IDF attempted ’08 operation to capture Hamas commander to swap for Shalit


Israel attempted to capture the former head of Hamas’ military wing in 2008 in order to exchange him for then-captive Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit, according to newly released documents.

The operation involved special forces and the top brass of Israel’s defense establishment. Soldiers were dispatched to Gaza to nab Ahmed Jabari, formerly the head of Hamas’ military wing, as he was driving to visit one of his two wives, the Times of Israel reported. The Israel Defense Forces then planned to offer Jabari in exchange for Shalit, whom Hamas had captured two years earlier.

But the operation was aborted when Jabari’s car made an unexpected turn.

After indirect negotiations with Hamas, Shalit was exchanged for more than 1,000 Palestinian prisoners in 2011. In November 2012, Israel assassinated Jabari at the beginning of Operation Pillar of Defense, an eight-day conflict with Hamas in Gaza.

Abduct Israelis to free prisoners, Gaza leaders say


Islamic leaders in the Gaza Strip called on Friday for militants to kidnap Israelis and use them as bargaining chips to secure the freedom of thousands of Palestinians prisoners held in Israeli jails.

Human rights groups say up to 2,000 prisoners have joined an open-ended hunger strike to protest against jail conditions and thousands of Palestinians staged a rally in the Gaza Strip to support their cause.

“We should work hard to get (Israeli) prisoners in our hands in order to secure the freedom of our prisoners,” Khaled Al-Batsh, a senior member of the Islamic Jihad, told the crowd.

“I say to all armed factions, the way to free the prisoners is through swaps … An arrest for an arrest, and freedom for freedom. This is the way,” he said.

Israel last year freed some 1,000 Palestinians in return for the release of Gilad Shalit, a soldier seized in 2006 and held by the Islamist group Hamas in secret captivity for five years.

Human Rights groups say at least 4,700 Palestinians remain in Israeli jails, many of them convicted for violent crimes. Palestinian leaders say they should be treated as prisoners of war, something Israel rejects.

Ismail Haniyeh, the Hamas leader in Gaza, said Palestinian militant factions would “never abandon” the prisoners.

“The swap deal was a message to the (Israeli) occupation that the resistance and the Palestinian people will pursue every difficult avenue to break the chains of these heroes,” he said.

“We are in a battle for the prisoners, and we will either win, or we will win,” he added.

Friday’s rally saw participants waving both the green and black flags of Hamas and the Islamic Jihad – a sign of growing ties between the two groups, which share the same Islamist ideology and advocate the destruction of the state of Israel.

Prisoners are seen as heroes in their communities and the mass hunger strike is putting pressure on the leadership to respond. Israel struck deals with two prisoners earlier this year to end their hunger strikes, but is resisting demands for further concessions.

At least two prisoners have been refusing food for more than eight weeks. A mass hunger strike by at least 1,200 was launched on April 17 and the Addameer prisoners’ association has said a further 800 have since joined the movement.

Editing by Crispian Balmer and Robin Pomeroy

Israel frees 550 Palestinians in Shalit swap


Israel released 550 Palestinian prisoners Sunday in the second stage of a deal with Hamas that brought home soldier Gilad Shalit after five years of captivity in the Gaza Strip.

While many of the 450 prisoners freed on October 18 in the first phase of the Egyptian-brokered prisoner swap were serving life sentences for deadly attacks, none in the second group was convicted of killings.

Nearly all of the prisoners passed through a crossing into the West Bank and were greeted by thousands of Palestinians who danced and cheered in the city of Ramallah.

Though Hamas, which rules the Gaza Strip, had reached the deal with Israel, most of the crowd waved flags from the rival Fatah faction of Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, the dominant party in the West Bank.

In Gaza, two buses with 41 prisoners, escorted by the International Committee of the Red Cross, passed through the Rafah crossing and were met by hundreds of relatives waving flags representing the different Palestinian factions.

“My feelings of joy are mixed with sorrow because we left behind beloved brothers, we hope all of them will be freed,” said Samer Aweidat, who was released after serving four years of a six-year sentence for weapons possession and being a member of a miltant group.

Israel’s Supreme Court opened the way for Sunday’s release to go ahead by turning down a petition Friday from Israelis opposed to freeing the prisoners, whose terms ranged from a few months to 18 years.

They were convicted of crimes that included attempted murder, planting bombs and membership of militant groups.

Shalit was abducted in June 2006 by militants who tunnelled into Israel from the Gaza Strip and surprised his tank crew, killing two of his comrades. He was held incommunicado in the Hamas-ruled territory and a huge majority of Israelis backed the deal that brought him home two months ago.

Hani Habib, a political analyst in Gaza, said that Israel, given the opportunity to pick which prisoners would be freed in the second stage, chose inmates from Fatah rather than Hamas.

“Israel was interested in turning the victory that has been achieved into a Palestinian discomfort and a Palestinian division with its discrimination,” he said.

Hamas said it would petition Egypt to pressure Israel into freeing all the Palestinian women in its jails, something it had wanted to happen in Sunday’s release.

Writing by Jeffrey Heller

The weight of the swap


We salute you, Gilad!


“He who wrought miracles for our fathers, and redeemed them from slavery unto freedom, may he speedily redeem us, and gather our exiles from the four corners of the earth, even all Israel united in fellowship; and let us say, Amen.” 

“HaMakom y’rachem ethkhem b’tokh sh’ar aveilei Tzion v’Yrushalayim” 

“May G-d comfort you among all the mourners of Zion and Jerusalem” 






I remember the last time I cried. Not sobbed, but cried. 



It was in England. I had returned there following my service in Tzahal to pursue my medical studies – my ambition at the time to become a physician. It was an ambition I left behind me some time ago. 



I was a stranger in that country. I returned there British in accent and formal citizenship alone – not viscerally. In my soul, my mindset and my thoughts I had become an Israeli, moulded to that form in a fashion that only a military experience can beget. 



No event defined my service to a greater extent than the second Lebanon war, during which Ehud Goldwasser, Eldad Regev and Gilad Schalit were kidnapped. Their abduction reverberated around our unit, to our officers and, of course, throughout Israeli society as a whole. Ehud and Eldad, Z’L were kidnapped on July 12th, 2006. Gilad, on June 25th of the same year. 



