Friday, August 15, 2008

Symposium: Obscene Hostage Trades

Jamie Glazov | 8/15/2008

Last month, Israel released five live terrorists in return for the bodies of two of its dead soldiers. One of the terrorists was, as we know, Samir Kuntar, who was convicted of killing an Israeli civilian and his 4-year-old daughter, whose skull he crushed with his rifle butt. The other 2-year-old girl died of suffocation when her terrified mother tried to keep her quiet to avoid being discovered by the hostage-takers. Kuntar also killed two Israeli policemen.
Today Frontpage has assembled a distinguished panel to discuss what psychology, on both sides, explains these trades. Our guests today are:

Dr. Theodore Dalrymple, a retired physician (prison doctor and psychiatrist), a contributing editor to City Journal and the author of Our Culture, What's Left of It: The Mandarins and the Masses.

Dr. Kenneth Levin, a clinical instructor of psychiatry at Harvard Medical School, a Princeton-trained historian, and a commentator on Israeli politics. He is the author of The Oslo Syndrome: Delusions of a People Under Siege.

Dr. Joanie Lachkar, a licensed Marriage and Family therapist in private practice in Brentwood and Tarzana, California, who teaches psychoanalysis and is the author of How to Talk to a Narcissist (2007), The Many Faces of Abuse: Treating the Emotional Abuse of High -Functioning Women (1998), and The Narcissistic/Borderline Couple: A Psychoanalytic Perspective on Marital Treatment (1992). Dr. Lachkar speaks nationally and recently presented, "The Psychopathology of Terrorism" at the International Psychohistorical Association, and at the Rand Corporation. She is an affiliate member of the New Center for Psychoanalysis, and writes in the Journal of Emotional Abuse.


Dr. David Gutmann, emeritus professor of Psychology and Behavioral Sciences at Northwestern University Medical School in Chicago.

FP: Dr. Theodore Dalrymple, Dr. Kenneth Levin, Dr. Joanie Lachkar and Dr. David Gutmann, welcome to Frontpage Symposium.

Dr. Gutmann, let’s begin with you.

What is the psychology, on both sides, that explains these hostage trades? To begin with, it is a given from the scale that Israel values and respects human life much more than the other side does. But please explain and expand.

Gutmann: The central issue here is the very special reverence that Israelis have for their soldiers. Bear in mind that the IDF came into being in 1948, barely three years after the German Holocaust ended, and the Arab attempt at a Holocaust of their own began. A hideous history was about to repeat, and the shame over Jewish passivity in the Holocaust would be revived. But quite suddenly, the scenario reversed: in their not-so-advanced Partisan gear, and with make-shift weapons, Jewish soldiers were going on the offensive, defeating regular armies and making the Arabs run. We had been mounted on the scaffold, but now the executioner was dead at our feet. Jewish Holocaust shame was transferred to the Arabs, where it became "Naqba" shame, and persecuted them.

Unfortunately, almost an entire generation of very special Jewish youth – a generation that has never really been replaced - died with the would-be executioners.

From that time, the rescuing, redemptive Israeli soldier, of any rank, acquired an aura that combined the tragedy of a martyr with some of the divinity and grace of a saint. They were Jewish knights – members not only of an army but also of a kind of Holy Order.

This reverence was best expressed in a poem by Natan Alterman, in which the dead soldiers of '48 are depicted as the "Silver Platter" on which the Jewish people received their state.

A conventional army will not stupidly trade a regiment for a handful of troopers; but an Order knows a different logic: it does not leave its knights – whether alive or dead – to have their bodies tortured or their bones desecrated by an enemy that demeans its captives.

Thus, for the majority of Israelis, if you abandon your soldiers you abandon the founding legend in which they are embodied, you revive your collective shame, and as punishment you lose the sources of your personal and national identity. In the Israeli mind that would be the true obscenity. Whatever the cost, you bring your soldiers home.

FP: Thank you Dr. Gutmann. I think important to add to this is the fact that the Arabs do not value individualism and the individual and, therefore, they do not value the life and sacredness of one of their own in the same way that Israelis and Westerners do. There is also the aspect here of Islam, which sees death as something to be sought on this earth and therefore the lives of ones own side are not really seen as worthy.

Dr. Dalrymple, your view of this phenomenon -- and your thoughts on what Dr. Gutmann has said and the comments I have made?

Dalrymple: I think there is also the question of democracy to be examined. No doubt the Israeli government has to think of its electorate, and like other democratic governments, of pressure groups within that electorate. The fact that the decision was not unanimously approved suggests that domestic political calculation entered into it, in which long-term consequences might have been lost sight of.

