No Jew – indeed, no decent person in whom there beats a human heart – could fail to be moved by the reunion of Gilad Shalit and his family in Israel. Looking pale from years of being held in a cell and deprived of sunlight, and extremely shy due to years of being denied virtually all human contact, Israel welcomed home a hero for whom it had traded 1,000 murderers, terrorists, and criminals committed to its destruction. It did so to keep true to its promise that no soldier is ever forgotten or left behind.
As Hamas and the Palestinians celebrated the return to their society of killers who had taken the lives of so many innocent men, women, and children guilty of no other sin than going about their daily business, Israel cheered at the restoration of one of its sons, who was kidnapped while trying to protect these innocent lives. The conflicting values systems of the two opposing camps – one dedicated to life and the other, tragically, having been overtaken for decades by a culture of death – could not have been more starkly drawn. On the one hand, we watched our Palestinian brothers and sisters welcome terrorists home with parades. On the other, Israel re-embraced a soldier whose first words to the world media, after having been treated like a caged animal for five years, were about his hopes for lasting peace. It also goes without saying that when Israel is prepared to trade a thousand predators for one lonely soldier, it is because of Israel’s commitment to the infinite value of human life.
Still, the question remains whether the deal was worth it. Much comment has been made both pro and con, so I will here limit myself to a different angle of the story entirely, one that would obviate the need to trade killers for captured soldiers in the future. It is high time that Israel finally instituted a death penalty for terrorists. In the United States, Timothy McVeigh, who murdered 160 people in Oklahoma in April 1995, was executed after a fair trial and an appeal. Of course, there were protests, but the overwhelming majority accepted the penalty as fitting the crime.
Why, then, should Israel lock up the most rancid, heartless, and cold-blooded mass murderers in its jails, especially when it is so clear that these people could be lures for Israelis to be kidnapped in order that these killers be paroled?
A very partial list of terrorists now released by Israel, and who were previously fed three warm meals a day in an Israeli prison for years, includes Ibrahim Jundiya, who was serving multiple life sentences for carrying out an attack that killed 12 people and wounded 50. There is Mona Awana, an accomplice to the murder of 16-year-old Ofir Rahum. Jihad Yaghmur and Yihia al-Sanwar were involved in the abduction and murder of Nachshon Wachsman, which also led to the murder of Matkal Unit member Nir Poraz, head of the rescue mission sent to save him. I am acquainted with Nachson’s mother and can only imagine her pain at seeing her son’s killers celebrated as returning conquerors.
Also released are Tamimi Ahlam, an accomplice in the Sbarros restaurant bombing in 2001 that left 15 dead and 130 wounded; Aziz Salha, who was famously photographed displaying his bloodied hands for the mob below after beating an Israeli soldier to death; and Husam Badran, who planned a number of terrorist attacks, including the 2002 Park Hotel massacre that killed 30 people celebrating Passover.
Why were these despicable terrorists not given fair and impartial trials, and the right to appeal, and executed by the state if found guilty of murder (and especially mass murder)?
Some will argue that this will only invite the Arab terror organizations to execute the Israeli prisoners they hold. It is worth recalling, therefore, that this is what the Palestinian terror organizations do overwhelmingly anyway and that Gilad Shalit is the first living soldier to be returned to Israel in more than a quarter-century. In July 2008, Israel arranged another prisoner exchange in order to obtain the release of Ehud Goldwasser and Eldad Regev, captured two years earlier, only to tragically discover they had been dead all along.
Others, especially Europeans, will argue that the death penalty is cruel and Israel is more humane for banning it. I disagree. While there is a robust debate here in the United States related to the death penalty over individual acts of murder, there should be no such debate when it comes to premeditated mass murder and acts of terrorism. I would argue that it is cruel and unusual punishment for the families of Israel’s terror victims to leave these terrorists alive in Israeli prisons. These families must live day to day not knowing whether the murderers of their loved ones will even serve out their sentences if another Israeli soldier falls into captive hands. The families deserve closure.
For those who argue that to execute terrorists means there will be no one left to bargain with in the event an Israeli soldier or citizen becomes captive, I respond that other deals can always be made, be it with money, international pressure, or the exchange of Arab prisoners who are not guilty of terrorism.
And it’s not as if Israel has no precedent in taking the life of a mass murderer, having put to death one abominable soul, the architect of the Shoah itself, Adolph Eichmann in 1962. The last words of this most wicked monster were, “I die believing in God.” Let’s make sure others like him whose crimes make a mockery of God meet the same end.