When I returned to England in 2008, I was consumed with angst as to the fate of them all. I don’t believe I ever spoke out on the subject. It was too fresh. I simply prayed each morning and every night in my solitude that they would be returned home to their families safely, alive and well. 



Every passing day brought greater loneliness in the United Kingdom. There seemed to be no-one with whom I could speak on this matter, nobody with whom I could share this experience. And yet I was sustained by a deep hope that all were still alive. 



My Israeli friends, when I discussed the prospect of our soldiers coming home, would tell me that in the case of Goldwasser and Regev there was little reason to remain optimistic. So extensive was the damage to their vehicle, they would tell me, they could not possibly have survived. But hope I did, and pray I did. 

Israel entered into negotiations with Hezbollah for their return. 



Then came the day of the exchange. I was driving as the news came over the radio. Coffins filled with their bodies were to be transferred, rather than soldiers alive and well. 

My hopes for their safe return were ended. I felt I had been naive and foolish. Drawing my car to the roadside I began to weep, and that weep became a sob and the sobbing evolved into cries. 



I felt totally alone, detached from all around me and embarrassed by my optimism. 

It was July 16th, 2008, and that was the last time I cried. 

Today, here in Israel, we celebrate the return of Gilad Schalit, even as we console one another over the dreadful cost that has been furnished for his return. 



Here in Israel, like nowhere else on earth, we have all carried the anguish of his absence and we have done so as one. That oneness is perhaps what made it all bearable. 

Here we refused to relinquish our hope, to cease our praying or to abandon our belief that one day, some day, we might yet see Gilad return. Here there was no loneliness in our anguish, rather abundant company to share the burden – tragically. 



Today he is home. Our hearts soar even as many a tear falls. But I will not cry this day. Today, I prefer pragmatism rather than emotion when considering the actions of our enemies. 



So pragmatically speaking, I state that most every member of Tzahal has known an emptiness since Gilad was taken from us. Each of us has tried not to wonder as to our own fate in the event that the worst should befall us, G-d forbid. 

Every family, every parent and every grandparent of Israel has felt the same, and Jews around the world have voiced their yearning to see Gilad come home. 



Today, our government has brought him home and that anguish has dissipated. Tonight we rest assured that we will not be left behind in the field of battle, nor at a checkpoint, nor at any other post and we are comforted by that. 

Yet I fear that a new anguish has replaced the old, as we try to anticipate the actions and activities of those who have been released, the possible precedent that has been set, and as we hear the declaration by Hamas that kidnapping is thus proven to be a sound strategy – one to be replicated in the future. 



Gilad had to come home. Our collective wound can now heal, but situations such as this cannot and must not continue. 

Friends, those who seek to terrorise us must be made to understand that our sons and daughters in uniform are not bargaining chips to be redeemed at the time of their choosing. 



Our soldiers are our flesh and our blood, our guardians and protectors. They are our brothers, sisters, parents and children and they, each of them, must be guarded and protected in return. They are untouchable, sacred to us all. 



So this day I will not cry, not even a tear, but I will certainly pray. I will pray that our government, even as I thank them for Gilads return, will ensure that such a sinister dynamic is never revisited upon us. 



I pray Gilad and his family will know peace once more. 



I pray the world understands the price that we paid and will draw no moral equivalence between their thousand and our one. 



I pray we all remember the victims and families of the victims of terror – for dip as we do our fingers into the Passover wine each year to mourn the loss of another people, so too must the joy of today be tempered by sadness. 



I pray we remember always that no matter how heavily this price may weigh on our hearts, it is precisely our heart that makes us so wondrous a people. 



And I pray and give thanks for the fact that here in Israel, while lessons must be learned, changes must be made and policies must be altered; hope, for me, is never to be abandoned – not in the surroundings in which I find myself today. 



Welcome home to you, Gilad. We pray that you heal and thank you for enabling us to do the same. 

It is we who salute you. 



IDF Sgt. Res. Benjamin Anthony is founder and director of Our Soldiers Speak.

Source: Egypt to fly Palestinians abroad after swap


Egypt’s government is stepping up security at Cairo airport as it prepares to fly Palestinians freed under a prisoner exchange with Israel out of the country, an Egyptian intelligence source said Tuesday.

Hundreds of Palestinians are being freed in exchange for Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit under the deal between Gaza’s Hamas Islamist rulers and the Israeli government.

Cairo airport raised security to emergency level as it prepared to transport 40 of the Palestinians to three countries as part of the swap deal, the intelligence source said.

The source said the prisoners were being sent to Turkey, Syria and Qatar and that their travel formalities were being overseen by Hamas leader Khaled Meshaal.

A Turkish foreign ministry official confirmed that Turkey had agreed to receive some of the prisoners because it would contribute to peace in the region.

“As we have always said, we’re looking at this issue as a humanitarian issue,” the Turkish official said. “Our contribution to this agreement will be to receive a group of Palestinians in Turkey.”

A plane would be sent to Egypt to fly the Palestinians to Turkey, the official said on condition of anonymity, without giving further details.

Additional reporting by Tulay Karadeniz in Ankara; Writing by Tom Pfeiffer, Editing by William Maclean

Gilad Shalit freed in mass prisoner swap


Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit returned home to a national outpouring of joy on Tuesday after five years in captivity as hundreds of Palestinian prisoners exchanged for him were greeted with kisses from Hamas leaders in the Gaza Strip.

“I missed my family,” a gaunt Shalit, his breathing labored at times, said in an interview with Egyptian TV conducted before he was transferred to Israel and broadcast after he went free.

“I hope this deal will promote peace between Israel and the Palestinians,” he said.

Shalit, 25, was taken across the frontier from the Gaza Strip into Egypt’s Sinai peninsula and driven to Israel’s Vineyard of Peace border crossing, where a helicopter awaited to fly him to an Israeli air base for a reunion with his parents.

Simultaneously Israel freed 477 Palestinian prisoners, most of them to the Gaza Strip, where Hamas leaders greeted former prisoners piling off buses bearing Red Cross insignia.

Palestinians, awaiting the release of prisoners at a West Bank checkpoint, hurled rocks at Israeli soldiers, who responded with tear gas, after the military announced to the crowd over a loudspeaker that the group had been taken to another crossing.