The matter is far from being a simple one, however. On the face of it many might think the decision a foolish one. On the other hand, Israeli morale needs a belief that the country can survive surrounded by enemies. It must therefore believe that one Israeli is equal to ten, fifty or a hundred of the inhabitants of the surrounding countries. Stalin's question: How many divisions has the Pope? turned out in the end to have been an unwise one. In politics, balance sheets necessarily include intangibles, which may well be more important than tangibles. Of course, this can be taken too far. The question how far is too far is a very difficult one, because events are lived forwards and not backwards.

Lachkar: I agree with Dr. Gutmann that Israelis pay special respect for their soldiers as a linkage to the shame of Jewish passivity on the Holocaust. Dr. Gutmann also comments that Jewish soldiers on the offensive make “Arabs run.” I would like to expand on his concept of the “Holy Order” and reverie to the theme of what life means to a Jew as compared to what life means to an Arab.

The phenomenon can be crystallized very simply: the Jew dies to live while the Arab lives to die. When a Jew offers a toast, he says “L’chayim” to life, to a good life and to peace. Life for a Jew is viewed as a precious gift from God which dominates virtually all laws. The movie “Fiddler on the Roof,” displays this theme throughout. Throughout Jewish laws and traditions, there is a focus on life e.g., the Tree of Life, the Book of Life, Long Life.

In the Muslim world, peace is equated with death, death to the infidels, death to women who are not submissive to men, death to those who betray the Prophet. Any Muslim who obeys and prays will go to Paradise and will finally achieve the life of happiness with 72 virgins, but in order to achieve this one must die. Would any Jew ask for his wife, mother or child to act as a human shield? How many Arabs would treat a wounded Israeli soldier in a Muslim hospital? How many Jews would engage in suicide missions, training their children at an early age to die in order to bring honor to their mothers and their country? How many Jewish mothers would take reward for their sons honor killings, and feel proud?

I recall in the war in Lebanon under Arafat, how innocent women and children were killed while missiles were placed in schools and play yards, using children as the frontline acting as human shields to protect their men. In the war in Iraq, Khomeini sent innocent children across minefields in order to protect Iranian soldiers to walk across without harm while the victims were left maimed with body parts thrown all over. He told the children that they would soon be in Muslim warriors' heaven. Of course, many did not die, but merely had their limbs blown off to live the rest of their lives as maimed cripples.

In essence, human life is precious to the Israelis. But because of the horrific childrearing practices, deprivation of all human needs in the Arab world, there is an anger and resentment which leads to the desire for revenge – and this desire becomes a more pervasive force than life itself.

FP: Dr. Levin, what do you make of the trades? And why release someone like Kuntar, or the others, in exchange for dead soldiers? What does that signify? And what does it signify that Lebanon makes the return of Kuntar a national holiday, and Abbas congratulates Kuntar and his family?

Levin: It is obviously laudable that Israel as a nation is committed to pursuing the return of its captured soldiers as well as of the remains of those killed. And one can sympathize of course with the suffering of the families of those held dead or alive by enemy forces and with their eagerness to have their loved ones returned, if only for proper burial.

But there are major problems with exchanges such as that carried out with Hezbollah in which the bodies of Ehud Goldwasser and Eldad Regev were repatriated in exchange for five live terrorists, including Samir Kuntar - whom Israel had resisted releasing for three decades - and the remains of scores of others. Following such trades in the past, released terrorists have repeatedly been responsible for new horrific acts of terror and horrendous loss of Israeli life. In addition, the exchange encourages Hezbollah and other terror groups to pursue additional kidnappings of Israelis. That Israel would pay such a high price for the return of soldiers' remains also puts in danger any other kidnapping victims, giving their captors little incentive to keep them alive.

It is largely for considerations such as this that the heads of both the Mossad and Shin Bet, as well as other senior members of Israel's security and defense establishment, have expressed strong reservations about the exchange deal.

The weighing of the virtue of retrieving kidnapping victims against the negative consequence of encouraging additional assaults has been addressed over the centuries by Jewish sages. Maimonides, for example, suggested that while winning the freedom of those held captive is a most commendable deed, doing so must be measured against its impact on public security, with the latter taking precedence.

That there is so much public support for the Hezbollah exchange and so little public debate, beyond the reservations raised by some security and defense officials, may be attributed in large part to the value placed on retrieving those lost, whether they be dead or alive. But I believe it also reflects a reluctance to look at the implications for the future, more specifically a refusal to acknowledge that Israel is engaged in a multi-front war with implacable enemies and that there is no end in sight and nothing that Israel can do to change this reality.

