The Danger of a Prisoner Swap

By Gary Rotto

Gary Rotto

SAN DIEGO — I attended a service at Temple Emanu-El a few weeks ago and Gilad Shalit was one of the guests of the Bat Mizvah and the congregation.  At least in spirit.  Up front to the left of the bimah was a picture of Shalit.  A reminder of his captivity.  It reminded me of the work our community did decades ago on behalf of Soviet Jews.  We made sure to remember Refusniks as people, keeping them alive and hope for their freedom alive by remembering them as individuals.

But in the case of Shalit, no one from the international community has been able to visit Shalit – even the International Red Cross.  And there is a potential heavy price to pay for his freedom in the terms of who is swapped for his freedom.  

In an interview posted on, Rami Igra, who served as head of the Mossad’s Prisoners and MIAs department, notes that a swap is necessary to preserve morale in the Israeli military and so that the soldiers will know that the nation will do everything possible for them as they do everything possible for their country. Igra is quoted as saying” We have to show the people that fight with us and for us that we as a community will do the utmost to bring them back home. It’s a battlefield value. It’s a very important value, and it has a lot of weight in our national security.” 

Time reporter Karl Vick goes on to write that “Igra argues that without the 1985 ‘Jabril swap’ that released Palestinians who went on to found Hamas, the Gaza Strip would today be under control of the moderate Fatah faction that Israel regards as a suitable partner for peace.”  Amazing that one deal can alter the balance of power in the region and dramatically change the formula for reaching peace between Israelis and Palestinians.  Think about what the next deal releasing 1000 prisoners could bring.

I cannot fathom the psychological and emotional ordeal that Aviva and Noam Shalit have been through and continue to endure.  In my mind, only one who has served in the IDF or has a child in the IDF can begin to understand their situation.

But I am concerned that a potential deal also brings on a slippery slope for the future.  Despite what seems like a strong plurality if not a majority of those in Israel to make a deal for Shalit, there are limits.  As Prime Minister Netanyahu said, he is not willing to pay “any price”.  What a potential swap means is a possible escalation of kidnappings.  Hamas might intensify its activities to seize additional Israeli soldiers to extract more prisoners held in Israeli jails.

 But Israel could increase its seizures of “security prisoners” who may not have participated in terrorist activities – those who may not have blood on their hands – but could be held for any number reasons.  Thereby, Israel could increase the number of prisoners that could be traded.  It’s an escalation in seizing human lives that could be precipitated by Hamas’ success in this potential deal and their potential strategy to seize other IDF personnel. 

Rotto is a freelance writer based in San Diego

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