+972 Magazine's Stories of the Week

Directly In Your Inbox

Analysis News
Visit our Hebrew site, "Local Call" , in partnership with Just Vision.

Israel doesn't owe this much to its POWs

The Schalit process is unsustainable.

For all the public support behind the Schalit deal (79%-14% in today’s Yediot Aharonot poll), for all the justifiable national pride over the large-hearted spirit Israel has shown, I think just about everybody understands that this is an unsustainable strategy for freeing captured soldiers. If and when the next Israeli soldier is captured, this country can’t go through another ordeal like the one that’s hopefully about to end, nor can it again pay a price and take risks like it’s doing now.

Yet this is what will happen if we accept the central argument of the Free Gilad campaign – that Israel owes it to its POWs to bring them back at effectively any cost, because this is the social contract between Israel and the young men and women it puts in harm’s way for the nation’s defense. Moreover, according to this argument, if Israel doesn’t meet this obligation to any and all of its soldiers, such as Gilad Schalit, its young people will conclude that the country has abandoned them and they’ll lose the morale to defend it.

This has always struck me as complete  nonsense. Israel didn’t owe it to Gilad Schalit to release hundreds of killers, to risk the lives of untold innocent people and to basically invite further kidnappings, all to end his captivity, as nightmarish as it’s no doubt been. Israel certainly owed Schalit a great deal, but the price it paid more than fulfilled that obligation. For Schalit and his family, Israel went way above and beyond the call of duty.

As for IDF morale, I really don’t think any soldier would feel comfortable demanding that Israeli society as a whole endanger itself on his account. I sure as hell don’t think any soldier would be comfortable demanding that hundreds of killers of Israelis be released on his account – not as long as the war between Israel and these killers is still going on. Just the opposite – a soldier lays his life on the line for his countrymen at large; if he insists that his countrymen at large lay their lives on the line for him, he’s not serving his country, he’s making his country serve him. Gilad Schalit never asked this of Israel, but his family and supporters have asked it on his behalf, which is completely understandable, but that doesn’t mean it’s fair. This is not the social contract between Israel and its young people at all; the social contract, rather, is the “people’s army,” the principle that nobody’s blood is more valuable than anybody else’s, that every Israeli has to serve, to sacrifice. Not that this contract is honored as it should be, of course, but that’s the deal, that’s what every IDF soldier has a right to expect from this society – not a 1,000-to-1 prisoner exchange, definitely not with this line-up of prisoners.

I’m in favor of the Shalit deal because we came this far, so it’s unthinkable now to let him get lost forever like Ron Arad was, and with what’s happening in Egypt and Syria and maybe Turkey as well, that could happen; it’s insane to take that risk after five years of negotiations. But if we had to do it over again, I’d prefer that we didn’t negotiate for Shalit’s release at all, because the inevitable result was that either we would end up paying this ridiculous price, taking this staggering risk and plainly inviting more kidnappings, or we wouldn’t pay it and Schalit would end up like Ron Arad anyway.

If and when another Israeli soldier is kidnapped, I think Israeli society has to recognize that so long as we are at war with the POW’s captors, the lesser evil is to leave him in captivity, even indefinitely, than to repeat indefinitely the Schalit process.

Before you go...

A lot of work goes into creating articles like the one you just read. And while we don’t do this for the money, even our model of non-profit, independent journalism has bills to pay.

+972 Magazine is owned by our bloggers and journalists, who are driven by passion and dedication to the causes we cover. But we still need to pay for editing, photography, translation, web design and servers, legal services, and more.

As an independent journalism outlet we aren’t beholden to any outside interests. In order to safeguard that independence voice, we are proud to count you, our readers, as our most important supporters. If each of our readers becomes a supporter of our work, +972 Magazine will remain a strong, independent, and sustainable force helping drive the discourse on Israel/Palestine in the right direction.

Support independent journalism in Israel/Palestine Donate to +972 Magazine today
View article: AAA
Share article
Print article

    * Required


    1. aristeides

      If Israel doesn’t want to exchange its POWs, it should stop taking thousands of hostages from the other side. Palestinians, Lebanese, and others will naturally keep trying to redeem their own by taking Israeli hostages for exchange. Israel brings this problem on itself.

      Reply to Comment
    2. Dayag

      Israel would have done better by Gilad to have reoccupied all of Gaza during Cast Lead and torn it apart from one end to the other until he was found, dead or alive, and Hamas crushed completely.

