Gilad Shalit returns: One Israeli for 1,027 Palestinians?

- AFP/GETTY IMAGES Israeli Defence Ministry shows Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit (2nd R) walks beside his father Noam (R) for … Continued



Israeli Defence Ministry shows Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit (2nd R) walks beside his father Noam (R) for the first time in five years, escorted by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Defense Minister Ehud Barak (L) at the Tel Nof airbase near Tel Aviv on October 18, 2011.

Gilad Shalit has been returned to Israel after more than five years in Hamas captivity – years in which his family was given no news of his condition and years in which his captors observed no internationally recognized humanitarian standards. Regardless of how one feels about the Hamas government of Gaza, its behavior in this case has been particularly reprehensible.

Of course, there are those who will point to humanitarian abuses by Israel as explanation, if not justification for Hamas’s reign of terror. They will argue that wars of liberation are almost always fought by terrorists who come to seen as freedom fighters. But that is a debate which will not be resolved here.

In any event, those debates are less important than some simple arithmetic connected to Staff Sargent Shalit’s release deal – arithmetic which leads one to believe that rather than this being a moment of possible reconciliation, or at least diminished hostility between two long-time foes, it is a moment when peace is farther away than ever. The arithmetic? 1 = 1,027. One Israeli captive for 1,027 Palestinians.

In Gaza, they are already celebrating the great deal that they have made in forcing Israel to hand over 1,027 Palestinians for a single Israeli. In Gaza, that is seen as a fool’s bargain. In fact, there are those in Israel who make a similar argument, claiming that this trade makes the next kidnapping that much more likely and undermines any notion of justice, by releasing convicted terrorists who have spilled the blood of innocents, and who have vowed to do so again as soon as they are released.

Nasser Nasser


Egyptian policemen guard while the convoy of buses carrying freed Palestinian prisoners from Israeli jails leave the Egyptian terminal of the Gaza Egypt border crossing of Rafah, Egypt Tuesday, Oct. 18, 2011.

Such arguments by Israelis, especially those who have lost relatives in Hamas attacks, are understandable. They are also wrong. People sworn to your destruction don’t need any further incentives to kill you. And the fighters being returned in exchange for Shalit are a drop in the bucket compared to the thousands of others who are already willing to engage in mass murder, so it hardly seems worth worrying about the impact of their return to the pool of available Hamas personnel.

The justice argument is the one which gnaws most at the hearts and minds of Israelis who oppose this deal. But it ought to be a source of pride to a nation when extracting justice from others takes a back seat to practicing mercy with regard to one’s own citizens. That is why the overwhelming majority of Israeli’s welcome this numerically lopsided deal and also why peace feels farther away than ever.

Forget issues of provocative settlement building by Israel. Forget recent statements by Palestinian leaders, including moderates within the West Bank’s Palestinian Authority, which suggest that they remain ambivalent about a two-state solution, preferring rhetoric celebrating a one-state solution, the one state being Palestine. All of those are issues which can be resolved. But how can peace be made with an enemy which doesn’t even value the lives of its own soldiers, let alone yours?

Had this been a one-for-one swap, there would be much to celebrate, more even than the joy of a son coming home to his family, be it an Israeli family or a Palestinian one. Had this been a one-for-one swap, we could all celebrate a recalibration of the value of human life, one which sees individual soldiers not simply as means to an end, but as individual ends in and of themselves. Enemies need not view the lives of the other side’s soldiers that way, but until both sides share that commitment to the lives of their own sons, it is hard to imagine a lasting peace.

The conflict in Israel and Palestine is a generational conflict, and as such, it will take generations to resolve. When the next trade between the two sides is defined not by 1 = 1,027, but by 1 =1, we will be on the road toward that resolution. Until then, each side must simply appreciate that however they explain the bargain they have made in the current swap, math speaks louder than words.


Brad Hirschfield An acclaimed author, lecturer, rabbi, and commentator on religion, society and pop culture, Brad Hirschfield offers a unique perspective on the American spiritual landscape and political and social trends to audiences nationwide.
  • Lynne053

    This article makes no sense. The fact that Hamas required a 1027 to 1 ratio here reflects nothing on the value they place on human life. In this case, the words and actions speak much louder than the math. Hamas openly declares that it values death over life. Read its charter. “Jihad is its path and death for the sake of Allah is the loftiest of its wishes.” And compare the number of suicide bombers that Israel has sent into Gaza or anywhere else (that would be zero) vs. the number that Hamas, Islamic Jihad and, yes, Fatah, have sent into Israel. A ratio of a million to one would not speak as clearly as that.

    It’s almost obscene to imply that there would be an equivalence worthy of celebration between the release of one terrorist arrested, tried and convicted in Israel for masterminding mass murder with the release of a young soldier kidnapped in his own country while doing guard duty. That math doesn’t compute. One does not always equal one.

