When The Choice is Life

— by Ilan Chaim

There is no dilemma in freeing one captive at the possible future cost of endangering the lives of others, even by exchanging his freedom for the freedom of convicted murderers.

The moral imperative to choose life deals with fact, not supposition. We are commanded to save a life, not to worry about the possible consequences that releasing a number of murderers may or may not have on other lives.

We are called upon to deal with certainty: that Gilad Shalit lives and his life in continued captivity is in danger.

More after the jump.
Some people oppose the exchange by arguing that the price is too high. Some cite rabbinical disputes over redeeming prisoners for too high a price, as if there is any relevancy to such a medieval calculus. Such reasoning is a world away from how a sovereign Jewish state must defend itself and the soldiers who risk their lives to protect it.

These moral bookkeepers calculate that, in previous such exchanges, a certain percentage of terrorists were recidivists who murdered Jews again. While this is true, it ignores the fact that we live with the reality of terrorism all the time, independent of possible prisoner exchanges.

A grim example of this truth is the fact that the Fogel family was recently massacred by freshmen terrorists, not recycled monsters who had been traded for Jewish prisoners-or as in one abominable previous case, their corpses.

There is a gruesome corollary to this perversion of the traditional Jewish calculus-that saving a life is like saving a world-one that would reduce the value of a human life to something measurable on a profit and loss balance sheet. This new math states that one actual life cannot be worth many potential lives.

A most frightening expression of this sinisterly emerging new value is a rumor relayed to me by my son, now in his third year of compulsory service in the IDF. He told me there is an “understanding”-not yet an official protocol-that if soldiers in combat cannot prevent a comrade from being taken prisoner, they should shoot him in the head. Better a dead hero than a live bargaining chip.

This hideous rumor is but a reflection of the morality of those who would devalue human life by assigning greater value to a potential, unknown, future danger to the lives of many over the clear and present danger to the life of one.

There are others-some of the bereaved who lost loved ones to the actions of some of the very terrorists who are about to be exchanged-who oppose the exchange not on the grounds of future possible danger, but because in their anguished eyes the terrorists have not been punished enough. They have not done their time.

This second attitude, while understandable, is even more lacking in moral justification than opposition on the grounds of hypothetical danger. For those who would keep Shalit in a Gaza dungeon just so their own tormentors would remain in Israeli prisons are ultimately seeking to do so out of vengeance. Will ensuring that a given terrorist murderer continues to serve 15 consecutive life sentences bring any Jew back to life?

Trading murderers for Gilad Shalit will save one Jew’s life. That is a fact we can all live with.

The writer is a former chief copy editor of The Jerusalem Post.


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