The Three-Fingered Salute

I feel the need to start with a disclaimer, lest some of my readers on the right make unfounded assumptions.

The kidnapping of Israeli teens Naftali Fraenkel, Gilad Shaar, and Eyal Yifrach last week was horrible, I pray every day for their safe return, and I believe the Israeli government’s response – arresting hundreds of Hamas members, especially ones who were released in the Gilad Shalit deal, is entirely appropriate. The people who did the kidnapping are terrorists and they should be rounded up and put in jail for the rest of their lives.

There. Now we have that out of the way.

Several friends have posted links to articles about the “three-fingered salute” that is going around among Palestinians – a gesture sort of like a victory sign denoting the three captured teens.

An article from TheJewishPress.com has pictures and the headline proclaims “New Low, Even for ‘Palestinian’ Society.” Friends posted it to Facebook with comments such as “From the people who celebrated 9/11 with candy handouts, what else would you expect but cakes and children celebrating the kidnapping of students?” and “This is the most disgusting thing I have ever seen.”

Actually, it’s not the most disgusting thing I’ve seen. The beheading of Daniel Pearl probably gets that prize. Celebrating 9/11 by giving out candy was disgusting. Thousands of people were murdered, for no purpose.

But the three-fingered salute? It’s totally understandable. I may not like it, but I 100% understand where it’s coming from – and it’s our fault.

The day that Netanyahu announced the deal to release over 1,000 terrorists in exchange for one Israeli soldier, Gilad Shalit, he might as well have painted targets on the backs of those three kids. Obviously the Palestinians must figure “hey, we got 1,000 for one soldier, maybe we’ll get 3,000 for three teens!” To the Palestinians, the Palestinian prisoners are not criminals or terrorists – they are political prisoners fighting the occupation. So the idea Hamas did something that could result in bringing some of their prisoners home no doubt would bring great joy in the West Bank. It’s very understandable. In fact it’s the only thing that gives me any hope that the boys are still alive – because if they are dead, all it will bring down on the West Bank is trouble. If they are alive, there’s a chance they will get something.

The Shalit deal was a horrible mistake, and we’re now reaping the fruits of what we sowed. Don’t get me wrong, I freely admit I’m a hypocrite on this subject: if it was one of my kids captured, I’d have done the exact same thing Shalit’s parents, and more. I’d have been demonstrating, doing a blitz on social media, doing everything in my power to get the government to make whatever deal it took to get my kid home. My personal pain would trump my logic and the national interest.

But the prime minister is supposed to be paid to make the tough decisions. To make the decisions that are the best for the entire country, not for the family that is feeling pain. Better that Shalit should still be Hamas’ hands than we should have encouraged them to kidnap more Israelis. Once upon a time this country had a policy of not negotiating with terrorists. And maybe some exceptions are appropriate, but in the case of Shalit it was a bad deal and we’re paying for it now. I would have supported a serious military operation in Gaza going door to door, with attendant risk of lives on both sides, before I would have supported releasing 1,000 terrorists.

I don’t like the three-fingered salute. I like to think if I were a Palestinian I’d be a peacenik just like I’m an Israeli peacenik. I like to think I’d be one of those sheikhs who joined together with rabbis yesterday to pray for the release of the Israeli teens. But I also have to admit I totally understand why the Palestinians might be feeling joy at this time. We set it up.

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Barry Leff

Rabbi Barry (Baruch) Leff is a dual Israeli-American business executive, teacher, speaker and writer who divides his time between Israel and the US.

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