      Reply to Comment
    3. sh

      “So long as we are at war….” The point is we haven’t done much to change that. We are at war with the POW’s captors because, unbeknownst to quite a few of us for far too long, our governments turned out to be interested in land and acquiring exclusive ownership of sites holy to other religions as well as our own, more than they were interested in cultivating peaceful relations with the peoples of the region in which we are living.
      Shouldn’t we try something other than thumping them at more and more frequent intervals and aim instead at seeking to address their not entirely unjustified reasons for wanting to kidnap soldiers in the first place? 6-8 thousand Palestinian prisoners will continue to rot in Israeli jails when the 1027 have been released. If kidnapping Israeli soldiers is the only way to get them back….. well, I don’t need to finish the sentence.

      Reply to Comment
    4. ToivoS

      As much as I appreciate Larry’s writing there is an asymmetry in the description of the Israeli gunmen and Palestinian gunmen. The former are called soldiers while the later are called killers. The oppressor army is described in human terms while the oppressed people fighting for justice are simply dehumanized as ‘killers’ or more generally as ‘terrorists’.

      Reply to Comment
    5. laila

      Curious… I was under the impression that the Schalit’deal is happening right now in order to help revitalizing Netanyahu’s popularity. I guess this is the social yet unofficial contract between a nation and its politician, that his countrymen at large lay their lives on the line for him or at least his reelection. It has happened lots of time in many countries, so nothing shocking, but I guess it’s nice to name it.
      Said that, I am glad prisoners, Schalit included, are going home.

      Reply to Comment
    6. Sylvia

      I think there is a different attitude toward volunteer army service and mandatory service.

      Reply to Comment
    7. RichardNYC

      Spot on.

      Reply to Comment
    8. Moshe

      While Larry usually talks rubbish this time I have to agree with him, the fact that we are willing to pay such a price makes it an attractive option. We need the death penalty for terrorisim charges.

      Reply to Comment
    9. Sylvia

      When one of them explodes in the Pizza Hut where you and your family are enjoying a birthday party and kills 30 people, then you can call him a freedom fighter, if that’s how you feel.
      Until then, WE get to do the calling.

      Reply to Comment
    10. Richard Witty


      Israel negotiated nearly directly with Hamas. Hamas negotiated nearly directly with Israel.

      The blockade will likely be significantly relaxed.

      Savvy vehement opponents of Israel will be on the street again.

      The PA is made into paper. Hamas is made into rock.

      Not changing:

      Settlement expansion

      Reply to Comment
    11. Amir.BK

      Sylvia: I’d like to offer an alternative, how about we refer to all professional killers as such? if your job is killing people you’re a professional killer, congrats.

      Reply to Comment
    12. ToivoS

      Sylvia insists: Until then, WE get to do the calling.

      No, not at all. As long as you insist on maintaining the illegal occupation of the WB, international law will remain in effect. In case you haven’t noticed an occupied people have the right to resist. In case you haven’t noticed international law has ruled that Israeli occupation of the WB is illegal.

      Reply to Comment
    13. I would agree that the present exchange rate of one Israeli soldier for a thousand or more Palestinians does seem unbalanced to say the very least. It may even become the cause of greater tragedy if it encourages further attempts at kidnapping along similar lines. To avoid capture, real or imagined, potential targets might develop a tendency to shoot first and ask questions later. All in all, it’s a recipe for promoting and widening the scale of the problem and very little else.

      But then, it must be admitted, the option of leaving any captured individual in the hands of the enemy for year upon year is a hard one to contemplate.

      That’s the real problem, isn’t it? With such limited choices available to the participants in this situation, room for other outcomes remains vanishingly small.
      It’s like riding a bucking bronco, a story, generally speaking, with only one of two endings. The animal eventually tires of the contest and accepts defeat. Or the rider resigns himself to being tossed into the air every time, frequently landing on his backside and having to remount over and over again. Either way, someone ends up with a very sore arse.

      There is an easier method; there always is. Simply place a blindfold over the horse’s eyes. This has the effect of quietening the beast and avoiding the trauma of a long, drawn-out battle of wills.

      The Israeli/Palestinian conflict is much the same. Except that this ride has been going on for well in excess of sixty years and still shows no sign of letting up.

      Where’s that blindfold? It might come in handy just about now.

      Reply to Comment
    14. AT

      Toivos -“right to resist” does not justify war crimes, which is what Hamas is guilty of. Yes Israel has committed its fair share as well, but don’t make Hamas into heroic resisters. They are not. One sides crimes don’t justify the others – in either direction.

      What bothers me is not the risk/reward equation. It is what this reveals about Bibi. He wants Hamas stronger so he can evade international pressure to negotiate. Bibi cares about Israeli lives about as much as Hamas does. Not surprising, but still disturbing.

