, the consequences to Gaza would be even more devastating. The international community would have screamed about collective punishment, but it’s a sure bet that an urgent effort would have been made to free Shalit to avoid these consequences. It is very possible that such a strong approach would have succeeded in freeing Shalit, especially if the threat were credible. Even if this approach did not convince Hamas to release Shalit unharmed, as long as Israel kept its promise of a crushing retaliation, at least future kidnappings would have been convincingly deterred.
Instead, Hamas is jubilant about its victory over Israel, and justifiably so. Khaled Mashaal has every reason to crow about Hamas’ “great achievement.”
In contrast, the Jewish people have been “weighed on the scales and found wanting.”
Sukkot, which is supposed to be a joyous holiday, has been stained and scarred. It will now mark our craven surrender to evil, to the shame of Israel and the entire Jewish nation.
Steven M. Goldberg is the national vice chairman of the Zionist Organization of America, a member of the executive board of World Likud and a member of the executive board of the World Zionist Organization.