I don’t know whether or not the Israeli government made the right decision when it agreed to receive the lifeless bodies of Eldad Regev and Ehud Goldwasser in exchange for Samir Kuntar, the child murderer who returned to Lebanon well fed and in good health. Such choices are, after all, beyond man’s moral judgment. As I explained in my last essay (TTP 228, www.cardozoschool.org/), they are in the category of “Elu Ve-elu Divrei Elo-him Chayim” – “These and those are the words of the living God.” In moral dilemmas such as these, arguments on both sides are compelling, and both hold strong Jewish moral fiber. Even if we strongly object to this exchange, we still have to admit that the government had a sound, moral reason to allow this deal: a commitment to rescue, at all costs, any soldier who fell into enemy hands and, in case of death, to grant him a “kever yisrael”, a Jewish burial.
Still, the government utterly failed in the way it played its cards at the time of the exchange. Instead of celebrating this decision to bring both soldiers home (and granting them a Jewish burial) and presenting it as a major moral victory to be admired by all, it allowed its enemies and the world to believe, once more, that Israel has become weak and vulnerable and has been forced to give in to enemy demands. Once again, the Israeli government did not miss an opportunity to miss an opportunity.
It should have shown the world the difference between “us” and “them”, between the values of Judaism and a bestial society which produces the likes of Hassan Nasrallah, Samir Kuntar and the whole Hizbullah gang. We could have taken pride in our love for our soldiers and our readiness to risk bringing them home, even dead, fully aware that this may invite more kidnappings. Compare this to the evil that knows no bounds in much of the Arab world. When Israeli soldiers are captured, they are strapped to their tanks and paraded through the Arab streets to the frenzied cheers of thousands of spectators. (This was the case with Zacharya Baumel in Damascus 26 years ago. What happened to him?) Israel, on the other hand, treats even its arch enemies with dignity. In civilized societies child murderers are condemned and severely punished for their terrible deeds, living their lives as outcasts in their own societies. Samir Kuntar, however, not only emerged alive and well from his Israeli cell, but also received a hero’s welcome from Hizbullah, as well as from all factions of the Lebanese government. There was not one word of condemnation by any of its leaders or, for that matter, within the whole of the Muslim world. The blowing up of innocent Jews, including small children, has become an act of religious and civil devotion to be proud of and admired within this society.
Israel has many Arab prisoners, all of whom have been involved in terrorist attacks, and many of them have blood on their hands. But unlike the immoral behavior of Nasrallah who deliberately kept the fate of both Israeli soldiers a secret, even though he knew they were dead, with the deliberate intention to inflict additional pain on their families, Israel makes no secret of where its Arab prisoners are, and whether they are alive or dead. Visits by the Red Cross and other international organizations are granted. The arch murderer, Samir Kuntar, received and sent letters, and even enjoyed conjugal visits. While it may be unwise to grant such rights to imprisoned terrorists, once it’s been decided to do so, it should at least be presented as a moral victory, not as a defeat.
While Hamas and other organizations intentionally create hysteria in the streets of Gaza by showing the bodies of every terrorist killed by the Israeli army, and assuring its appearance on international TV, Israel refuses to show images of the severed heads and legs of those killed in suicide bombings so as to safeguard the sensibilities of their families. While Hamas constantly fabricates stories of Arab suffering so as to embarrass Israel, the Israeli army does everything to limit its military operations so as not to injure “innocent” people, and often pays a very heavy price for its compassion. In fact, if an Israeli soldier dares to injure an Arab terrorist without due cause, he is severely reprimanded and punished by the Israeli army and most likely will have to live his life in shame.
Where, in all of Israel’s history, has there ever been a case of an Arab terrorist being dragged through the streets to be jeered by crowds? Indeed, the list of Israel’s moral supremacy is endless.
Why, then, does our government, its ambassadors and spokesmen, only occasionally publicize Israel’s moral grandeur, while for the most part ignoring it? If it wants to contend with Arab terrorists, does it not realize that the imperative victory needs to be not only on the battlefield but also in the court of public opinion? It should have created a massive campaign to show the world its great ethical code, its supreme commitment to higher Jewish standards. It could have pointed out what it means to be a Jewish State deeply rooted in Jewish Tradition, having a nearly “irresponsible” obsession with human dignity – even to the dead; even when it entails unprecedented risks for the future. Many gentiles would have understood and admired us for this.
Or, does the government believe that the whole world is against us anyway, and that nobody cares about our decency and high moral values, so why even try to convince them of all this? If so, they could not be making a greater mistake. There are millions of gentiles who admire us and Judaism’s universal values, and there would be many more once they would know who we are and what we stand for.
One wonders whether our government doesn’t want to expose too much of its Jewish sensitivities rooted in Jewish Tradition. Perhaps it wants to hide the fact that we are indeed different and that we do have higher standards of conduct, expressed in our wish to give all our boys a Jewish burial, whatever the price.
Have our leaders lost their connection to their own Jewishness? Do they no longer understand the meaning of Jewish identity and are consequently unable to feel any Jewish pride, the pride to be different? Do they only pay lip-service to their Jewishness at funerals, semachoth and other events? Is it no longer in their “kishkes”, in their inner being? Until now it was secular Zionism which gave them a feeling of purpose. Now, however, when it has become clear that this Zionism no longer has a future, they seem lost, while unaware of their own confusion. Do they no longer realize that the greatest thing that ever happened to them is that they were born Jews and are heirs to the most magnificent Tradition? Are they ashamed of their Jewish heritage?
Am I to conclude that our government’s failure to make the world understand what it means to be a proud Jew speaks volumes about that government’s mental condition? It has lost its pride in the Jewish State and is utterly bewildered about its moral justification. Over the years it has maneuvered itself into all sorts of political corners, so that by now it’s become nearly impossible to extricate itself from the quicksand into which it has been sucked.
This is not so much a result of the undoubtedly crucial mistakes it has made, but rather because it has failed to explain itself in terms of strength, courage and pride once it did make these mistakes. It is the words of despair uttered by Israeli leaders which perhaps did more damage than the deeds and concessions themselves. When our leaders declare that the Israeli State will not survive unless we give in to Palestinian demands to Statehood, or give up on neighborhoods in Jerusalem because they are full of Arab terrorists, they are preaching a dangerous form of defeatism. Such declarations prove that our leaders no longer believe in our own cause and therefore have no claim to leadership.
What they should be saying is: The right to our homeland, including the so-called territories, is undisputable. This has been our home for nearly 4000 years. There is nothing to discuss. But, as Jews, we will do the Palestinians a favor and give them some of our land – only on our terms, not theirs. Though such decisions may turn out to be utterly wrong, at least they would be made out of a sense of pride, not defeat.
That our government did not take that road is most worrisome. Surely our leaders will tell us we are badly mistaken and they know better, but we should remind them that men are in the habit of raising a dust and then convincing themselves they can still see.