  • Hello17

    Couldn’t have said it better in my own words.

  • Benson

    I don’t believe we’re seeing the whole bargain here.

    The math doesn’t add up.

  • aprilglaspie

    Hamas behavior was “reprehensible”? And the Israeli government doesn’t ignore international law, doesn’t plan and effect high-seas piracy, doesn’t occupy the territory of others, doesn’t destabilize the entire Middle East by maintaining a nuclear arsenal, doesn’t spy on the USA? Israel doesn’t bulldoze Palestinian homes to make way for luxury condos for “settlers”, and doesn’t use military force to maintain virtual Bantustans and an apartheid system?

  • aprilglaspie

    And how do the powerless deal with state terrorism?

  • Robert_Kessler

    Israel does not ignore international law. Please cite the law you believe to have been broken.

    Israel does not effect high-seas piracy. They interdict weapons shipments to Gaza, from where attacks on Israel are launched on an almost daily basis.

    Israel does not destabilize the Middle East by maintaining a nuclear arsenal, because it does not ask anything of the Middle east except the right to exist.

    Israel does keep a very close watch on the US, and is also our staunchest ally and technology partner.

    Israel bulldozes Palestinian and Israeli homes for purposes of urban renewal just as every city in every country in the world does.

    Israel does not maintain an apartheid system, as Arab Israelis are full citizens and have representatives in the government. The allegation of Bantustans is a creation of Noam Chomsky and is commentary on the refusal of West Bank Palestinians to agree to any sort of peace agreement with Israel, the result of which is a checkerboard border with Palestinian and Israeli towns interspersed. The problem would go away tomorrow if the Palestinians would accept any sort of compromise at all.

  • Robert_Kessler


    Are you referring to the innocent Israeli citizens targeted for murder by Palestinian-backed hit squads? Are you talking about the Palestinian killers who are always excused by the international Left as simply “responding to occupation”?

    Or are you trying to claim that the Palestinians are “powerless” when they own Gaza and 95% of the West Bank, receive hundreds of millions of dollars a year in assistance from Israel and the U.S., govern through gangsterism and intimidation, and launch attacks on Israeli civilians on an almost daily basis?

  • tcmsols1

    It was 1000 Palestinians for 1000 Palestinians. We killed over 1000 during Cast Lead, 1000=1000, not to mention the injured, the ones we burnt with white phosphorus, mental health problems.

    Gerry Adams visit, Dubai assassination and now Syria. Israel paid a price diplomatic isolation to a degree.

    He is alive, you cannot trust the Iranian flesh peddlers so we got in early over 2 years ago. Iran wanted to humiliate Israel, with bones. This is a defeat for Iran.

    Who has nine lives Moqtada al-Sadr.

  • Bluefish2012

    Before Israel pats itself too much on the back for how humanitarian this swap shows them to be, they should consider this arithmetic: From 1987 to 2010, 7,978 Palestinians have ben killed(1,620 military) versus 1,503 Israelis (142 military).

    Proportionality is one of the things that makes a just war–even a guerilla war. These numbers are nowhere near proportional–not even an eye for an eye, the object of which was to make sure that one side did not exact more from its opponent than was just.

  • selbsttierqualerei

    I don’t understand this article. Who in this transaction between Hamas and Israel is failing to value the lives of its own soldiers? Is Hirschfield suggesting that Hamas would do a better job of valuing its soldiers’ lives if it made a 1-for-1 trade? How could that be? It sounds impressive to say that people should view soldiers as “individual ends in and of themselves.” But what does it mean to do that? The last 3 paragraphs of this article are bordering on incoherent.

  • izzyis1

    Therein shows the difference between a people [Israel] who strive for life and the Arabs who are suicidal and strive for 72 virgins. Pity Arab women and mothers.

    If anyone saw the interview on Egyptian TV of Shalit that was called “insensitive”, NO it was evil and agenda driven with a Hamas gunman in a hood and an interviewer with an evil smirk on her face. The Egyptians should share the shame.

    And someone should advise the father that it is not about him. Bibi Netanyahu spent much political capital making this happen and the victims of the terrorists can be understood but Shalit is alive and had to be ransomed. Who knows a miracle may be happening and the beginning of peace may come of this and not Armageddon. Pray for the peace of Jerusalem.

  • izzyis1

    Miss April; You might want to ask your doctors to increase your meds. You need help.

  • Robert_Kessler

    The “proportionality” claim is nonsensical. Determining who is right and who is wrong is not based on who has more casualties. If the Palestinians were suddenly able to slaughter more Israelis, would you suddenly switch your sympathies? If course not.

    Palestinians are waging this war against Israel. They also kill their own citizens and strap bombs to their children. The war would end tomorrow if Palestinians decided to stop attacking Israel.

