Wednesday, October 12, 2011

  • Wednesday, October 12, 2011
  • Elder of Ziyon

On the night of January 1, 1970, a group of Fatah terrorists infiltrated Metula from Lebanon and abducted a night watchman named Shmuel Rosenwasser. The terrorists, together with the abduction victim, withdrew to Kfar Kila which is located about two kilometers west of Metula in Lebanon. This was the first abduction attack perpetrated by a Palestinian terror organization inside Israel.

This terror attack was perpetrated to mark the anniversary of the Fatah’s first terror attack (placing a demolition charge at Israel’s national water conduit). January first was also considered the anniversary of the organization’s establishment. The Fatah claimed responsibility for the abduction several days after the attack and demanded that the State of Israel release 100 terrorists incarcerated in Israel while giving first priority to the terrorist Mahmoud Hijazi

Mahmoud Hijazi was a terrorist who served in the Fatah organization. On January 7, 1965 Hijazi commanded the Fatah’s first terror attack. Hijazi’s terror squad, which included 5 additional terrorists, detonated an explosive device at the water institute in moshav Nechusha situated in the Ela Valley in Israel. Hijazi was wounded and apprehended.

He stood trial at a military court which sentenced him to death. Hijazi appealed this verdict in the military appeals court, which ordered a retrial. During the trial, Hijazi demanded to be recognized as a prisoner of war. The court turned down this request and in May 1966, Hijazi was sentenced to 30 years in prison.

Hijazi was only the second person in Israeli history to be sentenced to death, after Adolf Eichmann.

The decision to swap him for Rosenwasser was only a one-to-one swap. However, and in retrospect, that was the decision that emboldened Palestinian Arabs to continue to kidnap Israelis in order to bargain for Israel's release of other terrorists.

The Rosenwasser abduction was followed by a number of others kidnappings and attempted hostage taking, such as a 1974 attack in Beit She'an where terrorists broke into a family home for the purpose of taking them hostage and negotiating a release of terror prisoners. The 1974 Ma'alot massacre started off as a hostage drama as well. Even though Israel did not capitulate in any of the attacks on Israeli soil and usually killed the terrorists, their incentive to mount hostage-taking attacks did not lessen.

The prisoner-exchange train had already left the building in 1970. It is not possible to turn the clock back. Even if the current Israeli government had publicly announced that Shalit was considered dead and that there will be no negotiations, the public pressure in Israel would not have closed the door and Hamas would have waited for a different government to renew its demands.

For these reasons, I do not accept the argument that it is possible to remove the incentive for kidnappings by refusing to negotiate. The terrorists will continue no matter what.

Not that there aren't other options that should be explored. Reinstating the death penalty for terror attacks, which would remove any terrorists available for exchanges, may be unlikely to happen but it would be more effective - and humane.  Israel has tried to seize terrorists on its own as bargaining chips but for some reason it never followed through to the end. Other possible but problematic ideas include cyanide pills for soldiers to kill themselves rather than be allowed to become hostages, or instructions to go after the kidnappers without any regard to the safety of the hostages.

Obviously, prisoner swaps are not ideal and depending on the circumstances they can be horrible mistakes. The Samir Kuntar debacle is a textbook example of the worst possible type of exchange.

But I cannot see a way that terrorists will ever stop kidnapping Israelis in an attempt to negotiate a release of prisoners.

Not since 1970.

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