Op-Ed: A Response to Your Letter, Prime Minister Netanyahu
Paula R. SternPaula R. Stern is the Founder and Documentation Manager of WritePoint, a technical writing company.
Thank you, Prime Minister Netanyahu, for your letter to the Israeli people. As an Israeli, please allow me to respond. I know that, unlike you, I was not elected. And therefore, I can speak only for myself and perhaps, for those who wish to agree. Those who think releasing murderers to bribe unwilling participants to negotiations is folly at its best. I read your letter – several times in fact. Your words are in black, mine in red….you began by writing…
"Prime ministers are occasionally required to make decisions that are contrary to public opinion, when the matter is one of importance to the state.
I agree - and that is indeed why you were elected. There are difficult decisions that have to be made and we have to trust the Prime Minister and his government to make those decisions in the best interests of the country (not his political standing or his place in history; not because he bowed to the United States and doesn't want to be seen as intransigent).
"There is no need for prime ministers, in order to make decisions that enjoy the support of public opinion.
It's been 37 years since your brother fell - but he fell in a mission to save others.
"At this time, I believe it is very important for the state of Israel to enter a diplomatic process. This is important for fully exhausting the chances for ending the conflict with the Palestinians, and also for solidifying Israel's status in the complex international reality that surrounds us.
I agree that it is important for Israel to - wait, did you say ENTER the political process? What have we been doing or trying to do for the last 65 years? ENTER? No, sorry - we have been fully engaged in attempting to get the Palestinians to ENTER the talks. But the bigger concern here is the last part of your sentence. We are to release murderers and once again endanger our current and future security to solidify "Israel's status in the complex international reality that surrounds us." Honestly, do you think this will ever be solidified? Do you really believe they will ever accept us? Come on, be honest - at least with us. Tell the US whatever you want, but if you are writing to us, and not the United States, let's talk truth. For the last 65 years, the Arabs have denied our right to exist - releasing 104 prisoners just convinces them all the more that we are too stupid and too weak to stick around much longer.
"The huge changes in our region – in Egypt, Syria and Iran – pose new challenges before the state of Israel, but they also present considerable opportunities before us.
So releasing 104 prisoners, that is where you're going this this nonsense, right? So releasing 104 Palestinians is going to change this, address these new challenges? Have you noticed that the Egyptians, Syrians and Iranians don't much like the Palestinians either? Guess not...
"For these reasons, I believe that it is important that Israel enter a diplomatic process that will last at least nine months – in order to examine if an agreement can be reached with the Palestinians within that time.
"But with all the importance that I attach to a diplomatic process, I was not willing to accept the Palestinian demands for retreats and [building] freezes as preconditions for entering into negotiations.
"I was also unwilling to accept their demand to release Palestinian prisoners before the negotiations begin. I did agree to release 104 Palestinians in measured portions after the beginning of the negotiation and in accordance with its progress.
Forgive me for my ignorance, but usually when someone says "without preconditions - it means - WITHOUT preconditions, like none. Like no, we won't freeze, we won't agree to new borders, and no, we won't release killers. We will come, we will talk. We will assume that peace is to the mutual benefit of both sides. We will assume you want peace. And, we will even assume you want peace almost as much as we do. And we will talk and hopefully agree. And, in THAT agreement, both sides will have to compromise. Maybe it will be land; maybe it will be a building freeze; maybe it will involve releasing prisoners. It will certainly involve mutual recognition. What it won't include is more of the same mistakes of the past, where WE froze, and they fired; where WE withdrew and they took up new positions; where WE released, and they planned additional attacks and kidnappings.
"This is a tremendously difficult decision to make. It hurts the bereaved families, it hurts the entire nation of Israel and it hurts me very much.
I'll have to take your word on how much it hurts you; I have no doubt how much it hurts the families who thought that they had achieved, at the very least, some measure of justice for the tremendous injustice of having their wives, husbands, children, mothers, fathers, grandmothers and grandfathers murdered. I would have thought you understood, but I am not so sure. It's been 37 years since your brother fell - but he fell in a mission to save others. He wasn't a victim of terror, he was a hero and his forces gave as good as they got. He fell in battle for the highest of reasons.
"It collides with an exceedingly important value – the value of justice.
Damned right it does. And if you are going to collide with our values - you should at least do it for something...not some future promise that history has proven never really materializes. You have mocked our justice system, turning it into the revolving door of the Arab "justice system" and caused tremendous pain in the doing.
"It is a clear injustice when evil people are released before the end of their sentences, even if an absolute majority among them have served over 20 years in jail.
"The decision is doubly personally difficult for me, because I and my family know personally the price of bereavement from terror. I know the pain well. I have felt it on a daily basis for the past 37 years.
