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July 18, 2008

Israel's Prisoner Exchange - Suicidal?

Here's a compelling analysis of the swap of live terrorists for dead bodies:


by Frederick Krantz ( )

It is past time that Israel re-thought its prisoner-exchange policies. What began ca.1983 as a once-only departure from the Geneva Convention norm of reciprocal, post-conflict prisoner-exchange between states has turned into a tragically lop-sided and disproportionate freeing of large numbers of captured terrorist murderers in exchange for the bodies (and body-parts) of a few Israeli soldiers.

Issuing from the IDF's admirable commitment to do everything to ensure the return of all Israeli prisoners and hostages, this usage has evolved into something endangering Israel. It encourages terrorist organizations to use captured Israeli soldiers and citizens as "bait", used, even if dead, to implement further terrorist demands. Indeed, by exchanging live terrorists for dead Israelis, captives - like Gilad Shalit, still held by Hamas - are endangered, by removing any incentive to keep them alive and tolerably well.

In 1983, ...

In 1983, following the 1982 Lebanon war, Israel returned 4,600 Palestinian and Lebanese prisoners for six abducted Israeli soldiers; in 1985, in the Jibril exchange, 1,150 terrorists were exchanged for three Israeli soldiers. In 2003, 400 terrorists and criminals and 60 Lebanese bodies were exchanged for three Israeli bodies and one live drug dealer.

This week's exchange, acceded to by the Olmert-led Kadimah government - which had pledged never to give up terrorist prisoners in return for captives - saw the release of five terrorists, four Hezbollah killers and the vicious Lebanese child-murderer Samir Kuntar (held since 1979).

In addition, Israel returned some two hundred terrorists' bodies, including that of Palestinian "heroine" Dalal al-Maghrebi, who in the Coastal Road massacre of 1978 machine-gunned 31 civilians on a hijacked bus.

These killers were exchanged for the bodies of the two Israeli soldiers, Ehud Goldwasser and Eldad Regev, captured two years ago by Hezbollah (an act sparking the Second Lebanon War), as well as for several unspecified body parts and a specious "report" on the presumably dead Israeli airman Ron Arad, shot down over Lebanon in 1986 (Kuntar had been held as a counter for Arad's ultimate release).

The desire for closure on the part of the Israeli soldiers' families is understandable, and Israel's commitment to rescue its captured youth expresses the State's Jewish values. But negotiating imbalanced exchanges legitimates terrorist organizations, which then trumpet such "victories". It shows their ability to force Israel to release terrorist "heroes", even as they flout with impunity all the laws of war and international humanitarian usage. Further, such victories stimulate the terrorists' appetite for additional kidnappings, placing Israeli society at ever-greater peril.

Very importantly, but little remarked upon, is the appalling rate of recidivism on the part of released terrorists as a result of such exchanges. According to Israel's Almagor Terror Victims’ Association reports, as summarized by the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs, of the 6,912 Palestinian terrorists released in "confidence-building" measures between 1993 and 1999, 854 were - [up] to 2003 - subsequently arrested for murder and terrorism. (These figures do not include, of course, those not apprehended, nor does it cover the five years since 2003.)

Since 2000, 180 Israelis have been murdered by released terrorists (including the 30 killed and 155 wounded in the attack on Netanya’s Park Hotel in Passover, 2002; the 17 killed and 42 wounded in the June, 2002 Megiddo bus bombing; and the 7 dead and over 50 wounded in the September, 2003 Café Hillel bombing in Jerusalem - all deaths owed, once again, to released terrorists.

It is crucial, therefore, that the Israel Defense Forces' Code of Conduct, currently being revised, return to realistic international prisoner-exchange norms: proportionally reciprocal exchanges of live prisoners, regular visitation of all prisoners and hostages by international monitors, and availability of the death penalty for any terrorist guilty, like Kuntar or el-Maghrebi, of cold-blooded murder.

No democracy, let alone a sovereign Jewish state like Israel, subject to the unending viciousness of its neighbors, can afford to allow murderous enemies to play on its humanity. Individual suffering must be weighed against society's security and well-being. Allowing genocidal enemies to count on the certainty that blackmail will outweigh proportional reciprocity, and enable apprehended murderers to go free, is neither noble nor humane - it is suicidal.

(Prof. Frederick Krantz is Director of the Canadian Institute
for Jewish Research, and Editor of its Daily Isranet Briefing series.)


Posted by LG at July 18, 2008 05:46 PM


Hear! Hear! I absolutely agree. But how do you get Israel to do what you have suggested?

Posted by: Veda Charrow at July 21, 2008 03:32 PM

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