In the television interview, Shalit said he found out a week ago that he was to be released. The soldier, who had not been seen since a 2009 video, said he had feared he would be held “for many more years”.

Political commentators said it appeared unlikely the prisoner exchange agreed by the two bitter enemies would have any immediate impact on Israeli-Palestinian negotiations that broke down last year.

The mood in Israel was one of elation, with “welcome home” signs on street corners and morning commuters watching live broadcasts of the swap on cellular telephones.

Shalit has been popularly portrayed as “everyone’s son” and opinion polls showed that an overwhelming majority of Israeli backed the thousand-for-one deal, although many of the prisoners going free were convicted of deadly attacks.

For Palestinians, it was a time to celebrate what Hamas hailed as a victory, and a heroes’ welcome awaited the released prisoners. Palestinians see brethren jailed by Israel as prisoners of war in a struggle for statehood.

“This is the greatest joy for the Palestinian people,” said Azzia al-Qawasmeh, who waited at a West Bank checkpoint for her son Amer, whom she said had been in prison for 24 years.

The deal received a green light from Israel’s Supreme Court late on Monday after it rejected petitions from the public to prevent the mass release of prisoners, many serving life sentences imposed by Israeli courts for deadly attacks.

CROSS-BORDER RAID

Shalit was abducted in June 2006 by militants who tunneled into Israel from the Gaza Strip and surprised his tank crew, killing two of his comrades. He was whisked back into Gaza and has since been held incommunicado.

Israel, which withdrew troops and settlers from Gaza in 2005, tightened its blockade of the small coastal enclave after Shalit’s disappearance.

The deal with Hamas, a group classified by the United States and European Union as a terrorist organization over its refusal to recognize Israel and renounce violence, is not expected to spur peace negotiations.

Those talks, led by Israel and Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, a Hamas rival, collapsed 13 months ago. Abbas now wants the U.N. to recognize Palestinian statehood, a unilateral bid opposed by Israel and its main ally, the United States.

At Tel Nof air base in central Israel, Shalit will see his parents, whose public campaign for his release put pressure on Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to make a deal with a bitter enemy. Netanyahu will also meet Shalit there. Later, Shalit will fly by helicopter to his family home in northern Israel.

The repatriation of captured soldiers, alive or dead, has long been an emotionally charged issue for Israelis. Many have served in the military as conscripts and see it as sacrosanct. But they also feel stung by the high price they feel Israel is paying for Shalit.

“I understand the difficulty in accepting that the vile people who committed the heinous crimes against your loved ones will not pay the full price they deserve,” Netanyahu wrote in a letter, released by his office, to bereaved Israeli families.

Additional reporting by Rami Amichai, Ronen Zvulun, Ari Rabinovitch, Maayan Lubell, Douglas Hamilton, Mohammed Salem and Tom Perry; Writing by Jeffrey Heller; Editing by Crispian Balmer and Alastair Macdonald

Top Israeli court gives green light for Shalit swap


Israel and the Gaza Strip’s Islamist Hamas rulers prepared to implement a prisoner swap on Tuesday in which Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit will be exchanged for hundreds of Palestinians.

The deal was given the all-clear by Israel’s highest court late on Monday after it rejected petitions to block the swap by relatives of Israelis killed by some of the Palestinians to be released.

The first phase of the exchange was expected to begin on Tuesday at around 0400 GMT (6 a.m. local time) and should end a saga that has gripped Israelis over the five-plus years of Shalit’s captivity in Gaza.

Egypt, which has been credited as a major player in brokering the deal, will receive Shalit from his Hamas captors and hand him over to Israel at the same time as Israel starts to free the Palestinians at various locations.

Shalit, now 25, was captured in June 2006 by militants who tunnelled into Israel from the Gaza Strip and surprised his tank crew, killing two of his comrades.

After his return, Shalit will be flown by helicopter to an air base in the centre of Israel where he will be greeted by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, other leaders and close family. Later he will be flown to his home in northern Israel.

Hamas were readying a heroes’ welcome in Gaza for 295 of the 477 prisoners set for freedom in the first phase who were due to be sent to the Israeli-blockaded territory. Of those going to Gaza, 41 will then be exiled abroad.

Hamas sources said Turkey, Qatar and Syria will take the exiled prisoners after the movement’s leader, Khaled Meshaal, greets them in Cairo.

A group of prisoners will be taken from Israel to the West Bank, where they will be welcomed by Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, Hamas’s greatest political rival, and their families.

Palestinians regard those jailed by Israel as prisoners of war in their struggle for statehood. Israel has some 6,000 Palestinian prisoners.

Israel withdrew troops and settlers from Gaza in 2005 but tightened its blockade of the coastal strip after Shalit’s capture.

The repatriation of captured soldiers, alive or dead, has long been an emotionally charged issue for Israelis, many of whom have served in the military as conscripts. They also feel stung by the high price they feel Israel is paying for Shalit.

The campaign to free Shalit has often made Israeli headlines and the media in Israel has focussed on little else since Netanyahu declared a week ago that he had secured his freedom.

In Gaza, the deal was trumpeted as a triumph for Hamas. The centre of Gaza city was festooned with giant posters bearing portraits of the prisoners. The day has been declared a national holiday and a mass rally planned.

In the second phase of the swap expected to take place in about two months, a further 550 Palestinian prisoners will be freed, officials said.

Palestinian Prisoners Affairs Minister Essa Quraqe said that inmates not being released had ended a hunger strike as part of the deal after Israel agreed to return their conditions to what they were prior to Shalit’s abduction.

The Israel-Hamas deal seemed unconnected to the U.S. State Department saying on Monday that the so-called Quartet of Middle East mediators would meet Israeli and Palestinian officials on Oct. 26 to try to lay ground for fresh peace talks.

Israeli-Palestinian negotiations collapsed 13 months ago in a dispute over settlement building in the West Bank.

Abbas, dismissed by Hamas for what it sees as a feeble stance, has been pursuing a bid for U.N. recognition of Palestinian statehood in the West Bank and Gaza Strip in the absence of negotiations with Israel.

Additional reporting by Nidal al-Mughrabi and Douglas Hamilton in Gaza and Tom Perry in Ramallah; Editing by Louise Ireland

Zell it, Sam; Cool it, Orit; 40 million Frenchmen






Sell It, Sam

Nice editorial on the demise of the L.A. Times as we have known it and loved to hate it all these years (“Sell It, Sam,” Aug. 1).