But again, you don't know the bereavement of a victim or a victim's family. Your brother was chosen and chose to lead a mission of honor that saved hundreds of lives. There is comfort in that. What comfort is there in having your 76 year old grandfather stabbed to death by the killer you want to release? Of having your wife and three children murdered by another killer you want to release? You know the pain of losing a loved one, but not the injustice of having it done in terror and now, the further injustice of having that killer released.
"The fact that Israeli governments that preceded those that I have headed released over 10,000 terrorists, does not make things any easier for me today, and did not make my decision to free Gilad Schalit any easier.
"Bringing Gilad home involved an exceedingly difficult decision for me – the release of terrorists. But I believed that the value of bringing our sons home must supersede that difficulty.
The jury is still out on whether the value of bringing home a beloved son of Israel outweighs the danger of releasing over 1,000 terrorists. Already, Israel has had to recapture several of those terrorists.
"People in positions of leadership must choose between complex options, and sometimes the required decision is particularly difficult when most of the public opposes it.
See, the concept of a democracy is that you implement the dreams and hopes and wishes of the people. In a dictatorship, you can do what YOU want; in a democracy, you are supposed to do what the people want. After 65 years of facing the same enemy, I think we, the people, are also qualified to know that you're leading us down a dead end...again.
"Thus, I decided to end Operation Pillar of Defense after arch terrorist Ahmed Jaabari was liquidated, and after the harsh blows that Hamas and the terror organizations received at the hands of the IDF.
"I made the decision to end the operation although most of the public backed continuing it – something that would have required a ground offensive into Gaza. As prime minister I thought that the goal of deterrence had been largely achieved by the determined actions we took.
But you see, with Operation Pillar of Defense, one could argue that you were privy to information we didn't have - or at least I hope so. For what it is worth, soldiers - like my son...who you called up on a Friday night to join the battle...understood your decision, even if they didn't agree with it. It was, at that point, given what the air force had already accomplished, an issue of weighing what was to come against what was accomplished. That is not the same now. What will be accomplished by releasing 104 killers NOW? Why not begin the negotiation...why not, in fact, end the negotiation and let part of what they demand be these 104. Then, at least, we will get SOMETHING...ANYTHING...in exchange for this injustice. But we won't get anything for it - and once again, if we are required to buy their seat at the table with our blood, we are fools - fools lead by a fool.
"Today, about a year after Operation Pillar of Defense, we are witnessing the most quiet situation in the south in over a decade. Of course, this quiet can fall apart at any moment, but my policy is a clear one on all fronts: as far as possible, we prevent threats in advance, and we respond with force to any attempt to hurt our civilians.
"In the next nine months we will examine if the Palestinian element that faces us wants to truly end the conflict between us, as we do.
We accept the nine month trial period, as we have accepted the 65 years before them. What we do not accept any longer, are the endless gestures we are being asked to make. The US is pressuring us. Perhaps if you feel you are not strong enough to withstand US pressure, you could remind that great nation that Sirhan Sirhan, who killed one man, still sits in jail; Charles Manson, who killed many, still sits in jail. Even Jonathan Pollard, who killed none – sits in jail. What right do they have to demand we release prisoners. If peace is so important to the US and they believe the Palestinians should be paid – perhaps they should release Sirhan Sirhan…and to be balanced, let them release Jonathan Pollard as well.
"This end will only be possible if the security of the citizens of Israel is assured, along with our vital national interests.
"If we reach a peace arrangement of this nature, I will bring it to a public referendum.
"A crucial decision like this must not be made on the cusp of a few votes in the Knesset. Every citizen must be allowed to directly influence our future in such a central question.
"The best response that we give to those base murderers who wanted to defeat us through terror is that in the course of the dozens of years when they sat in jail, we have built a wonderful country and turned it into one of the world's most prosperous, advanced and powerful countries.
Actually, apparently the response you are giving those base murderers who want to defeat us through terror is that they are likely to succeed. Sure, they sat in jail a dozen or more years and yeah, we've built a wonderful country...but they are being free to attempt - chance two - to defeat us, to maim us, to destroy all we have built for ourselves and our children. What value will what we have built be...if in the building, we allow them to kill our future?
"I promise that we will continue to do so.
I promise you that what you release today will try in the near future to destroy us...as they have tried for 65 years. I know...sadly...with more pain and despair than you perhaps can imagine...that things will explode in Israel once again, people will die...because of these 104, because once again you are showing weakness.
The greatest nation can be defeated by the stupidest of decisions. When the Palestinians want peace, we won't have to buy it and so long as we are willing to pay a price such as this, they will win. The blood on their hands remains. Those that took your brother's life are laughing because you are giving them another chance to take hostages and somewhere, sometime, another young Yoni will have to fly into danger, to save his people, as Yoni once did.
The blood of those victims is on the hands of those you release...the blood of the next victims will be on yours. That is the horrible burden a leader must bear. It is your right to choose this path; and our job to remind you that in weakness and surrender, there is only failure.
"Yours, Binyamin Netanyahu."
Yours...a nation saddened, shocked, and angry.