      Reply to Comment
    15. ToivoS

      “Toivos -”right to resist” does not justify war crimes,”

      Nor did I say so. I said they had the right to resist. The fact is that resistance to colonial oppression is often quite ugly. Do you have any idea what the Vietminh, and later the Viet Cong did during their liberation struggle. The ANC in S. Africa killed many innocent S. African soldiers. The Mau Mau in Kenya committed crimes against the British colonialist. Not to mention the terrible crimes committed by the Algerian resistance against the French colonialist. They all committed war crimes. I do not approve. Today we watch the Israelis suppress the Palestinians. It would be really really horrible if they again reverted to violence. But that is the price that a colonial power pays in its efforts to suppress the local people.

      Reply to Comment
    16. Ben Israel

      Of course you are right that Netanyahu did it for political gain. Just like Rabin and Peres did Oslo (bringing in Arafat and his terrorist gangs who then killed or wounded thousands of Israeli and most of whom are now being released to do it again) because they could just smell those Nobel Prizes and the international acclaim that would following their weakening of Israel. Same with Barak and the flight from Lebanon. Sharon destroyed Gush Katif so that he could stay out of jail. I seem to see a pattern here.

      Reply to Comment
    17. Mitchell Cohen

      I second Moshe….I have to agree with Larry Derfner on this one….While I am happy for Shalit and his family, I am simultaneously worried for future victims who do not yet have names and faces at the hands of some of those being released today and what future deals we will make for future kidnappings….

      Reply to Comment
    18. Wisdo

      If Israel can negotiate with Hamas over the release of a single soldier and pay such a large price, surely it can negotiate with the Palestinians and end this bloody occupation?

      But Israel wants it both ways. They want peace AND they want to expand the settlements.

      If you plan on oppressing a people, plan on them resisting and dont shame yourself by trying to argue that their lives are worth less than yours because they belong to a different tribe. Thats caveman reasoning.

      Reply to Comment
    19. Shalom

      Who ever said that the Palestinian prisoners were ALL killers? Shame on us for taking captive of innocent humans (no, they are not animals as some of us might like to think…); punishing them just because they resisted OUR violence and occupation. Great to hear of Schalit and the many other prisoners released, but there are many more ‘out’ there and I hope the Knesset gets their moral conscience checked!

      Reply to Comment
    20. RichardNYC

      “In case you haven’t noticed an occupied people have the right to resist. In case you haven’t noticed international law has ruled that Israeli occupation of the WB is illegal.”
      –>Both claims are utter nonsense. Under the law of occupation (which is largely about insuring law and order), occupied civilians DO NOT have a right and kill the occupying army. The people who wrote the law of occupation did NOT have civil war in mind -they have peaceful administration in mind. Please stop disseminating B*llshit.

      Reply to Comment
    21. RichardNYC

      –>International law calls for a peaceful and negotiated end to the occupation, not anything unilateral. Please stop disseminating b*llshit.

      Reply to Comment
    22. Ben

      Hmm, I had hoped that 972mag was a small bastion of sanity in Israeli society, but that is sadly not the case. It remains a jingoistic, self-absorbed society blindly racing down the path to its own destruction.

      As if the 1000:1 ratio were the problem. The problem is that ya’ll are a bunch of settlers or actively supporting settlers who are stealing land every day and rapidly removing any possibility of a two-state solution.

      Reply to Comment
    23. Dayag’s comment says it all.

      Reply to Comment
    24. RichardL

      You are oversimplifying merely for the purpose of getting at TOIVOS.

      Members of “organized resistance movements” connected with one of the parties to the conflict cannot be prosecuted merely for having participated in hostilities.[from Art. 4(A)(2) of Geneva Convention III]
      This appears to give Palestinian militias the same rights (or not) as the the IDF to kill recognised combatants.

      You are on even less solid ground with regard to the illegality of the occupation. Here is the list from the ICRC. Israel does not comply with most of it so how can the occupation be in any way described as legal?

      The occupant does not acquire sovereignty over the territory.

      Occupation is only a temporary situation, and the rights of the occupant are limited to the extent of that period.

      The occupying power must respect the laws in force in the occupied territory, unless they constitute a threat to its security or an obstacle to the application of the international law of occupation.

      The occupying power must take measures to restore and ensure, as far as possible, public order and safety.

      To the fullest extent of the means available to it, the occupying power must ensure sufficient hygiene and public health standards, as well as the provision of food and medical care to the population under occupation.

      The population in occupied territory cannot be forced to enlist in the occupier’s armed forces.

