How did we come to a situation when a live Shalit is worse for Israel than a dead one? The kid has nothing to do with the problem, but the government has created a truly Orwellian dilemma. One more dead Jewish soldier, a corporal, is a regrettable thing, but frankly a passing occurrence. Soldiers die; it is heart-breaking when the dead soldiers are Jews, but somehow we have gotten used to that. But if Shalit is alive, the Israeli media turns his case the way that many more Jews will be killed. Most Israelis are sensible; few if anyone beyond Shalit’s immediate circle of friends and relatives want his repatriation at any cost. But Shalit is a boon to media, which practices fake compassion. I don’t believe that anyone in Israeli media, immoral characters that they are, cares about Shalit, but fake tears cried over him sell newspapers. Here the government jumps in. It has reasoned correctly that media will hail Shalit’s return, and will ignore the release of a thousand terrorists in exchange. Stories of Shalit’s return will go on for months while the terrorist exchange will be reported matter-of-factly and soon forgotten. Even when a right-wing Internet site reports that the released terrorists are back to their trade, killing Jews, the mainstream media will ignore the problem.

The Shalit issue brings a stark moral dilemma: is it better for one innocent soldier to suffer than for a thousand guilty terrorists to remain insufficiently punished? Even hard-core Christian forgivers would agree that a 1:1,000 ratio is probably too much. In fact, it’s much more than that: a prisoner exchange sends tens of thousands of terrorists an explicit message that they too might be exchanged. Besides leaving those already guilty insufficiently punished, the exchange actually invites others to incur the same guilt. So it’s not really a question of exchanging one live Jew for the memory of hundreds of murdered ones; it is rendering one live Jew now at the cost of increasing the chances for many other Jews to be murdered in the future.

You may not like it, but Hamas was acting within international law when it kidnapped Shalit. Even among Jewish liberals, Professor Walzer, an eminent scholar of the moral theory of war, concedes that soldiers are not innocents. Once they take up arms, they become legal targets for their opponents. Israel was at war with Hamas at the time of the kidnapping. Since the West Bank is “occupied,” and not liberated or annexed, the war goes on. A country would be mad to consider exchanging one non-innocent person for a thousand guilty ones.

Israel never takes so many measures to protect her soldiers as to return the kidnapped ones. Dead soldiers constitute no political problem, but media cries over kidnapped Jews are ongoing. So we want to bring Shalit back, fine. What’s the problem with that? Israel has plenty of such experience. In the days of Wild West Zionism, Jews kidnapped Jordanians and Syrians to exchange for Israeli POWs. Now would therefore be the time to drive into the West Bank, enter any Hamas charity and round up its officials. Repeat this operation fifty times, then offer to exchange them for Shalit. If that doesn’t help, raze every Palestinian Authority building in Gaza to the ground. If that doesn’t do the trick, assassinate a few of the well-known Hamas donors in Egypt—a good thing, in any case. And go on with such commonsense measures.