The release of abducted Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit in exchange for more than 1,000 Palestinian detainees has elicited much comment around the world. Many are critical of the terms of Shalit's return, noting that among those Palestinians being released are Hamas operatives and others guilty off horrendous crimes. As a Zionist, I cannot share in the condemnation of this exchange. Though I abhor what I view as the Netanyahu government's criminally negligent obstruction of a two-state solution, I would insist that in this instance they have acted as any other Israeli regime would have done, in accordance with the best principles upon which the Israeli state was founded.
If this exchange were likely to provide incentive for Hamas to abduct more Israelis, criticism might be more warranted, but it is not. Hamas did not capture Shalit with the main goal of freeing jailed Palestinians. They killed four of Gilad Shalit's comrades and took him captive in order to undermine Ariel Sharon's attempt to unilaterally disengage from the Palestinian Authority, which would have thwarted Hamas' aspirations for a "one-state solution." In the wake of Shalit's capture the Israelis re-occupied Gaza, killing many Hamas operatives and capturing many others, more than offsetting any "gains" Hamas has realized from the current prisoner exchange. In the face of those facts, the only arguments to be made against the exchange are the security threat posed by released Palestinian detainees and the propaganda value of a Hamas "victory" in this instance, but both these considerations are displaced by the larger principle embodied in the Israeli government's actions.
The Jewish state exists to defend the dignity and humanity of Jewish life in the face of powerful and enduring threats. On the basis of this urgent imperative, Israel demands a Herculean sacrifice of military service from all its citizens, but is also obligated to requite them with absolute commitment and support. Other governments have given Jews numbers, set them to work, and expected them to die. For the Israeli government to treat Gilad Shalit in such a fashion would be to betray the animating spirit of the Zionist movement. Israel calls on all its men and women to live in death's shadow, but in return it promises to move Heaven and Earth to bring them home alive after the completion of their duty, or, failing that, to see that their remains are properly interred rather than being cast into an oven or a mass grave.
Was the cost to bring Gilad Shalit home high? Yes. Was it right to pay that cost? Yes.
Welcome home, Gilad.