    The Palestinians never accept a compromise for the exact purpose of excusing their continued attacks on Israel.

  • Robert_Kessler

    What it means is that Hamas does not value one terrorist enough to give up Gilad in an even exchange.

    It does not value 100 terrorists enough to exchange them for one Israeli.

    They only are willing to exchange Gilad for a thousand of their own.

    Hirschfield makes perfect sense.

  • Bluefish2012

    The death toll proportions certainly are enough evidence to ask whether the Israeli response is disproportionate, and I think that’s a fair question. That’s hardly a nonsensical question, and more than a few observers believe the Israeli response has been extreme. You would have us believe that an entire society of Muslim and Christian Palestinians (“they”) are hellbent on destroying Israel–you know that’s not true, but you have a disproportionate number of U.S. citizens and its Congress believing it’s true.

  • citysoilverizonnet

    Can we hope that the Nobel Peace Prize winner (in anticipation of noble work in his presidency)Obama and Israeli President Peres will look in to the morality mirror and use their position to demand from Israel to release more than 12,000 Palestinians who have been jailed for demanding nothing but humanity, human rights, freedom and their own motherland. Or still, Obama will continue to obey the orders from the Tel Aviv? Also, in future no more Shalits can suffer in the dark rooms.

  • Robert_Kessler

    Then why does the Hamas Charter state their goal as the destruction of Israel?

  • mikemccl

    missed message should be clear: israel, unlike the us and almost every other country, will do whatever it takes to protect their citizens- on el al planes,with preemptive bombings of nuke plants, even most likely with assassinations (gerald bull and the big gun); however much you may not like them, a religious state, wrong place, wrong time, whatever, they step up- and if you were in a foreign land mired in medieval thought, you would not want pandering, apologizing, bowing obama; you would want a governent that gets things done

  • 1djn

    The real story is not the numbers, it is the CARE THAT GILAD SHALIT RECEIVED AT THE HANDS OF HAMAS.

    Gilad Shalit looks like he has just been released from a GERMAN CONCENTRATION CAMP.

    I am certain the 1027 did not receive the same abusive, shocking treatment.


  • ccnl1

    Minute 2:

    Saving Muslims is quite easy!!!
    The Five Steps To Deprogram 1400 Years of Islamic Myths:
    ( –The Steps take less than two minutes to finish- simply amazing, two minutes to bring peace and rationality to over one billion lost souls- Priceless!!!)

    Are you ready?

    Using “The 77 Branches of Islamic “faith” a collection compiled by Imam Bayhaqi as a starting point. In it, he explains the essential virtues that reflect true “faith” (iman) through related Qur’anic verses and Prophetic sayings.” i.e. a nice summary of the Koran and Islamic beliefs.

    The First Five of the 77 Branches:

    “1. Belief in Allah”

    aka as God, Yahweh, Zeus, Jehovah, Mother Nature, etc. should be added to your cleansing neurons.

    “2. To believe that everything other than Allah was non-existent. Thereafter, Allah Most High created these things and subsequently they came into existence.”

    Evolution and the Big Bang or the “Gi-b G-nab” (when the universe starts to recycle) are more plausible and the “akas” for Allah should be included if you continue to be a “crea-tionist”.

    “3. To believe in the existence of angels.”

    A major item for neuron cleansing. Angels/de-vils are the mythical creations of ancient civilizations, e.g. Hitt-ites, to explain/define natural events, contacts with their gods, big birds, sudden winds, protectors during the dark nights, etc. No “pretty/ug-ly wingy thingies” ever visited or talked to Mohammed, Jesus, Mary or Joseph or Joe Smith. Today we would classify angels as f–airies and “tin–ker be-lls”. Modern de-vils are classified as the de-mons of the de-mented.

    “4. To believe that all the heavenly books that were sent to the different prophets are true. However, apart from the Quran, all other books are not valid anymore.”

    Another major item to delete. There are no books written in the spirit state of Heaven (if there is one) just as there are no angels to write/publish/distribute them. The Koran, OT, NT etc. are simply books written by humans for humans.

    Prophets were invented by ancient

  • Robert_Kessler

    This is an untruth. The 12,000 Palestinians who have been jailed range from common criminals, to terrorists. Israel does not jail anyone for voicing their opinion. Unlike the Palestinians, who kill their own people when they speak out against Hamas.

  • Robert_Kessler

    What does this have to do with anything? Are you trying to claim that the Jewish people have not existed for 3000 years? Are you trying to claim that they never populated Jerusalem, or built Solomon’s Temple, which lies beneath the Dome of the Rock and predates it?

    Or are you simply trying to claim that Israel has no right to exist?

  • Robert_Kessler

    The above reply was directed toward ccnl1.

