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The Gilad Shalit Deal as a Mirror of the Israeli Society

December 22, 2009

The discourse over the anticipated deal with Hamas to free Gilad Shalit has become the center of Israel’s public agenda in recent weeks. Although I oppose the release of some one thousand terrorists, which will only serve to whet Hamas’s appetite and encourage additional kidnappings, the very fact that the Israeli government would even consider such a deal as well as the extent of public interest in the fate of a single individual, is yet another remarkable sign of our society’s unprecedented humanity and the value it places on human life.

This understanding has become especially poignant against the backdrop of my grandmother’s recollections of her life in communist Russia, which she shared with me during my recent trip to Moscow. The following clip from The Gift to Stalin, in which the Soviet authorities test the first atom bomb without evacuating or warning the local population,  is an excellent example  of the utter disregard for the fate of ordinary people on the way to realizing the grand (or not so grand) goals set by a society (hat tip to Vicky Boykis for drawing attention to the movie on her blog).

In both our personal and public lives, G-d grants us challenges, which facilitate inquiry and clarification of our most basic character traits. Thus, Avraham was tested in situations, requiring him to show a measure of cruelty (the exile of Hagar and Yishmael from the family and later the binding of Yitzhak). Both of these tests were meant to crystallize Avraham’s underlying trait of loving kindness. So long as Avraham was unable to express cruelty, his charity was devoid of meaning.

In a similar vein, the Israeli society is called upon to define boundaries for the value of freeing its POWs, a fundamental part of its national ethos.  As we continue to argue over the pros and cons of releasing terrorists in exchange for Gilad, the discussion never strays into a debate of ideology vs. pragmatism. Both sides are guided by their understandings of the best way to uphold the value of human life. Like any value, this too needs to have identifiable boundaries.

At this hour, it is still unclear whether the deal will go through. But whatever the outcome, I feel extremely privileged to live in a society, which has these as its moral challenges.

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