A Humanitarian Gesture in Return

Fighting terrorism is not an exact science. There’s no foolproof formula for preventing further knife-stabbings such as those which have robbed Israel of its sense of security: add 2,000 troops, 130 roadblocks, 20 demolitions, a pinch of international pressure on PA chairman Mahmoud Abbas, and stir.

The problem is even more complex when the terrorists are “independents,” as opposed to members of organized groups like Hamas, Fatah or Islamic Jihad. There’s no surveillance or eavesdropping equipment that can read the mind of Ahmed in Chevron who wakes up one morning and decides to stab the first Jew he sees in order to “protect the integrity” of the al-Aqsa mosque. There’s no way to know which teenager in which city has decided to act on the years of venomous incitement he has been fed since he was a toddler.

In the current circumstances, Israel’s leadership is trying not just the stick, but the carrot. It is trying to create an environment that undermines the basis for terror, or at least makes it less attractive. This is the logic behind the decision to release to their families the bodies of terrorists who were killed in the act. The thinking is that the local Arab leadership in places like Chevron will thereby have more influence among their public and will be able to use that influence to calm things down.

Advocates of this line of thinking argue that Israel has nothing to do with the bodies, and if they can be used as an incentive to curtail terror, and save lives, it’s worth giving them up.

The problem is that, as mentioned, fighting terrorism is not an exact science. Releasing bodies could calm things down, but just as easily stir things up, giving the imams a chance to praise the “martyrs” at their funerals and whip the hundreds and thousands of mourners into an even more anti-Israel fervor.

The government of Israel is confused, as is the security leadership. The Cabinet decided against releasing the bodies of terrorists, only to have that decision reversed by the security Cabinet. Defense Minister Moshe Yaalon and IDF Chief of Staff Gadi Eisenkot are in favor of returning the terrorists to their families, Shin Bet chief Yoram Cohen and Internal Security Minister Gilad Erdan are opposed (as is former Shin Bet chief Yaakov Perry).

In such a case, when the outcome is so unclear (and when the Palestinians have already violated the agreement to bury the bodies at night), the government has to give the deciding vote to the Jewish families whose loved ones have been killed and whose bodies are being held by terrorists in Gaza.

“We feel that the government of Israel is not standing by its word,” said Mrs. Zahava Shaul, whose son Oron, Hy”d, was killed in Operation Protective Edge and whose body was snatched by Hamas. “The Cabinet decided not to return the bodies of terrorists and, despite this, bodies are being returned. Where are our sons, Oron Shaul and Hadar Goldin, Hy”d, in this deal?”

Hadar’s sister, Ayelet, similarly expressed anguish over the government’s backtracking on the decision to return terrorists’ bodies. Equally troubling to her is what the ministers did not discuss in their deliberations.

“They speak about not returning the terrorists so that there won’t be celebrations [in Arab villages] in order not to spur on more terrorism,” she said. “But at the next stage, their discussion should have been unyielding: There are also two soldiers [unfortunately no longer alive] being held captive by Hamas. If they expect us to make the humanitarian gesture of giving back bodies, we expect a humanitarian gesture in return.

“But I have the feeling that these basic values have been lost, and it’s not just my feeling. I don’t see this kind of leadership, this kind of courage. I don’t see how the cards and the power will be returned [to] our hands.”

When the families of kidnapped soldiers aren’t given the proper respect, when their feelings aren’t taken into account, especially in a matter that is such a gamble, it undermines the country’s sense that the leadership truly is committed to doing everything possible to bring soldiers or their bodies home and ease the pain of their families.

By the same token, when a Supreme Court president can badmouth a grieving mother who lost a son in a terror attack this summer and is pleading that the terrorist’s home be demolished as a disincentive for future attacks, it leaves a bad taste. Dvorah Gonen, the mother of Danny Gonen, Hy”d, was telling the court that the families of the victims are being judged critically while the families of the perpetrators are cast as victims. In her nasty response, the Supreme Court president only proved Mrs. Gonen’s point.

The government and the courts have a responsibility to treat the families of fallen soldiers and terror victims with the honor and sensitivity they deserve.