      Collective or individual forcible transfers of population from and within the occupied territory are prohibited.

      Transfers of the civilian population of the occupying power into the occupied territory, regardless whether forcible or voluntary, are prohibited.

      Collective punishment is prohibited.

      The taking of hostages is prohibited.

      Reprisals against protected persons or their property are prohibited.

      The confiscation of private property by the occupant is prohibited.

      The destruction or seizure of enemy property is prohibited, unless absolutely required by military necessity during the conduct of hostilities.

      Cultural property must be respected.

      People accused of criminal offences shall be provided with proceedings respecting internationally recognized judicial guarantees (for example, they must be informed of the reason for their arrest, charg ed with a specific offence and given a fair trial as quickly as possible).

      Personnel of the International Red Cross/Red Crescent Movement must be allowed to carry out their humanitarian activities. The ICRC, in particular, must be given access to all protected persons, wherever they are, whether or not they are deprived of their liberty.

      If you would check your facts before ranting at another contributor it would save me the hassle of having to do the donkey work to put your shoddy work in order. But then facts don’t often count for much with apologists of the occupation, do they?

      Reply to Comment
    25. RichardNYC

      Nice try. The first provision you cited partially reads in full, as follows:
      “Art 4. A. Prisoners of war, in the sense of the present Convention, are persons belonging to one of the following categories, who have fallen into the power of the enemy:
      (1) Members of the armed forces of a Party to the conflict, as well as members of militias or volunteer corps forming part of such armed forces.

      (2) Members of other militias and members of other volunteer corps, including those of organized resistance movements, belonging to a Party to the conflict and operating in or outside their own territory, even if this territory is occupied, provided that such militias or volunteer corps, including such organized resistance movements, fulfil the following conditions:[
      (a) that of being commanded by a person responsible for his subordinates;
      (b) that of having a fixed distinctive sign recognizable at a distance;
      (c) that of carrying arms openly;
      (d) that of conducting their operations in accordance with the laws and customs of war.
      Not only do most Palestinian militants not fit this description, and hence are not entitled to be treated as prisoners of war, this provision says nothing about a ‘right’ to do anything. That nonsense is entirely your invention
      That Israel has violated the law of occupation in different ways does not make the fact of its occupation illegal. Just because an occupying army violates a rule doesn’t mean it then has a legal occupation to withdraw and leave chaos behind. So your laundry list is not directly relevant to the question.

      Reply to Comment
    26. RichardNYC

      *obligation, not occupation

      Reply to Comment
    27. RichardL

      @Richard NYC
      Sorry for the delay I don’t check this site regularly and have only just seen your comment.

      1) Thanks for toning down your invective (which I acknowledge was not aimed me), I appreciate that.
      2) I will give you the first point but merely comment that your first post to TOIVOS referred to “civil war” which the Israeli-Palestinian conflict most definitely is not. (I don’t think I have seen it referred to that before, or at least not since events of 1948.) But I am not trying to make that a major point.
      i) “That Israel has violated the law of occupation in different ways”. You at least seem to be conceding that point. I consider at least 12 of the 16 rules are violated. Not quite a full house but a damn good try. Correct me if I misunderstand you but I cannot see anyway an occupation can be legal if 75 per cent of the regulations governing it have been breached, mostly on a permanent or daily basis.
      ii) In particular the second rule mentioned on the ICRC website “Occupation is only a temporary situation” cannot in any way apply to an event that is 44 years old with no end in sight. You say this does not mean “[Israel] then has a legal obligation to withdraw and leave chaos behind” but the point is that this is a permanent situation that Israel has no intention of correcting at the present time. I understand you to be saying that is legal. To that I say you are deliberately misinterpreting the rules, and not doing a convincing job either. I say you are wrong.
      iii) I do not accept your premise that chaos would ensue if Israel withdrew. There might be corruption (which happens in Israel too). There could be attacks on Israel if the withdrawal was as badly planned as that from Gaza, but that need not be so if there was goodwill, proper consultation and sincere attempts apply justice and universal human rights. I think the Palestinians are more civilized than you give them credit for here, but, EVEN IF chaos was a realistic possibility that is no excuse for a continuing occupation. In such a scenario the correct authority is the UN and not the state of Israel. The last point should not need stating.
      iv) I see nothing irrelevant in my laundry list. I think you can provide nothing better than this derogatory remark to justify your blatantly erroneous claim, but your ego will not let you admit that fact on this site.

      Reply to Comment
    28. Jameel

      Larry – too bad this wasn’t written before the release.

      Regardless, a yasher koach for writing it.

      Reply to Comment
    29. Click here to load previous comments