Didn’t anyone realize when Sam Zell bought the Tribune Co. that real estate value was at the top of his list?

And as to the problems of loss of ad sale revenue and loss of subscribers, all print publications are suffering. One only need to look at the bottom of the Letters page in your paper to realize that every newspaper has competition from themselves in the form of their own Web site.

Many love to read the news on the Web. I don’t understand that peering at a screen can replace relaxing with the Times or Wall Street Journal or Daily News and The Jewish Journal in my lap.

Milt Cohen
Chatsworth
Not sent via e-mail

Oh, if only I was rich instead of … I would give you the money to buy the L.A. Times to manage. But then I might lose you, our weekly treasure, in The Jewish Journal. Oh, sometimes doing something for the greater good is painful.

Rita Lowenthal
Santa Monica

Gogle

Orit Arfa writes that she Googles all her prospective dates (“Go ahead, gogle me” Aug. 1).

She may end up as a single woman all her life unless she learns that love isn’t a treasure found on Google. It is found in a certain electricity between two people who meet in person and in time find that they can’t live without one another.

The only electricity she’ll find in googling her prospective dates is the electricity that turns on her computer, not the electricity that turns her on. I’m single and live in Los Angeles, so Orit may want to Google me, but I don’t think it would be worth her while to fly from Israel to Los Angeles to date me.

Leon M. Salter
Los Angeles

Prisoner Swap

Rabbi David Ellenson bases his view that the Olmert government made the right choice in releasing terrorists in exchange for kidnapped (dead) Israeli soldiers on the argument that Israeli soldiers who know that they will be redeemed are more likely to fight fearlessly and less likely to retreat to avoid capture (“Prisoner Swap: Morale Issue Spurs Hard Choice,” Aug. 1).

However, even if this were true, releasing terrorists in exchange for kidnapped Israelis is a terrible mistake for at least two reasons.

First, releasing terrorists in exchange for kidnapped Israelis provides a rock-solid incentive for more such kidnappings. Indeed, the practice of making such releases since the late 1980s has increased kidnappings. Worse, Israel’s willingness to release terrorists in exchange for bodies acts as a virtual death warrant for any future Israelis kidnapped.

Second, and even more important, freed terrorists return to terrorism and claim more Israeli lives. A 2006 detailed report issued by the Almagor Terror Victims Association (ATVA) shows that between the years 1993-1999, Israel released 6,912 terrorists within the context of “confidence-building measures” and prisoner deals. Of that number, 854 (12 percent) were arrested subsequently for lethal terrorist acts that claimed the lives of 123 Israelis.

Also, Col. Meir Indor, director of ATVA, disclosed in April 2007 that 177 Israelis killed in terror attacks in the previous five years were killed by Palestinians who had been previously released from Israeli jails (Jerusalem Post, April 10, 2008).

Morton A. Klein
National President
Zionist Organization of America

I was extremely disappointed that Israel would swap its dead soldiers for live Arab prisoners. I understand the thinking that the Israel Defense Forces need to uphold soldiers’ morale, but where is the incentive for the Arabs to keep Israeli prisoners alive?

I feel that they should have agreed to swap dead soldiers for dead prisoners. Otherwise, there is no advantage or incentive for the Arabs to keep Israeli captives alive.

Arlene Cohen
Los Angeles

Rabbi Meier

Thanks for David Suissa’s obituary on Rabbi Levi Meier (z’l), chaplain of Cedars-Sinai Medical Center (“Rabbi Levi Meier, Whose Pulpit Was Hospital Rooms, Dies at 62,” July 18).

He is very precious to so many in the community. I hope that at some point you can do a special feature on him.

Koby Levy
Los Angeles

Broken (Political) Heart

In Fairfax High School, I had a brilliant and wise instructor of advanced placement European History who used to say: “Do not put all your faith in one man. For surely he will disappoint you.”

And he also said: “40 million Frenchmen can be wrong” (“On Having Your (Political) Heart Broken,” Aug. 1).

Elizabeth Kruger
Los Angeles

Correction
In "Southland Olympians Hope to Join Roster of Winners," (Aug. 1), Sasha Cohen came in second at Torino in 2006, not Salt Lake City in 2002. We regret the error.

Lebanon prisoner swap deal — morale issue forces a hard choice


The existential reality of an Israeli context, where governmental decisions often have a life and death valence, has been brought home to millions of people these past fewweeks, as the Israeli Cabinet made the agonizing decision to authorize the release of the murderer Samir Kuntar, four other live Lebanese prisoners and the bodies of dozens of Arab infiltrators and terrorists to Hezbollah in exchange for the bodies of abducted Israel Defense Forces (IDF) soldiers Ehud Goldwasser and Eldad Regev.

The weight of responsibility placed upon the government and Cabinet in this instance — as in so many others — was surely awesome. While many have conceded that the decision of the Israeli government to allow this exchange was immeasurably painful, albeit necessary, others have been extremely critical of the governmental judgment to go ahead with this terribly imbalanced swap.

This decision involved no easy choice. However, as so many of us struggle with our thoughts and feelings as we reflect upon the action that Israel took in this episode, it is instructive to remember that this is not the first time Israel has unfortunately confronted this issue.

In 1985, the Jewish state faced the same heartbreaking and excruciating question. Israel had to decide whether to return 1,150 Palestinian and Lebanese prisoners for the release of three Israeli soldiers. While the exchange never took place and the fate of the three Israeli POWs is still unknown, two prominent Israeli rabbis — Rabbi Shlomo Goren and Rabbi Haim David Halevi — addressed the issue directly at that time. Their words then have resonance and meaning today, as they provide important perspectives for reflecting upon the policy position the Israeli government adopted on this painful matter involving life and death.

Goren served as chief Ashkenazic rabbi of Israel and was formerly chief rabbi of the IDF, while Halevi was the chief Sephardic rabbi of Tel Aviv-Jaffa.

Goren, in an article written on May 31, 1985, was straightforward in his response to this question. He stated that Jewish law absolutely forbade the Israeli government from redeeming “our captive soldiers in exchange for 1,150 terrorists” and based his ruling on a talmudic passage in Gittin 45a that stated, “Captives should not be redeemed for more than their value.” Goren emphasized his great distress at the personal plight of these captives — they were surely in “mortal danger.”