  • trenton

    Just where do you get the idea that proportionality of casualties is a principle in just war theory?
    The proportionality principle does *NOT* require comparitive levels of casualties, or even comparitive levels of force. What just war theory calls for proportionality of is (1) the benefits to be won; in comparison to (2) the level of harm inflicted. The later might reasonably be measured in one side’s casualties, but the former is rather more subjective.

  • amyshay320

    I don’t understand the psychology of war. Except that it doesn’t work. But that’s easy for me to say, here on my rocking chair.

    Really, I don’t know what the right answer is.

    But the notion that 1 = 1027 — it’s one of the most remarkable things I’ve ever heard. A “fool’s bargain”? I’m not so sure.

    I audited an ethics class in college where there were always these great debates over the value of human life. There’s a standard one about a train running out of control down a track about to kill 5 people on the tracks. You, as the observer, could flip a switch that would lead the train onto another track, but there the train would kill 1 person on the track… What’s the ethical thing to do???

    Ethics, to college students, usually boils down to math. Cost-benefit analysis.

    But the math that feels most correct to my heart is here. One equals 1027. Or 10,027. A million 27.

    The notion that the value of human life, even a single human life, is immeasurable.

    But this math requires great faith.

    Because, truly, I can’t even imagine what’s going on in the hearts and minds of the families whose loved ones were lost or tortured or both at the hands of the released Palestinian prisoners. They must be screaming for “justice”. But which is higher, Justice or Mercy?

    My young ethics peers would be quick to argue that the cost in terms of terror that these released prisoners will probably inflict is too much to pay for just one life… A life that may already be ruined.

    Ah, but the human spirit is a remarkable thing. We have no idea what may come of Gilad Shalit. Or what may become of the child who hears his story and, in some way shaped and inspired by it, leads the way, finally, to peace…

  • Bluefish2012

    Hamas does not equal all of Palestine. Why do you persist in painting every Palestinian with the same brush.

    Just war theory or not, Israel’s response has been disproportionate to the problem. And how, pray tell, do you justify stealing their land? All three Abrahamic religions have spiritual ties to that land. Israel’s lust for more and more land carved out of the West Bank is outrageous.

  • ccnl1

    The Jewish people as with all races have a right to live freely anywhere they wish but as 1.5 million Conservative Jews and their rabbis have concluded, the Jewish race has been following a book full of gross theological and historical errors. Said errors have made life very difficult for them at least for those who still believe in the old torah. Ditto for the followers of the koran and the new testament !!!! It is time to join the 21st century of rational thinking !!!!

  • Secular1

    The issues in middle east today, looked from 2011 perspective it definitely looks like Israel is the victim and the Hamas the vile evil one, PLO inept and partially evil entity. This is deservedly so on Hamas, & PLO part.. That said, one must also look at it historic context as well. First of all lets leave the utter crap of the holy books giving title deeds to that land. Even per those fairy tales the land was conquered by then hebrews. That said, historically speaking the hebrews over a period of time fled away from middle east, about 2000 years ago due to Roman occupation, mostly to Europe. These people being of different religion of the local population – new converts to christianity with its vile tenets against jews were persecuted unceasingly. It is astounding that this persecution continued unabated for nearly two milinea. Then in late 19th century the European Natives began to address their legacy of persecution not by trying to be inclusive of fellow europeans, who happened to be Jewish but trying to figure out how to get them out of their midst. The Jews themselves were willing to consider the propositions. So their initial choice was again not to assimilate them but to move them to be South America, as though that place was completely devoid of human beings, that it will not create another conflict and imposition of immigrants on whole population which had nothing to do with this European problem. But then the Europe was the empire and it could trample on anyone, as long as it wasn’t in their backyard. And along comes British with their Balfour Declaration granting the rights to, by now European, Jews to emigrate to middle east without regard to domicile. All this magnanimity to hasten the prophesy in the book of fairy tales. The jews for their part suffering for 2,000 years jump at that and was hastened by the holocaust of early 20th century. This notwithstanding the fact that they are now really outsiders to middle east. The fact of the m

  • Secular1

    Continued from above

    Europeans should have really taken the tack of assimilate the fellow European Jews. But that is water under the bridge. Palestinians have not conducted themselves, with terrorist attacks on civilians. Best thing would be for them to negotiate by themselves.

  • quiensabe

    Where is the outrage? If this man were a horse, it’s owner would be put in jail.

  • Kingofkings1

    Rabbi, isn’t the ratio you mentioned actually near exact to what the death rate was in the recent gaza “operation” (for each israeli jew killed, there were 1,000 palestinians killed, mostly by US ammunition and weapons including white phosphorous). I believe the nazis used a 1:10 ratio. In regards to the suffering, that’s a separate story

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