Two Israelis were killed this evening by Palestinian gunmen.
Three important things to bear in mind when discussing Israeli willingness to trade many Palestinians for very few Israeli hostages.
The first is that the Palestinians (and Hezbollah) have a policy of holding hostages for years without ever allowing contact between them and their families. Twice this decade Hezbollah has had dead bodies, and throughout the years of negotiations they never admitted that's all they had, preferring to torture the families with the hope someday they'd see their beloved ones. Hamas has been slightly more accommodating with Gilad Shalit, probably because he really is alive, so about once a year they allow a note from him to reach his parents... and that's it. It's despicable, evil, and they're very proud of it. These are our enemies, and we should never forget it.
The second is that Palestinian terrorists, once they're set free by the hundreds for a handful of Israeli hostages, go back to their previous occupation of killing Israelis. International practice is that returned PoWs are not sent back into battle against their erstwhile captors, and most countries respect this. In the case of the Palestinians, each and every one of them must sign a document, before leaving jail, in which they give their word of honor not to return to terror. In some societies, ones' word of honor is binding; Arab culture indeed sets high value on honor (and many Arab women are killed for besmirching someone else's honor) - but Palestinian terrorists aren't bound by their word of honor. On the contrary: hundreds of Israelis have been murdered by Palestinian terrorists who were let out of jail as part of the so-called peace process or in return for Israeli hostages. These are our enemies, and we should never forget it.
Third, the dynamic of these things is that sooner or later, the Palestinians or Hezbollah will manage to capture an Israeli, and eventually they'll spring hundreds of Palestinians in return - either that, or a future round of negotiations in the "peace process" will be stuck until Israel releases Palestinians, because after all, we're making peace, aren't we, and peace means we let bygones be bygones. Which mean that Palestinian terrorists know they'll be set free after a few years, or a decade, and won't spend the rest of their lives in jail. The price of killing Israelis (unless in an act of suicide) isn't all that high.
And yet Israel repeatedly exchanges hundreds for one, or more than a thousand for three dead bodies, and so on. Even while knowing that other Israelis wll die, down the line, at the hands of those being let out now. Why?
First, because of that torture. Who would leave anyone in the hands of vicious beasts if there was an alternative? Who would tell a mother to reconcile herself to spending indeterminate years in uncertainty, not knowing if her son is even alive, and if so, fearing the tortures he's undergoing at the hands of animals, who eventually may kill him and discard him somewhere, as probably happened in the 1980s to Ron Arad, an airman shot down over Lebanon, who was still alive a year or more later, but has apparently been dead for many years?
Second, because of our cohesion. External observers are often startled by the vehemence with which Israelis often disagree with one another, in politics and in any other part of life. They fail to understand that this is the corollary of what ultimately is a family: Israelis regard themselves as "we" in ways that are quite lacking in any Western society I've ever encountered. True, as in any family, this doesn't mean there's equality and goodwill spread evenly in all directions. Look how we treat the folks down in Sderot, for example: They were shot at for years and we couldn't be bothered; eventually we went to war for them but didn't do the whole job (and maybe we couldn't have, I don't know), so now they're getting shot at again, daily, and we're back to pretending it isn't happening. I can think of lots of less dramatic examples - none of which change the basic fact that we really do empathize with the mothers of those hostages. We also know it could have been us, heaven forbid, since most of us send our sons to where such stories start.
Third, because of history. The concept of redeeming Jewish hostages is at least a thousand years old, and is deeply ingrained in our culture. Very deeply. It's part of who we are, for better and for worse.
Fourth, because of that "better or worse". No-one will admit to thinking this, but we hope that by being "better", and making the pain of that one family or few go away, along with reuniting hundreds of Palestinian families (who could of course visit their jailed relatives all along), maybe things will get better. Back in the 1990s as we were setting free most of the convicted Palestinian terrorists, we really did hope they, also, might be putting the past behind them, and letting bygones be bygones. Of course, there was not much evidence this was true even then, and there's essentially none at all now, but we like to hope. It's a nice, pleasant sensation.
I'm very glad, at moments like this, that I never accidentally became Prime Minister. Prime ministers are called upon to make life and death decisions, and sometimes they're called upon to make life and death and life and death decisions; me, I blog about their decisions.
And of course, I live in the realities their decisions create. Nothing funny about that.