Thursday, February 19, 2009

Should A Terrorist Be Released For A Soldier's Remains?

This was YU's assigned essay choice. Most of the arguments in the essay also apply to the exchange of terrorists for a live soldier.

YU Honors Essay A1

Should A Terrorist Be Released For A Soldier's Remains?

"Who is wise?" Alexander the Great asked the Jewish Sages.i "He who foresees the consequences of his actions," they responded. No advice could be more prudent for the leader of any state, from the Greek Emperor of antiquity to the current Prime Minister of Israel. What may seem like a desirable action now, could turn out to have disastrous results in the future. This issue has to be kept in mind when considering releasing a terrorist for a soldier's remains.

In any moral question, one must compare the potential benefits and losses. Judaism regards the recovery of captives as one of the greatest mitzvoth a person can do. Even so, the Talmudii states that captives should not be redeemed for more than their value. Proper burial is also an important mitzva, but there is no obligation to undertake undue expense,iii and certainly not a high ransom. Recovering the body will also help comfort the soldier's relatives, surely a worthy cause. The benefits of recovering the body are clear: to respect the dead and to comfort the living. The question remains: is it worth the cost?

Freeing a terrorist for a soldier's body can cause great harm. The terrorist who is released comes back as a hero, ready to commit more murder.iv In addition, the terrorist groups are encouraged to attempt more kidnappings when they see the rewards they get. This is why the Talmud forbade paying too high a ransom even for living captives.

Releasing terrorists has caused Israel big problems in the past. In 2004, Israel released over 400 terrorists in exchange for Hezbollah releasing one captive and three soldiers' bodies. Hezbollah considered it a great victory and they promised more kidnappings in the future.v Two years later, they fulfilled their promise, and caused the Second Lebanon War, in which the freed terrorists added to their manpower. The cost of recovering the captives two years earlier was the 160 lives Israel lost in the war.

Proponents of such trades claim Israel has a moral obligation to retrieve the soldiers who fought for their country. They also claim the trades are necessary for boosting soldiers' morale. When Israeli soldiers see that they will never be abandoned, and that Israel will do anything to rescue even their dead bodies, they will fight with greater courage.

In truth, these arguments raise issues that demonstrate the opposite. Israeli soldiers go out to battle knowing they may not come back. If they die in battle, they know they gave their lives for the security of their country. By risking future lives to recover their bodies, the soldiers' sacrifice becomes the cause of Israel's insecurity. It would also harm army morale: soldiers risk their lives to capture a terrorist and then the government releases him for a dead body.

Alexander the Great created a large empire, hoping to unify the world, but he failed to foresee that it would collapse and cause more strife. The Prime Minister of Israel should look beyond the immediate benefit of recovering a soldier's remains, and recognize that it is not worth the consequences of releasing a terrorist. Only then would he truly be wise.

iTalmud Bavli Tamid 32a

iiibid. Gittin 45a

iiiYorah Deah 357 - Pischei Teshuva s"k 1 citing the Chavos Yair. The case involved a gentile governor keeping a Jewish body ransom for a large sum. The Chavos Yair ruled it was not necessary to give in to the demand.

ivA report by the Almagor Terror Victims Association showed that 14% of released terrorists were later re-arrested for murder, and they were responsible for the death of 123 Israeli civilians. ( see also (



ilona@israel said...

i am sorry for my country to be so indifferent to the life of young boy who fighted for this country..i pray for gilad...

Glunker said...

unfortunately the opposite is true. they care so much about one captive they are willing to sacrifice hundreds of lives for his return.