Not every tragedy has a hero

October 19, 2011 by

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(Originally published in Ten Minutes of Torah and Galilee Diary)

Redemption of captives comes before other forms of tzedakah… and one who ignores the plight of the captive violates the commandment, “Do not stand idly by the blood of your fellow.” [Leviticus 19:16]. But we must not redeem the captive for an exorbitant price, in order not to distort the system and encourage our enemies to pursue us to capture us (to hold for ransom)…

-Maimonides (Rambam), Mishneh Torah, Laws of Gifts to the Poor 8:10-12

The quiet little rural community of Hila, about 30 minutes northwest of Shorashim, has become over the past five years, and especially over the past 24 hours, a focus of the entire nation’s attention. Five years ago a kid from Hila doing his army service on the Gaza border, Gilad Shalit, was captured by Hamas forces and secreted somewhere in Gaza. For five years the entire country has been absorbed in the personal drama of the Shalit family and the fate of Gilad. Today he was released in exchange for around 1,000 Palestinian prisoners held in Israel, including a number who were involved in major terror attacks.

To try to put things in order:

There are several colliding values here, each of which has not only a rational moral basis, but tremendous emotional power:

1. There is a tradition that Israel doesn’t abandon its boys in the field, captive, wounded, or dead. We are one big family and each soldier is our kid, and there is no such thing as submerging the life of one for the sake of some abstract principle. “He who saves one life of Israel is as if had saved a whole world.” [Talmud, Baba Batra 11a]. So for five years there was a continuous, strident public campaign calling on the government to “bring Gilad home,” which often contained accusations that somehow the government wasn’t really trying to do so. The Shalit family were at the forefront of this campaign, which is understandable; wouldn’t we all do the same?

2. Upon announcing the conclusion of the deal, the leader of Hamas gloried in the victory, and warned that further kidnappings were in the works. It is ironic that Israel does not have a clear and explicit policy of “not negotiating with terrorists.”

3. The release from prison of many persons convicted of large-scale, cruel, random murders in this blackmail-type situation darkens the face of the entire justice system of the state. Not to mention the concern that they will use their new freedom to do more of the same.

4. Just as it is natural for the Shalits to campaign for their son’s release at any cost, so it is natural that hundreds of people who are victims or relatives of victims of the acts of the released terrorists feel that they have been personally betrayed and mocked by the deal.

5. The media, the masses, and the political leadership all have their own reasons for liking a juicy, sensational, heartstring-pulling story, especially if it involves hysterical outbursts by distraught relatives (of Gilad, or of the terror victims).

6. Israeli prisons hold thousands more Palestinians, from cruel terrorists to kids who threw stones or others convicted of belonging to banned organizations. None of us ordinary citizens knows how they were convicted or much else about them.

It you thought I was going to put it all together for you, it’s beyond me. All I can say is that not every tragedy has a hero.

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