Galilee Diary #552, October 19, 2011
Redemption of captives comes before other forms of tzedakah... and one who
ignores the plight of the captive violates the commandment, "Do not stand idly
by the blood of your fellow." [Leviticus 19:16]. But we must not redeem the
captive for an exorbitant price, in order not to distort the system and
encourage our enemies to pursue us to capture us (to hold for
ransom)... -Maimonides (Rambam), Mishneh Torah, Laws of Gifts to the
The quiet little rural community of Hila, about 30 minutes northwest of
Shorashim, has become over the past five years, and especially over the past 24
hours, a focus of the entire nation's attention. Five years ago a kid from Hila
doing his army service on the Gaza border, Gilad Shalit, was captured by Hamas
forces and secreted somewhere in Gaza. For five years the entire country has
been absorbed in the personal drama of the Shalit family and the fate of Gilad. Today he was released in exchange for around 1,000 Palestinian prisoners held in
Israel, including a number who were involved in major terror attacks.
As often happens with big news stories about relatively small events, the
media have been saturated with commentary, and commentary on the commentary, and
pointless speculation, and reporters interviewing each other, etc. It is
difficult to find something worthwhile to write - yet it is also hard to ignore
an event that is so central in the nation's consciousness. To try to put things
There are several colliding values here, each of which has not only a
rational moral basis, but tremendous emotional power:
1. There is a tradition that Israel doesn't abandon its boys in the field,
captive, wounded, or dead. We are one big family and each soldier is our kid,
and there is no such thing as submerging the life of one for the sake of some
abstract principle. "He who saves one life of Israel is as if had saved a whole
world." [Talmud, Baba Batra 11a]. So for five years there was a continuous,
strident public campaign calling on the government to "bring Gilad home," which
often contained accusations that somehow the government wasn't really trying to
do so. The Shalit family were at the forefront of this campaign, which is
understandable; wouldn't we all do the same?
2. Upon announcing the conclusion of the deal, the leader of Hamas gloried
in the victory, and warned that further kidnappings were in the works. It is
ironic that Israel does not have a clear and explicit policy of "not negotiating
3. The release from prison of many persons convicted of large-scale, cruel,
random murders in this blackmail-type situation darkens the face of the entire
justice system of the state. Not to mention the concern that they will use
their new freedom to do more of the same.
4. Just as it is natural for the Shalits to campaign for their son's release
at any cost, so it is natural that hundreds of people who are victims or
relatives of victims of the acts of the released terrorists feel that they have
been personally betrayed and mocked by the deal.
5. The media, the masses, and the political leadership all have their own
reasons for liking a juicy, sensational, heartstring-pulling story, especially
if it involves hysterical outbursts by distraught relatives (of Gilad, or of the
6. Israeli prisons hold thousands more Palestinians, from cruel terrorists
to kids who threw stones or others convicted of belonging to banned
organizations. None of us ordinary citizens knows how they were convicted or
much else about them.
It you thought I was going to put it all together for you, it's beyond me.
All I can say is that not every tragedy has a hero.