Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Hamas announced yesterday that Gilad Shalit, the young Israeli soldier held captive by Hamas since 2006, will be released.
In exchange for Shalit’s freedom, more than 1,000 Palestinian prisoners, hundreds of them convicted terrorists, will also be released.
The lopsided nature of this one-for one thousand exchange has not gone unnoticed, especially since similar past exchanges have not worked out well for Israel. It’s generally agreed that Hamas is set to be the winner in this instance, and though many believe Israel ought to be commended for a renewed commitment to life and hope, it seems probable that the freeing of these hundreds of convicted terrorists will bring an end to many, many more lives in both Israel and Palestine.
Has Israel made the right decision? It’s hard to know.
Perhaps it’s trite, but I can’t help thinking here of two exchanges between Spock and Captain Kirk in the Star Trek movies.
As Spock sacrifices himself at the end of Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan, he tells Kirk,
Spock:“Don’t grieve, Admiral. It is logical. The needs of the many outweigh…”
Kirk: “The needs of the few.”
Spock: “Or the one.”
Later, when Kirk and Spock are reunited after Spock’s rescue, Spock is puzzled—why was he spared when so much was at stake?
Spock: My father says that you have been my friend. You came back for me.
Kirk: You would have done the same for me.
Spock: Why would you do this?
Kirk: Because the needs of the one… outweigh the needs of the many.
In the Star Trek universe, Kirk found a way to save both the many and the one. Spock sacrificed himself for his shipmates, and they in turn sacrificed themselves for him. It makes for a good story—but real world struggles rarely end so neatly. In buying Gilad Shalit’s freedom at an almost impossibly high price, Israel may end up sacrificing its own people for the sake of a compelling national narrative.
It’s bold. It’s risky. It’s what the “good guys” in the movies would do. But is it wise? Perhaps not.
This tension between the needs of the one and needs of the many is, by the way, an old problem for Israel. In John 11, when the chief priests and Pharisees are discussing what to do about the man whose actions threaten their own power, Caiaphas convinces them to simply do away with Jesus:
“…You know nothing at all, nor do you take into account that it is expedient for you that one man should die for the people, and that the whole nation should not perish.” (John 11:49-50)
In the past, when Israel acted out of fear and favored the “many” over the “one”, Jesus died. (Of course, Gilad Shalit is not Jesus, and both stories are complicated. This is not a perfect analogy!) This time, though it’s easy to criticize the country’s desperation, they are at least moving forward boldly, and without obvious fear.
Maybe that’s good. Maybe it’s bad. I don’t know.
“Pray for the peace of Jerusalem”—and pray for Gilad Shalit. That much, at least, is clear.