Friday, May 14, 2004

On the cover of today's Ha'Aretz we see IDF soldiers crawling on all four in search of human remains of the five soldiers who were killed last Wednesday on the so-called Philadelphi road. When I saw the picture it seemed to me that - never mind the high moral values and worthy reasons that cause us to collect even the smallest body parts of our fallen sons and daughters for a proper burial in Israel - this is a bit too much. I was reminded of the words of the mother of Sgt Eitan Neuman z"l, who on Wednesday evening said on Israeli television that although she respects the decision of the IDF commanders to search for the remains of the soldiers, she thinks no additional lives should be endangered to do that job. Then I read the editorial in yesterday's Ha'Aretz, and agreed with every word of it. Because on the newspaper's website articles remain accessible only for a very limited time and in this editorial some very important things are said, I decided to post it in its entirity here. A value that has been distorted As if Israel needed any more open fronts, it has over the past few years developed a strange weak point, vulnerable and debilitating, which in some respects even appears distorted: It has raised the price and value of what is routinely referred to as "bodies and body parts" of fighters who have fallen into the enemy's hands. The phenomenon began as a side issue in prisoner exchanges - in themselves controversial - that involved bringing home bodies of Israeli prisoners and fallen for burial in Israel. In later prisoner deals, the proportions began changing. As the authorities voluntarily gave in to "pressure from the families" and supported the warped pseudo-religious terms that became secularized and militarized, the price that Israel was ready to pay for bringing its dead "for burial in Israel" became higher and higher until it crossed the borders of rationality. It gradually transpired that Israel was willing to pay an extremely high price even for body parts - a fact that was exploited to the hilt by Hezbollah in the last prisoner exchange. Indeed, the enemy learned the lesson swiftly: from Israel's point of view, there is no difference between prisoners who are alive or dead, and even not between bodies and body parts. They almost all have equal weight - they must be "brought home," and "at any price." Thus the terrorist organizations can conclude that they are better off killing soldiers than taking them prisoner, and that they can mutilate corpses in order to double and treble the "price." It would seem that even the language has been distorted in an attempt to catch up with the warped values. Has the difference between respect for the dead and the sanctity of life become blurred to such an extent? Is the phrase "to bring the fighters home at any cost" an expression of "the sanctity of life" - or is it perhaps an expression of contempt for life? Millions of the Jewish people were lost and have no grave or tombstone, but this in no way detracts from their memory or dignity; this same nation has turned the concern with the burial of bodies and body parts into some strange fetish that overshadows common sense as well as simple security considerations. The state of Israel was established for the living. Bringing Jews to burial in Israel is not its supreme value. Even the Talmudic sages ruled, with regard to redemption of living captives - which in the eyes of Jewish tradition is the supreme religious precept - that they should not be redeemed "for more than their worth" out of societal considerations (tikkun olam). In other words, not to pay exorbitant ransoms that would provide incentives for the enemy, even though this is so hard on individuals, because it is dangerous to a society that must ensure its survival. The late Batya Arad, mother of missing navigator Ron Arad, displayed the required spiritual fortitude, despite her grief, when she announced that she was opposed to any deal for her son's body if he were no longer alive. Following Tuesday's attack on the armored personnel carrier in the Gaza Strip, the IDF troops in the area made the utmost efforts to recover remains of the bodies of the six soldiers killed by a roadside bomb. Now, despite our deep outrage at the atrocious spectacle of the body snatchers, the government must announce that it will not agree to give anything in return for the remains - and abide by this unconditionally.

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