Monday, September 07, 2009

7-Sep-09: When trading for lives, how much is too much?

Frimet Roth's op-ed article analyzing the price of a rumoured deal for the life of an Israeli hostage held by the terrorists of Hamas appears in today's Jerusalem Post print and online editions.

Netanyahu, it's time for a change of tack
By FRIMET ROTH

Once again, hope for the return of kidnapped soldier Gilad Schalit was raised and then dashed within days. The familiar roller coaster invites the question: Why have our leaders failed to free Schalit?

This year several high-profile missions were carried out to rescue Western hostages. Their success could be instructive for Israel. First, Ingrid Betancourt, a Colombian politician, was freed along with 14 other hostages from jungle captivity in July 2008 in a daring, Hollywoodesque infiltration of guerrilla camps.

Then, on August 5, 2009, former US president Bill Clinton's visit to North Korea scored the surprise release of two American journalists who had been sentenced to 12 years' hard labor by a Pyongyang court. The women were whisked to freedom with Clinton only 20 hours after he landed there.

Next, on August 16, 2009, a visit by US Senator Jim Webb of Virginia to Myanmar secured the return of an American imprisoned there.

Elation over these homecomings has been tempered by concern over the ramifications of the deals cut. As an Associated Press report put it: "Such visits, argue experts, can give regime leaders an aura of respect and recognition that may make it harder for the US to press for sanctions or continue isolation policies aimed at forcing change in everything from humans rights to nuclear power."

ISRAEL IS primed to pay astronomically more for Gilad Schalit. Yet our leaders are indifferent to the deadly ramifications. The release of mass murderers in return for Schalit's freedom poses an irrefutable risk. Yet for three years it has been touted as the single option available.

The day after Schalit's disappearance, his kidnappers offered information about him if Israel agreed to release all female and under-18-year-old Palestinian prisoners.

Since then, while the list of prisoners has grown, no other avenue of rescue has ever been shown, let alone rumored, to be on the cards. Not even the massive Operation Cast Lead produced evidence of any rescue attempt.

Instead, Hamas has been sitting pretty all these years. The only pressure exerted on it has been to delete several prisoners from its list and to approve the exile of several others after release. Moreover, the sine qua non of any deal, the release of all female prisoners, has never been challenged. It is accepted by all as a compassionate stipulation.

One of those women is Ahlam Tamimi. This journalist-cum-university student was involved in the reconnaissance and planning of the August 9, 2001 terror attack on Jerusalem's Sbarro restaurant.

That morning, Tamimi, along with a suicide bomber and 10 kg of explosives, took a taxi from Ramallah. At the checkpoint between east and west Jerusalem, her accomplice, Izzadin al-Masri, got out and walked past the IDF soldiers empty-handed. Tamimi remained in the taxi, passing through unsearched, while the explosives lay beside her.

Once past the checkpoint, Tamimi rejoined Masri on foot. The pair then walked toward the center of Jerusalem. Tamimi carried a camera and the two conversed aloud in English to pass for tourists.

When they reached Sbarro, the target Tamimi had selected, she reminded Masri to wait 15 minutes before detonating the bomb. She didn't want to suffer any scratches herself.

At 1:50 p.m., Masri obeyed Tamimi. The ensuing inferno took the lives of 15 innocent Jewish men, women and children.

There were actually seventeen victims: One of the dead was pregnant. Another woman has been in a coma ever since.

My 15-year-old daughter, Malki, never made it to the hospital. She was among the first to die.

Tamimi was tried and sentenced in 2004 to 16 life terms. In an interview from her cell she said: "I am not sorry for what I did. We'll become free from the occupation and then I will be free." She smiled when an interviewer informed her that she had killed eight children, three more than she had presumed.

Does this sound like a weak, pitiable female prisoner?

LAST WEEK, when Schalit's liberation appeared imminent, we learned that a German mediator was activated at Israel's invitation. He has been commuting to Egypt since mid-July and is pressuring Hamas to clinch this deal.

Pressuring Hamas? Does a terrorist organization need to be cajoled to accept the return of hundreds of its hit men in return for one captive? Israel, on the other hand has been an amenable, or rather eager, party to the negotiations from the outset. Our politicians have been doggedly laying on the hard-sell rhetoric to convince us that the only choice is releasing mass murderers or losing Schalit.

"At this point we should not worry about the released terrorists going back to acts of terror and murder," wrote Eitan Haber on Ynet last week. "Findings from the previous swaps show that only a few go back to terrorism."

Haber is utterly wrong. Thirty of the terrorist attacks perpetrated since 2000 were committed by terrorists freed in deals with terror organizations. Their terrorism killed 177 persons and wounded hundreds of others, permanently disabling some.

Supreme Court Justice Edmund Levi eloquently confirmed those findings. In rejecting a past petition against a prisoner release, he wrote: "This is not the very first time that by virtue of agreements it signed, the State of Israel frees terrorists who sowed death and destruction in our midst. After every such prisoner release, the hope reverberated in many hearts that this time a change would ensue... this hope was in vain, and it might be more fittingly defined as a false illusion. If we needed further proof... one can find it in the bloody events that have accompanied us since October 2000. Many of those whom Israel had in the past set free participated in these horrific events."

It is time Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu abandoned Ehud Olmert's misguided lead. Alternative strategies should at long last be resolutely pursued.

Schalit must be freed now. Cold-blooded mass murderers - never.

The writer and her husband founded the Malki Foundation (www.kerenmalki.org) in their daughter's memory. Malki Roth was murdered in the Sbarro restaurant massacre in 2001. The foundation provides concrete support for Israeli families of all faiths who care at home for a special-needs child.