However, he still insisted that the state should not redeem them as such redemption in exchange for the release of known terrorists bent on the destruction of Israel and its Jewish population would surely imperil all Israeli citizenry and only fuel Arab attempts to capture more Jews in the future. The price exacted from Israel through the release of these terrorists was simply too steep for the state to afford.

Halevi responded to Goren soon after the article appeared. He was sympathetic to the position his Ashkenazic colleague had advanced in his piece. However, Halevi disagreed about the relevance of applying the Gittin passage to the contemporary situation.

In his view, the conditions that existed in a modern Jewish state were completely different from those that confronted the Jewish community in premodern times. The Jewish people were now sovereign in their land, and the “political-national” aims that motivated the terrorists “to wreak havoc among the Jewish people” would continue, regardless of whether their prisoners were released in exchange for Israeli soldiers. Indeed, these terrorists would persist in their cruel efforts until a solution to the entire Israeli-Palestinian conflict was achieved.

The “impossible choice” before the government was whether to “strengthen the power of the terrorists through the release of their comrades or to strengthen the morale of IDF soldiers should there be future wars.” Faced with these two options, Halevi felt that priority had to be assigned the latter one — the Israeli government should do all in its power to uphold the morale of the IDF soldiers.

If a soldier knew that the government would spare no effort or expense to liberate a captured soldier, then the soldier might well fight more fearlessly in battle. On the other hand, if the soldier knew that his release from captivity did not possess the highest governmental priority and that the government would not act upon that priority, then the soldier might well retreat at a crucial wartime moment so as to avoid risking capture as a prisoner of war. In a moral universe where alternatives were limited, Halevi felt this choice was the wisest one the government could make.

In responding in this way to the existential reality of life and death choices faced by the State of Israel then, Halevi enunciated a position that provides the rationale for the decision the government of the State of Israel has made on the issue of prisoner exchange.

It is surely a policy fraught with danger. At the same time, it appears to be one that continues to legitimately guide Israel as the Jewish state continues to support its citizen-soldiers as they all too often confront an enemy bent on its destruction.

Rabbi David Ellenson is president of Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion.<BR>

Get out of jail free


Candles in the wind


Video headlines from Israel 2008-07-18: Prisoner swap controversy continues


Video headlines from Israel 2008-07-18: Prisoner swap controversy continues

 

On eve of prisoner swap, Israel recalls 2006 Lebanon war


(JTA)—For many Israelis, the timing of this week’s scheduled prisoner swap with Hezbollah serves as a bitter reminder of the failings of the Second Lebanon War.

Two years since the 34-day conflagration—sparked by Hezbollah taking two Israeli soldiers captive in a cross-border attack—the war’s ostensible goals appear to be unrealized.

Rather than suffering a long-term blow, Hezbollah has managed to rearm and refortify itself in Lebanon. The Iran-backed group has gained veto power over Lebanon’s government and more than tripled the number of missiles in its arsenal from before the war, according to Israeli estimates.

Hezbollah chief Sheik Hassan Nasrallah, rather than being cowed or damaged by the war, has emerged as a popular hero in the Arab world, inspiring confrontation with Israel from Gaza to Tehran.

And Israel, rather than recovering its two captive soldiers in the war, was reduced to negotiating with Hezbollah to bring its boys, Eldad Regev and Ehud Goldwasser, home.

Two years on, there is a sense in Israel that the war’s lessons have not been internalized by a government distracted by other things, from the profane to the profound.

“Reading the newspapers this week, on the eve of the second anniversary of the Second Lebanon War, you don’t know whether to laugh or cry,” Yoel Marcus wrote in Ha’aretz last week.

Marcus cited Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert’s legal troubles, accusations of embezzlement against former finance minister Abraham Hirchson, Deputy Prime Minister Haim Ramon’s sexual harassment affair and ex-President Moshe Katsav’s demand for perks, including a new office and a car and driver, while still under indictment for sex crimes.

“Flip another page and you discover that the government debate on the Haim Ramon affair was two hours longer than an urgent Cabinet meeting this week to discuss the arms race being carried out by Hezbollah and Iran,” Marcus wrote. “Instead of holding symposia on the past, which nothing is going to change, we need to focus on the immediate future.”

Chief among those concerns is the threat of a nuclear Iran, which is inextricably connected to the Hezbollah problem. If Israel carries out a strike against suspected nuclear sites in Iran, the Jewish state must expect a retaliatory attack from Hezbollah, Iran’s proxy in Lebanon.

According to Israeli assessments, Hezbollah now has some 40,000 missiles, with ranges of up to 185 miles. That puts most of Israel’s population within range of rocket attack, including Tel Aviv, Jerusalem and possibly even Dimona, the site of Israel’s nuclear reactor in the Negev Desert.

During the 2006 war, Hezbollah’s missiles reached no more than 45 miles inside Israel.

Over the past few days, Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak and Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni both have spoken up about the failure of U.N. Security Council Resolution 1701, which ended the 2006 war. The measure called for Hezbollah’s disarmament and a beefed-up U.N. presence in Lebanon, UNIFIL, to prevent Iranian and Syrian arms shipments from reaching Hezbollah.

“Resolution 1701 is being violated,” Barak told a Labor Party meeting Monday. “Hezbollah continues to get stronger with the ongoing and intimate assistance of the Syrians.
“The delicate balance that exists on the northern border should not be violated on the two-year anniversary of the Second Lebanon War. We should make an explicit statement: Resolution 1701 did not work, it is not working, and all indications are that it will not work in the future. It is a failure.”

What many Israeli pundits want to know is why government officials only now are complaining of the failure to implement the U.N. resolution.

The government’s lack of action in the face of the growing Hezbollah threat raises questions about whether the government has a clear plan for how to confront the more complex and multifaceted Iranian threat.

Professor Yehezkel Dror, a key member of the Israeli panel that reviewed the government’s performance in the 2006 war, created a stir earlier this month when he said that Olmert’s lack of a coherent defense strategy is harming the country.

Dror added that he regretted not calling explicitly for Olmert’s resignation in the final report by the Winograd Committee.

