Israel is holding the bodies of Gaza terrorists killed in the IDF’s demolition last week of a Hamas attack tunnel discovered under Israeli territory leading to a border kibbutz. In an apparent departure from previous governments, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu declared that no terrorists’ bodies would be returned “as a free gift.”
If this is indeed the first public expression of a new policy regarding negotiating with terrorists, then it is a decision that is long overdue.
The bodies are of five Islamic Jihad fighters killed in the attack tunnel Hamas had been building in violation of the cease-fire that ended 2014’s Operation Protective Edge.
Israel has refused Hamas’s ludicrous appeal for the bodies of its latest “martyrs” while calling Israel’s preemptive move to avert another terrorist attack on civilians as “barbaric.”
Seven Palestinian terrorists – including two senior Islamic Jihad commanders and two members of Hamas’s elite naval unit – were killed in the controlled demolition.
Given the record of previous governments, Hamas believes it holds the bargaining chips in what would be another lopsided, gruesome body exchange. It holds hostage the remains of Lt. Hadar Goldin and St.-Sgt. Oron Shaul, killed during Protective Edge. It also holds three Israeli civilians – Avera Mengistu, 30, Hisham al-Sayed, 29, and Juma Abu Anima, 19 – all of whom apparently suffer from mental instability that led them to cross into Gaza.
The Goldin family has petitioned the High Court of Justice to demand government action to return their son’s remains. The family told the court: “For the Israeli government to accede to Hamas [by delivering the terrorists’ corpses without getting back the Israelis’] would constitute moral injustice and political weakness. It’s inconceivable that the government should continue acceding to Hamas’s humanitarian whims at a time when it is holding Israel Defense Forces soldiers.”
The security cabinet declared that Israel will not hold talks with a Palestinian government backed by Hamas unless it recognizes Israel, halts terrorism, disarms, returns soldiers’ remains and releases its three Israeli civilian hostages.
Such a wish list has been met by total rejection.
In the past, such stonewalling has resulted in the unconscionable crumbling of Israel’s will under the pressure to bring closure to the families of the missing. Despite transparently false declarations that ‘Zionists don’t negotiate with terrorists,” Israel has carried out numerous lopsided exchanges that have only prolonged the agony faced by the families of Hamas hostages.
Hamas disingenuously called the cabinet decision “Israeli interference in internal Palestinian matters,” ignoring Israel’s complicity in the terrorist version of human trafficking – call it inhuman trafficking.
On May 25, 1998, the remains of IDF soldier Itamar Ilyah were exchanged for 65 Lebanese prisoners and the bodies of 40 Hezbollah fighters and Lebanese soldiers captured by Israel, including the remains of Hadi Nasrallah, the son of Hezbollah Secretary-General Hassan Nasrallah.
More than 400 Palestinian and 30 Lebanese prisoners, including Hezbollah leaders Abdal-Karim Obeid and Mustafa Dirani, as well as the remains of 59 Lebanese killed by Israel, were exchanged in 2004 for the bodies of IDF soldiers Adi Avitan, Benny Avraham and Omar Souad and the release of reservist officer Elhanan Tannenbaum, kidnapped by Hezbollah in Dubai in October 2000.
In October 2007, Israel and Hezbollah traded its captured operative Hassan Aqil and the remains of two Hezbollah fighters for the remains of Gabriel Dwait, an Israeli civilian who drowned in 2005 and washed ashore in Lebanon.
On June 1, 2008, Israel traded Hezbollah’s Nissim Nasser for the partial remains of some 20 Israeli soldiers killed during the 2006 Second Lebanon War.
Perhaps Israel’s worst deal was the July 2008 release of Samir Kuntar and four Hezbollah fighters captured in 2006, plus the bodies of 199 Palestinian, Lebanese of Arab fighters, in exchange for the bodies of IDF reservists Ehud Goldwasser and Eldad Regev. Kuntar, who was considered a hero for bludgeoning to death a four-year-old girl in a Nahariya attack, was later killed in an IDF air strike in Syria in 2015.
“We intend to return our sons home. There are no free gifts,” Netanyahu declared in a brief statement in Migdal Ha’emek last week. Finance Minister Moshe Kahlon lauded Netanyahu’s decision, saying “As long as we have soldiers and civilians inside the Gaza Strip, we cannot afford to conduct ourselves as usual.”
We cannot agree more.