In light of the agonizing release of a brutal murderer as part of an exchange to gain the return of the bodies of two slain soldiers, it's time for Israel to reconsider the use of the death penalty.
The legal system allows for it. Adolf Eichmann, one of the architects of the Nazi extermination of the Jews, was executed in 1962 after being tried and found guilty of crimes against humanity. No one else has been put to death by Israeli courts since then. But if the underlying principle is to protect human life, it may well be argued that more lives would be saved by taking the lives of murderers whose aim is to kill civilians guilty of nothing but being Jews.
Israeli society recently endured the scene of Samir Kuntar being welcomed back to Lebanon as a hero by government officials there and throngs of ecstatic citizens. He won a place in their hearts by brutally slaying a young Israeli father in front of his 4-year-old daughter during a 1979 terror attack and then crushing the little girl's skull.
Never mind the obvious statement this makes about values in much of the Arab world. Kuntar told the crowds that he was proud of his actions and looks forward to killing more Jews in the future.
Much of the debate in Israel leading up to the swap focused on the painful dilemma over whether or not to release terrorists "with blood on their hands" in return for two Israeli soldiers no longer alive. But there has been relatively little discussion about making use of the death penalty in the case of terrorists like Kuntar as a means of preventing kidnappings of Israeli soldiers and civilians, to be used as bargaining chips in future exchanges.
Palestinian murderers serving long jail sentences create an incentive for their fellow terrorists to kidnap soldiers and others. Most dramatically, Hamas is demanding the release of about 1,000 terrorists for the return of Gilad Shalit, the Israeli soldier kidnapped and held since June 2006. Israel need not look up to any other country when it comes to valuing human life, as indicated by its willingness to release convicted killers for the bodies of its soldiers. And unlike the U.S., where the debate over the death penalty primarily is about mistakes resulting in the execution of innocent people, Israel would be putting to death only those who clearly have committed horrific crimes against innocents.
As Rabbi Shmuley Boteach concludes in an essay calling for the death penalty in Israel for convicted terrorists, "just governments must sometimes take the lives of unrepentant terrorist mass murderers in order to protect and uphold the infinite value of human life."
It's an issue too important to be avoided, and should be discussed and debated in Israel, where every citizen is a potential target.
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