“The current state of affairs worries me greatly; I would not trust this government with making critical decisions,” Dror told Israeli reporters. He called on Olmert to resign, saying the prime minister clearly “does not show strategic thinking.”

“It might be tragic for the prime minister, but better have this than a tragic outcome for the state,” he said.

Dror’s call has been echoed in the Israeli media. A recent editorial in Ha’aretz called on Olmert to go on vacation immediately and let someone else steward the country while he sorts out his legal troubles. The Jerusalem Post urged Olmert’s political party, Kadima, to elect a new leader.

If there is a silver lining to Israel’s failures vis-a-vis Hezbollah, it is that the 2006 war served as a wake-up call for the Israel Defense Forces.

In 2006, the army found itself ill prepared to fight the war in Lebanon due to its almost exclusive focus on Palestinian terrorism over the preceding five years. Now, military analysts say, the IDF has resumed intensive training for battles of the sort it saw in Lebanon. That could be helpful not just against Hezbollah but if the IDF has to fight Hamas in the Gaza Strip.

Indeed, Israel’s stalemate with Hamas in Gaza is a byproduct of the IDF’s shortcomings in the Lebanon War.

Taking a page from Hezbollah’s playbook in 2006, Hamas was able to use rocket fire from the Gaza Strip to leverage a cease-fire from an Israel reticent of repeating in Gaza the mistakes it had made in Lebanon – namely, launching a major military offensive against a guerrilla army in hostile territory with unclear long-term goals and the likelihood of high casualties.

But some Israeli commentators say Olmert was wrong to apply the lessons of Lebanon to Gaza, since the failures in Lebanon were in the implementation of military strategy, not the decision to go to war.

“They didn’t learn about the limits of military power, they learned about the limits of military power when it’s used ineffectively and poorly led,” Michael Oren, a senior fellow at the Shalem Center, said of the conclusions Olmert and his Cabinet drew from Lebanon. “The army could be more effectively led, more disciplined.”

“Every time we are on the edge of victory, we stop the battle one step too soon—two years ago in Lebanon, and now with Hamas,” Israel Harel wrote in Ha’aretz. “This allows the enemy to recover and claim victory, continuing the struggle, justifiably from his point of view, until the Zionist Jewish entity comes to an end.”

Closure, but no joy, in swap deal


JERUSALEM (JTA)—Two black caskets, laid out by Hezbollah officials on the sun-drenched tarmac of a Lebanese border crossing, unceremoniously put to rest one of Israel’s most wrenching hostage ordeals.

The bodies of Israeli reservists Ehud Goldwasser and Eldad Regev returned home for burial Wednesday, two years and four days after they were seized in the Hezbollah cross-border attack that triggered the 2006 Lebanon war.

Until the last moment, the Iranian-backed Shiite militia refused to provide any word on whether the Israeli soldiers were dead or alive, even as the group hammered out a prisoner swap deal with Israel through a U.N.-appointed German mediator.

Live footage of the coffins being delivered to the Red Cross at the Rosh Hanikra border crossing—under a Hezbollah banner that read “Israel sheds tears of pain, Lebanon sheds tears of joy”—brought the painful news home.

At the homes of the Goldwasser and Regev families, crowds of well-wishers wept and cried in outrage. An elderly woman fainted. Dazed-looking children lit memorial candles.

“It was a terrible thing to see, really terrible,” Eldad’s father, Zvi, told Army Radio. “I was always optimistic, and I hoped all the time that I would meet Eldad and hug him.”

Interviewed as the military rabbinate identified the bodies, Goldwasser’s father, Shlomo, voiced resignation.

“This was not much of a surprise,” he told Israel Radio, alluding to an earlier announcement by Prime Minister Ehud Olmert that the captives should be assumed dead. “But confronting reality is always difficult.”



Last September, when I sat down to interview Karnit Goldwasser, the wife of the kidnapped Israeli soldier Ehud Goldwasser,  I was immediately swept up in her sense of optimism that her husband, captured by Hezbollah, would come back to her alive.  Just as moving was her determination to press her government and people around the world to arrange for his safe return. Her campaign and that of the family of Eldad Regev came to a tragic end today.  As part of prisoner exchange at the Lebanon border, the bodies of Regev and Goldwasser were returned to Israel. When I read the news I immediately felt terrible for Karnit.  In a story that raises big moral and even geopolitical issues, she was the personal, anguished face.  Her struggle became all our struggle, and now her pain is all of our pain. Our thoughts and prayers are with the families of these men.

—Rob Eshman

To send the families a personal message of condolence, e-mail {encode=”habanim.org@gmail.com” title=”habanim.org@gmail.com”}.



Under the swap deal, Hezbollah received four of its fighters who were captured in the 2006 war, as well as Samir Kuntar, a Lebanese Druse convicted in Israel for infiltrating the border in 1979 and murdering four Israelis, including a 4-year-old girl and her father.

In the deal, Israel also repatriated the bodies of 199 Arabs who had died trying to infiltrate the northern border over the decades. Hezbollah was to hand over remains of other Israeli soldiers killed in Lebanon.

Kuntar, reviled in Israel, has become a cause celebre for Hezbollah, which called him an “Arab holy warrior.” Now fluent in Hebrew and equipped with a correspondence-course degree from an Israeli university, Kuntar was reported to be considering a job as a Hezbollah spokesman.

“When he took this action, the Hezbollah organization didn’t even exist,” said Brig.-Gen. Avi Beniyahu, Israel’s chief military spokesman. “To those who plan to dress him up in Hezbollah clothes and hold a victory procession with him in Lebanon, I say woe betide the nation that has no heroes.”

Mark Regev, a spokesman for the prime minister, condemned the celebrations.

“Samir Kantar is a brutal murderer of children and anybody celebrating him as a hero is trampling on basic human decency,” he said.

Olmert was expected to withhold comment until Israel could carry out forensic examinations to confirm the bodies’ identities.

While many Israelis have condemned the asymmetric swap, on Wednesday some pundits commended the Olmert government for not giving in to Hezbollah’s initial demand for the deal to include the release of hundreds of jailed Arab terrorists.

“In all decency, it has to be admitted that this morning’s deal is one of the ‘cheapest’ in the history of the State of Israel, almost the ‘best’ of them,” former Yitzhak Rabin aide Eitan Cabel wrote in Israel’s daily Yediot Achronot. “We are depressed because it seems to us that, yet again, Hezbollah has made a laughingstock of us—but this is not the truth.”

Hezbollah leader Sheik Hassan Nasrallah, who has emerged from hiding only rarely since the 2006 war, which he dubs a “divine victory” for radical Islam, was expected to deliver an address Wednesday in Beirut.

According to some reports, Hezbollah also planned to release video footage of the ambush in which Goldwasser and Regev were seized and eight of their comrades killed outright.

Hezbollah named the prisoner swap “Operation Radwan”—the nom de guerre of Imad Mughniyeh, the Hezbollah mastermind who planned the abductions and was assassinated in Damascus in February by unknown assailants.

With Kuntar free, Hezbollah may try to avenge Mughniyeh with major terrorist attacks on Israel, sources in Jerusalem warned.

In the Gaza Strip and the West Bank, the prisoner swap was welcomed.

Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas reportedly offered his congratulations to Kuntar’s family and offered his condolences to the families of the Lebanese who received their loved ones’ remains in the deal.

In Gaza, Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh, the one-time P.A. prime minister, congratulated Hezbollah and Kuntar for “the great victory of the resistance, which proved the rightness of our way.”

The focus in Israel likely will turn now to the Israeli soldier taken captive by Hamas in 2006, Gilad Shalit.

Shalit, who survived the cross-border raid that resulted in his capture, has been permitted to send several messages to his family.

Palestinians have demanded the release of hundreds of Palestinian prisoners in exchange for his return.

 

OPINION CON: Releasing terrorists invites danger


HAIFA, Israel (JTA)—I am writing from Israel as my government releases terrorists back to Lebanon in exchange for the return of two Israeli soldiers kidnapped by Hezbollah and for information on the fate of missing Israeli airman Ron Arad.

My government made this decision without knowing all the details and the exact price Israel will have to pay, without knowing if the captive soldiers are alive, without knowing if the report on Arad is reliable.

The negotiations over the prisoner swap deal and the families’ torment have been in the headlines here for more than 700 days, since Gilad Shalit was kidnapped by Hamas in the Gaza Strip and Eldad Regev and Ehud Goldwasser were taken captive by Hezbollah in Lebanon.

The constant concern in Israel for our captive soldiers has increased the price of their release.

As a father who lost his daughter in a terrorist attack, this fateful trade—one that is backed by public opinion and fueled by the media—forces me to raise some questions.

How many terrorists will Israel ultimately have to release from prison to bring home its captured soldiers? How much will this decision increase the price of releasing Shalit, the solider we know is alive? Would the price of a swap have been this high if media outlets had not injected themselves into these deliberations?

How many more Israelis will die or be taken captive as a result of this swap?

My daughter Tal was 17 years old when a suicide bomber detonated his explosives belt on March 5, 2003, killing 17 Israelis—Jews, Christians, Muslims and Druse. Did I fail as a father to protect my daughter’s life when I did not try to change my government’s decision to release convicted terrorists years before the attack? Would my government have listened to me?

During the past months and especially in the past few weeks, we have seen the families of the abducted soldiers criticizing and banging on the doors of Israeli government ministers, Knesset members and other public figures urging them to release terrorists and get back their sons.

As a parent, I understand their efforts and agree that a parent must always do everything for his child’s well-being. The parents of an abducted child have the full right and obligation to act in any way possible to bring back their child, irrespective of the price the public must pay.

But the involvement of the media and public opinion in their efforts raises serious moral questions.

Should governments take such considerations into account? What about the other Israelis who now are at greater risk of attack?

Poor decisions by politicians led to the murder of my daughter and 16 others on Bus 37 in Haifa. Now that I have joined the ranks of the bereaved, what should I do in order to protect Tal’s brothers, Dror and Mika? Who will safeguard their lives after the mass release of terrorists with or without blood on their hands?

The past has taught us that some convicted terrorists who are released from jail kill again. These attacks are a matter of when, not if.

These terrorists were found guilty by the Israeli legal system in fair trials. But they remain heroes—and inspirations—to their people. Releasing them further jeopardizes the Israeli people and is a breach of the government’s responsibility to its citizens.

As a parent who must protect the lives of his children, I wish that I would be welcomed in the halls of the Knesset with the same attentiveness, understanding and empathy as the parents of the captive soldiers. I wish I could add my input and experience to influence a decision with such a strategic and long-term impact.

In any case, deliberation of such crucial issues must take place far from the public eye, free from the influence of stricken families or the media. Their intervention increases the price of a swap and prolongs the process of bringing home captive soldiers.

Israel has to set a firm policy for dealing with the release of kidnapped soldiers and citizens—a policy that will make clear that kidnapping Israelis does not bring rewards.

The mass release of murderous terrorists teaches that terror is the way to victory. But we need to show that only honest negotiations will bring peace. Then Israeli and Arab children will have a better future, and not lose their lives as a result of senseless, hate-driven acts of violence.

OPINION PRO: Do everything to bring home captives


HOLON, Israel (JTA)—Sitting in a Syrian prison, one thought kept me alive: the knowledge that my country was doing everything possible to bring me back home to my family and homeland. At times I imagined a hole in the floor, with Israeli troops emerging from it to rescue me.

In the Syrian prison, I recalled the images of our war captives from Egypt stepping off the plane. I remembered the efforts the state made to get back the bodies of its soldiers. Time and again I recounted the story of the hostage rescue in Entebbe.

Even in times of despair I knew that everything was being done to discover what happened to me and that Israel was making every effort to bring me home alive.

There were times when I considered the possibility of ending my life, especially so my captors would have a body and not a living soldier. But I knew they would bring my body back to Israel, too. I knew they would never say that I disappeared.

So I support the current prisoner swap. As one who sat in prison, with his family told for two years that he was dead, I am convinced that we had to make the swap despite the heavy price of releasing the murderer Samir Kuntar. Every soldier who goes to war should go to the battlefield knowing the state will do everything to bring him home.

This knowledge should be etched in the consciousness of every soldier.

God forbid that the example to be etched in our soldiers’ minds would be that of Ron Arad, whose fate, to our regret, remains unknown.

I am glad that the swap is taking place and that the Goldwasser and Regev families can rest. When, heaven forbid, a soldier dies, army officials knock on the door and inform the family of the terrible news.

Here we have two families who for two years have been facing a terrible situation, waiting for that knock on the door.

Therefore, we had to do everything in order to end the distress they were facing.

(Chezi Shay was held hostage by the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine from 1982 to 1985.)

Video headlines from Israel: 2008-07-11 — Did Olmert double-bill? Shalit talks continue


Video headlines from Israel: 2008-07-11—Did Olmert double-bill? Shalit talks continue

Israel cabinet to vote on Hezbollah swap, Canada downplays reports of Hezbollah sleepers


Cabinet to Vote on Hezbollah Swap

Ehud Olmert will ask his Cabinet on Sunday to approve a prisoner swap with Hezbollah.

Karnit Goldwasser, whose husband, Ehud, and fellow Israeli soldier Eldad Regev were abducted by the Lebanese militia in a July 2006 border raid, said Tuesday following a meeting with the prime minister that a deal for their return was in place.

She said Olmert told her that his Cabinet would vote on the deal at its weekly session Sunday. Goldwasser, who offered no details on the deal, said she hopes it will be approved.

Security sources said Israel would release five jailed Lebanese terrorists and repatriate the bodies of some 10 slain infiltrators in exchange for the soldiers, whose condition is not known.

Israel Names Its First Female U.N. Envoy

A former associate law professor at Hebrew University in Jerusalem was named Israel’s first female U.N. ambassador.

Gabriella Shalev will replace Dan Gillerman, who is expected to wrap up his tenure in the coming weeks, Ynet reported.

Shalev, the rector at Ono Academic College, is considered one of the world’s foremost experts on contract law.

The appointment comes after a reported battle between Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni and Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, who favored former New York Consul-General Alon Pinkas.

Canada Downplays Reports of Hezbollah Sleepers

Canadian Jewish officials are downplaying news reports that Hezbollah operatives are training near Toronto and plan to attack.

The American ABC News leaked details last week of an ongoing international intelligence investigation with allegations that up to 20 “sleeper cell” suspects from Hezbollah were activated, including a “weapons expert” spotted at a firing range south of Toronto.

Officials told ABC that suspected Hezbollah operatives have conducted surveillance recently on the Israeli Embassy in Ottawa and on several synagogues in Toronto.

Bernie Farber, the CEO of the Canadian Jewish Congress, said there has been “chatter” since the assassination of a Hezbollah leader in February, but that authorities said there is nothing to lead them to believe the reports are true.

“Our belief is that our federal authorities have things in hand,” Farber told the Toronto Star. “They’ve known about this alleged threat for a while, they’ve investigated it, and they’ve told me categorically that while the chatter is out there, and it has been for a while, there is nothing to lead them to believe that there’s anything imminent or that in fact the chatter is real.”

Farber added, though, that it is always better to be on the safe side, “so we will ensure that our community institutions are alerted.”

Atomic Energy Team Begins Syria Inspections

The United Nations nuclear watchdog began an investigation into an alleged Syrian reactor bombed by Israel.

A team from the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) flew out to Damascus on Sunday for 72 hours of talks and inspections.

The experts are to visit al-Kibar, a remote site in northern Syria, which Israeli warplanes destroyed last September and the United States has described as a North Korean-designed reactor.

Syria has denied having a secret nuclear facility but, in a move widely perceived as aimed at covering up evidence, bulldozed over al-Kibar soon after the Israeli attack.

Damascus admitted the IAEA inspectors after months of prevarication. There have been calls abroad for several other suspect sites in Syria to be inspected, but the IAEA is for now only being granted access to al-Kibar.

Second Plot to Kill Ahmadinejad Alleged

A plot to assassinate Mahmoud Ahmadinejad earlier this month in Italy failed, an Iranian daily reported.

An adviser to the Iranian president told the Etemad-e Melli daily newspaper of a plot to assassinate Ahmadinejad during a three-day U.N. food crisis summit in Rome on June 3, according to Reuters.

The report published Tuesday comes just days after Ahmadinejad accused the United States of a plot to kill him during a March visit to Iraq. Iranian state radio said the president changed his schedule at the last minute to foil the plot.

Audit: Israel’s Holocaust Survivors Cheated

Holocaust survivors in Israel have received less than two-thirds of the German reparations allotted to them, an audit found.

A report issued Sunday by a commission of inquiry under retired Supreme Court Justice Dalia Dorner found that of the Holocaust reparations paid to Israel under a 1952 deal with Germany, only about 62 percent found their way to survivors living in the Jewish state.

On average, each survivor was underpaid by an aggregate $400,000 to $700,000, the Dorner Commission concluded. It urged the state to make compensation available to entitled recipients who are still alive.

The commission was established following revelations last year that many Holocaust survivors in Israel are destitute because of shortfalls in the welfare payouts they receive from the state.

Bronze Chanukiah Stolen in Rio

A bronze chanukiah sculpture was stolen from a major square in Rio de Janeiro.

The 6 1/2-foot-tall chanukiah, which weighs 440 pounds, adorned the beachfront square, Zozimo Barroso do Amaral, in the Brazilian city’s wealthiest neighborhood of Leblon.

Created by the artist Ruthnac, the Jewish symbol had been donated by the Beit Lubavitch Synagogue and a Jewish-owned construction company in 2002.

Police suspect the theft took place one night last week and are investigating.

Orthodox Imposter Gets Year in Jail

A man who impersonated an ultra-Orthodox Jew for years was given a prison sentence for using a stolen identity.

Ted Riley Floyd caused a stir earlier this year when it was discovered that he had lived as Nathaniel James Levi with his wife and children in the Orthodox enclave of Lakewood, N.J. While in Wichita, Kan., in March 2002, Floyd applied for a passport with the name and Social Security number of Levi, a deceased U.S. Navy veteran.

Floyd, 28, was sentenced Monday to a year and a day in prison followed by three years of probation, the Wichita Eagle reported. Floyd, a former resident of Kansas City, also is barred from using any name but his own or from legally changing his name without permission from his probation officer.

Friends of the family say Floyd’s wife will remain in Lakewood, where she has undergone an Orthodox conversion.

Briefs courtesy Jewish Telegraphic Agency.