October 24, 2011
Gilad Shalit was finally released from his Hamas terrorist kidnappers last week after five years in captivity. His release brought joy to millions in Israel and to the civilized world.
There were obviously some political reasons for both Hamas and Israel to conclude the “deal.” Ben Cohen in his blog article entitled Evaluating the Gilad Shalit Deal says that: “for the first time in five dark years, the interests of all the parties involved aligned in favor of a deal.” The deal served the internal and international political interests of both Hamas and of Benjamin Netanyahu.
Some argued that the price paid for his liberation, the release of more than 1,000 convicted terrorists some of whom had murdered innocent civilians including women and children was too high, unjust and dangerous. Indeed the high number of released terrorists constitutes a risk that some or many of them will return to cause more deaths and destruction. The deal is unjust for the family of the victims who have to deal with the fact that the ones responsible for the death of their loved ones are set free. The deal is dangerous because it will encourage more kidnappings in the future.
This is a classic ethical dilemma of a “wrong versus wrong” situation, where there is no perfect solution. It is a search of the lesser of two evils.
The real essential moral dilemma, in my view, is well expressed by Rabbi Michael Leo Samuel in his blog post entitled “Beyond Gilad Shalit: Wrestling with Ethical Ambiguity” when he asks the question: “How does a society weigh the ethical demands of saving a human life when the life of many might possibly be jeopardized?” Morality and numbers are not good companions!
Should we ever pay ransom, no matter how exorbitant, to save a life? Historically the Jewish Community has had to deal with this issue again and again, during the Middle Ages, the Holocaust and more recently since 1948, when the State of Israel was created.
Prof. Dov Waxman, co-author of Israel’s Palestinians: The Conflict Within, reminds us that sometimes we have to be humble and acknowledge that in some cases there are no “definitive moral answers.” In his article posted on the Carnegie Council website entitled Freeing Gilad: An Ethical Conundrum, he writes: “Thus, while saving the life of Gilad Shalit, the deal between Israel and Hamas could potentially put many other Israeli lives at risk. From a “consequentialist” ethical perspective, this must surely be considered wrong. On the other hand, from a non-consequentialist, “deontological” perspective, the deal is ethically sound on the grounds that we simply have a moral duty to free a captive and save a human life if we can do so.”
From a psychological point of view there is a difference between Gilad Shalit who is real, has a name and a face, and the probability of future Israeli kidnapping victims. In the balance is a life versus the perceived risks of future loss of life.
Melanie Phillips, a blogger at the UK Daily Mail, who opposed the exchange, sums up the dilemma when she writes in her great article on the Aish.com website entitled This Was No Prisoner Exchange that the deal represents: “a triumph of heart over head.” I think she is right.
I believe that the decision makers remembered the quote from the Talmud that says:
“Whoever saves a single life is as if one saves the entire world.”