Monday, November 27, 2023

In This Moment: Hamas's Hostage Strategy Has Failed


In This Moment

Chilling, Venting, Fretting

And the Biggest Hugs

During the "Pause"

Relieving the unbelievable stress...

No translation is needed for the front page below

...but it says, "To hug them".

Chilling to some of the beautiful songs

that have appeared over the past several weeks

Click for a YouTube playlist I put together, featuring many of the new songs. My favorite is the James Taylor cover, second on the list. "Close Your Eyes," reimagined, in Hebrew. Koolulam's take on Madonna's "Like a Prayer" is also incredibly moving, with participants from around the world. Never has a song's original intent been so distorted to such life-affirming ends (as happened when she sang this song for Haiti several years ago). Israelis are known for their ability to come together through music, and never more than right now.

Venting with Latte on the Streets of Jerusalem...

Great anecdote from Sarah Tuttle Singer of TOI

Hamas' Hostage Strategy Has Failed

Israeli captives remained on the front pages as daily reminders of Hamas's barbarity. At the same time, these children became the symbols of Israel's just cause. And this time, no 1,000-1 exchanges.

The release of some of the hostages has also brought about a brief respite from the horrors of the past seven weeks, a chance to relieve some of the stress of daily life and welcome home children and women who have become almost extended family to us. The current mood in Israel is captured in this podcast released today by the Hartman Institute: Donniel Hartman and Yossi Klein Halevi celebrate the captives’ return to their families, they take note of the ways that this hostage situation is different from any the nation has faced in its history.

While in Israel there is near unanimity in prioritizing the hostages' release over military goals, the inevitable conversation has begun as to the wisdom of paying ransom (here, releasing prisoners) at all. In an essay in the Atlantic, Graeme Wood asserts that rewarding hostage-taking is how Israel got into this mess in the first place. While redeeming captives (Pidyon Shevuyim) is a prime Jewish value, there are limits, which were severely tested when IDF soldier Gilad Shalit was exchanged for 1,000 imprisoned Palestinians in 2011.

Maimonides states that there is no mitzvah greater than the redeeming of captives. (Maimonides, Mishneh Torah, Hilchot Matanot Aniyim 8:10-11). The Shulchan Aruch adds: “Every moment that one delays in freeing captives, in cases where it is possible to expedite their freedom, is considered to be tantamount to murder.” (Shulchan Aruch, Yoreh De'ah 252:3)[, Medieval Jewish communities often were called upon to pony up big bucks to redeem kidnapped kin.

In contemporary Israel, it has become standard practice to swap busloads of prisoners for one captive soldier, or even for their remains.

But medieval Jewish communities never had as high a stake in this as modern Israelis do. In a detailed responsum on the subject that predates Shalit’s capture. Rabbi David Golinkin concludes, “We do not pay excessive ransom… In other words, the public takes precedence over the individual, even if this endangers the individual. Exchanging hundreds or thousands of terrorists for one Israeli encourages kidnapping of Israelis, and frees hundreds or thousands of terrorists who will pick up their weapons and attack Israel. In other words, it endangers the public and should not be done.”

Graeme Wood adds this interesting historical footnote from American history, quoting a 19th century document that made the case against paying for the freedom of hostages, in this case, enslaved people. To pay for freedom would be “a surrender of the great fundamental principle” that hostages are not the property of hostage-takers, and that “if compensation is to be given at all, it should be given to the outraged and guiltless” victims of the crime, rather than to the criminals themselves. 

These lines appear in the 1834 Declaration of Sentiments of the American Anti-Slavery Society. In it, Wood explains, William Lloyd Garrison rejected the notion that slaveholders should be compensated for the freedom of the roughly 2 million men, women, and children in American bondage. “Even at the time, it was clear that paying off slaveholders might avert a civil war and hasten the freedom of many slaves. But to make a deal with slaveholders would, Garrison reasoned, amount to a cease-fire with an enemy whose total, unconditional surrender was the only acceptable outcome.”

In Gaza today as well, the unconditional surrender of Hamas is the only acceptable outcome.

However, ultimately Garrison relented, writing in 1847:

To save a fellow-being, it is no crime sometimes to comply with even unjust demands.”

The key question in this case is not about whether paying ransom will encourage future hostage-taking or even whether it devalues the dignity of a human life. It really comes down to whether this pause will increase the chances of Hamas ever having the capacity to do these things again. And will the cost of this ransom be more innocent lives, both Gazan and Israeli?

That is not a theoretical brain teaser. These questions have life and death implications. But given our lack of omniscience, we need to need to base our decisions on sound moral values and common sense. The price for freedom may be high, but, within limits, it is worth paying.

We now can ascertain that a thousand prisoners for Gilad Shalit was probably too many. It set a bad precedent, allowed real killers to go free to kill again, and it led to this debacle. The current three for one exchange feels like a bargain in comparison to what was paid for Shalit. It is a price that even William Lloyd Garrison would have considered.

All these calculations cheapen the value of human life. A British news anchor insinuated that Israel was deliberately diminishing the value of Palestinian prisoners' lives (many of whom, incidentally, had tried to take the lives of Israelis) with this "three for one" deal. The clueless newscaster wondered why not one for one? Are their lives not worth the same as Israelis?

Let's hope there is never a next time, and certainly not a next opportunity for Hamas, but the next time someone else is considering taking hostages, they might be given pause by how this has all worked out thus far. At a time when Israel was being portrayed - wrongly - as a heartless aggressor with no regard for innocent life, these Israeli captives remained on the front pages of the world press as daily reminders of Hamas's strategy of barbarity. At the same time, these children, these innocent children, became the symbols of Israel's just cause, enabling the ferocity of its response to October 7 to have a justified objective, a face. As for Hamas, October 7 is being praised in the Arab world, but with more equivocation than one would expect, even as people rush to condemn Israel.

Another ironic twist to this situation is that, had Hamas known on Oct. 7 that taking captive 240 men, women and especially children would be a blunder, the odds are that they these 240 would have been murdered instead, on the spot, along with 1,200 others. So - with many chapters yet to be written in this story - Hamas’s delusions of another Gilad Shalit bonanza may have inadvertently contributed to saving many lives, even if for all the wrong reasons.

It's not over yet, and small consolation to the current victims, but the tide on hostage taking as a strategic tool appears to be turning.

To share this article click here or below

What Is Life Like for Palestinians in Gaza? | Unpacked

Tomorrow's Headlines Today

Jerusalem Post

Ha'aretz (English)

Below: Headline in today's Yediot, above a photo of just-released Yahel Shoham, 3, states, "Yahel is waiting for her Abba (father)." To the right, a photo of Avigail Idan, who also has returned home, "without mom and dad." Her parents were murdered by Hamas on Oct. 7. Sometimes just the headlines can be too much to bear.

Recommended Reading

Dr Einat Wilf on Colonialism

To see this enlarged, click here.

Another Tweet from Dr. Wilf:

My take on this article: This is solid history and helpful in any discussion of why Jews are indigenous to the land. But it sets the conversation on their terms. And there can be two sides to that question. There can be a :context."  For Oct 7 there is no "context" but Kishinev and Auschwitz. If we allow the terms of the debate to be dictated by those looking at the entirety of the Palestinian - Israeli conflict, we’ve lost the debate already. To do that dilutes and thereby nullifies the stark truth of Oct 7, the scope and unprecedented nature of the brutality.

Click to read on my latest Substack essays

- and don't forget to subscribe!

Rabbi Joshua Hammerman

Temple Beth El
350 Roxbury Road
Stamford, Connecticut 06902
203-322-6901 |
A Conservative, Inclusive, Spiritual Community

No comments: