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.
(Ron Kehrmann’s daughter Tal was killed on March 5, 2003, when a suicide bomber set off his bomb aboard the No. 37 bus in Haifa.)