Numbers generally reflect the quantitative as compared to the qualitative side of an evaluation. Society often utilizes numbers as identification, for example, Social Security numbers or license plates in a benign society or tattooed prisoner ID numbers in a malevolent totalitarian state. In the latter case we see how the quantitative becomes qualitative; a morally neutral number descends into a statement of abuse and evil.
The Torah and Jewish history employ numbers to garner greater wisdom through gematria, or through association, exalting them to qualitative transcendence (just think of the song sung at the Seder’s conclusion, “Echad Mi Yodea.”)
Let’s take one number — 120— and learn about the qualitative statements made by two neighboring people — Israelis and Palestinians. (For the sake of this argument indulge me when I refer to the Palestinians as a unique “people” and Palestine as a “state.”)
To Jews, the number 120 evokes numerous positive associations: the number of years indicating a full life and the source for this measure the number of years lived by Moshe Rabbeinu. There were also 120 members of the Anshei Knesset Hagedolah, the Men of the Great Assembly, which served the Jewish people from the period following the prophets through the development of Rabbinic Judaism until the destruction of the Great Temple and the fall of Jerusalem in 70 C.E. They redacted the Tanach and composed the Shemoneh Esrei and other prayers, thereby developing the concept and form of prayer which we use to this day. This is the legacy of our 120.
Crossing an imaginary line into the imaginary “state” of Palestine, we consult their list of 120 real terrorists serving life sentences in Israeli prisons whose release Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas has demanded as payment for resuming peace talks. This list constitutes the Palestinian people’s only verifiable chronicle of their greatly fictionalized history. It is more nightmare than narrative. It is their legacy.
The list of prisoners that Abbas demands to be released includes terrorists responsible for numerous bus bombings, the 1991 bombing of the famous Machane Yehudah market, which killed eight people, murderers who have slain Israeli citizens including women and children, hitchhikers, backpackers, trusting employers of the terrorists, soldiers and policemen, Hashem yinkom damam.
Weapons used included knives, bombs, axes, pitchforks, fire, and rocks. Kidnapping, torture, mutilation and then murder (or murder and then mutilation, depending on the case) were the objectives. Basically, these terrorists have shown neither preference nor prejudice in whom they choose to murder, taking any and all opportunities when presented.
Abbas submitted the list of incarcerated Palestinians to Israeli President Shimon Peres during the recent World Economic Forum in Jordan. Shockingly, President Peres not only said that he would consider the request but told Israeli reporters that the Palestinian leader’s demand should be seen “in a positive light.” The list was then passed along to Prime Minister Netanyahu, who then gave it to Tzipi Livni, the Minister of Justice. Despite describing the men named on the list as “despicable terrorists who did terrible things,” Livni said she will examine the list and in consultation with the defense ministry consider the possibility of releasing these Palestinian prisoners, all of whom have blood on their hands.
There are several reasons that would motivate Israel to consider exchanging these terrorists for a return of the Palestinians to the peace table. Some Israeli officials believe it would strengthen the status of the “moderate” voice of the Palestinians, Abbas and the Palestinian Authority, Israel’s putative diplomatic partners. Secondly, officials of the U.S. government and the European Union are reportedly exerting pressure on Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to comply with Abbas’s request for the sake of restarting peace talks.
Some within the government, and even some of the family members of the victims, might support the freeing of prisoners in exchange for something tangible as was the case with the release of the captive Israeli corporal, Gilad Shalit. Despite any argument that could be made for this goodwill gesture of releasing terrorists, the reality is that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu would have a tough time selling this deal to the nation: the promise of resuming peace talks, which most Israelis believe will lead nowhere, for images of freed Palestinians terrorists being honored and treated to celebrations, soon to resume their acts of terror. Israel’s internal security service, the Shin Bet, would support this concern. In a statement released last week concerning an unrelated matter, the Shin Bet noted, “Recently, there has been a considerable rise in activity by those released in the Shalit deal. This is a blatant violation of the agreement.”
At the closing meeting of the World Economic Forum in Jordan last month, Abbas referred to his demand for the release of 120 terrorists. In a statement walking a fine line between a speech and a threat, he asked rhetorically, “Why are our prisoners not released? We are told [by Israel], ‘Why should we release prisoners for nothing?’ You released more than 1,000 soldiers for Gilad Shalit. Do you want us [the Palestinian Authority] to kidnap soldiers? That’s not our culture. In 2012 several hundred soldiers mistakenly entered Palestinian villages and cities. They were returned to their families within 10 minutes. We didn’t kidnap a single one. We reject the use of such an act.”
Notwithstanding Abbas’s claims that the PA does not support kidnapping Israelis, there are numerous splinter groups amongst the Palestinians whose primary objective is to kidnap Israelis. And the number of attempts is rising sharply. In 2011, 11 attempts to kidnap soldiers were reported. In 2012, there were 26 attempts to kidnap soldiers and an unknown number of attempts to kidnap civilians that, miraculously, were unsuccessful. According to the latest official report, 18 kidnapping attempts took place from November, 2012 to March, 2013.
There is a concept in mathematics called absolute value. It means that a number is essentially neutral, having both a positive and a negative value. Like the number 120. Its positive value, for example, is the number of men in The Great Assembly; its negative value is the evil in the 120 names constituting the rogues’ gallery of Abbas’s list.
Meir Solomon is a writer, analyst and commentator living in Alon Shvut, Israel, with his wife and two children. He can be contacted at msolomon@Hamodia.com.