By Rabbi Dow Marmur.
Many of us well remember the campaign to bring back Gilad Shalit from Hamas captivity in Gaza. His family and friends mounted an international campaign that put great pressure on the Government of Israel. In the end Gilad was exchanged for some 1100 Palestinian prisoners including those “with blood on their hands.” In fact, some soon returned to terrorist activities and have had to be re-arrested.
In the midst of understandable jubilation at the time, there was also a feeling of unease. Thus when Gilad’s father, who had been in the centre of the campaign for his release, apparently wanted to capitalize on his fame by trying to be placed on the Labour Party list for the Knesset elections, those selecting the candidates didn’t respond.
From the point of view of humanitarian action, Israel’s decision to agree to the deal with praiseworthy; from the point of view of statecraft, it was less so. Stalin who was a lousy father and a tough commander refused to exchange his son when he was captured by the Germans in World War II for some generals who were prisoners of war in the Soviet Union. His terse argument was, “War is war.”
Israel is once again facing a Gilad Shalit situation. A mentally challenged member of an Ethiopian Jewish family chose to go over the fence into Gaza last year and a young Beduin is also said to be there. The government kept the matter under wraps because it didn’t want another Shalit situation, but the name of the Ethiopian has now been made public. Families and others are clamouring for the release of both young men.
There’s nothing to suggest that the government will again pay the price. This has given rise to accusations of state sponsored racism. Had it been a nice Ashkenazi boy who served in the army, the argument goes, the government would have moved heaven and earth to get him back, but these two aren’t worth the trouble.
It’s not for me to seek to defend the government against its prejudices but it’s reasonable to assume that after the Shalit case, no government was going to repeat the deal, if for no other reason than to discourage Hamas and other terrorist to play the game. But the matter does raise important issues.
But the matter does raise important issues.
Ethiopian immigrants feel discriminated against in Israel. They’ve been staging demonstrations of late, some of them on the ugly side.
The Beduin, though mostly loyal to the State of Israel, also feels discriminated against. They tend to take the law into their own hands. Thus, for example, instead of following state regulations, which some consider to be based on prejudice, they build homes without approval. Often, these homes are being raised because they’re illegal. In this climate when ISIS is attracting disaffected youths from all over the world, it may encourage some to join.
There’re compelling reasons to meet the needs of both groups. But as much as we must feel for the families of these young men, we must also try to understand why it’s not in the interests of the State of Israel to give in to blackmail. Israel is by no means the only country that refuses to pay ransoms.
Until now the security forces have been vigilant to make sure that nobody comes into Israel from Gaza. From now on they may apply the same vigilance when people are trying to get into Gaza.