All Israel can do is defend itself and seek to make assaults against it so costly to its adversaries that they have an incentive to desist, at least for a time. There is a refusal by many Israelis, a collective closing of eyes, to this reality, consistent with the Oslo mentality that peace is readily available if Israel would make the right concessions. In the context of this mind-set, one need worry less about the implications of the present exchange deal and similar transactions on future assaults because such assaults can be avoided by pursuing and achieving "peace."

The celebration of the exchange by Lebanese across the political spectrum, indeed the declaring of a national holiday in Lebanon, in response particularly to the release of Kuntar, whose claim to fame is his killing of a four-year-old Israeli girl by smashing her skull with his rifle butt, the extension of congratulations to Kuntar and his family by Israel's "peace partner" Abbas, and declarations across the Arab world of a great victory over Israel, a victory that demonstrates the need to pursue additional kidnappings of Israelis, reflect the Arab world's implacable, genocidal hatred of Israel and of Jews more broadly (a hatred that in fact extends to other minorities living among the Arabs, including the Muslim but black residents of Darfur). This hatred is broadcast by Arab media, preached in Arab mosques and taught in Arab schools and is impervious to particular Israeli policies or concessions. Perhaps the ugly expressions of it in the present context will force at least some Israelis to acknowledge the reality of their predicament.

In a recent FrontPageMagazine article, David Hornik notes that Israel's "moderate" peace partner Abbas also lauded one of the terrorists whose bodies were handed over by Israel in the exchange, a Palestinian woman whose "heroic" dead was taking part in an attack that killed 36 Israeli civilians, including 13 children, many of whom were burned to death on a blown up bus. According to Abbas, the woman, Dalal Mughrabi, should be honored for carrying out "one of the most courageous operations in Israel"; and he declared that "we want to turn Dalal's funeral into a national wedding, a major celebration... She will always be remembered as a symbol for the Palestinian women's struggle." One might think that such declarations, too, would awaken some Israelis.

But Israelis have had this reality demonstrated to them in blood-curdling ways innumerable times in recent years, and still many - including many within Israel's political elite - have refused to see it.

FP: Thank you Dr. Levin. I would like the panel to give their thoughts on the theme Dr. Levin has touched on, that we are dealing with a culture – in terms of the Arab culture – that celebrates people who kill children. Perhaps its not so surprising coming from a culture that even lauds the killing of its own children, but nonetheless, what does it say about this culture? What does it say about an international community that sees this culture in a positive way, and an international community that demonizes Israel, when all of us know that it would be unimaginable that Israelis would have a national holiday and celebrate the release of an individual who intentionally murdered not only innocent people, but also a child?

Gutmann: The other participants have commented extensively on the costs to Israel in prestige and tactical advantage resulting from the recent prisoner exchange. Though I agree that the costs were high, and while I would not have included Kuntar the child-butcher in the exchange, I want to concentrate on the possible gains. These in my view have to do with the matter of ego identity.

At around age sixteen, adolescents, pretty much everywhere, recognize social forms and institutions – quite apart from their individual members and practitioners – as Objects: tangible and real, and in possible relationship to themselves. They search among these social objects for those whose legends, ideals and histories are identical (Have Identity With) what they feel themselves to be and what they want to become. Erik Erikson pointed out that an ego identity was not an answer to the usual sophomore’s question, “who am I,” but an answer to the more crucial question, “what do I stand for – and what stands for me?” Identity grows out of this perceived intersection between individual and collective history, between individual and collective myth.

In the Israeli case, the adolescent is drafted into the IDF at precisely that time when these questions are uppermost. Rich with legend, bearing a history of heroism and victory against odds, the IDF presents itself to the adolescent as an ideal identity “object”, and this identity between the individual and the army is summed up in the soldier’s pledge: “I agree, when called upon, to stand up for you, to do my duty, knowing that you, when called upon, will stand up for me.” The IDF stands up for the individual trooper by bringing him back, dead or alive, from any battlefield or any enemy prison. That sense of collective identity has been – more than tanks or aircraft – the source of Israel’s military strength.

However, in recent years, the growth of the peace movement, popular revulsion against harsh anti-Intifada measures, and some decline in the IDF’s military effectiveness, have weakened the bond of identity between the Israeli people and their army, as well as that between the IDF and the individual soldier. As a result, more Israeli adolescents find ways to avoid conscription, more reservists find ways to avoid their yearly call-up, and fewer kids volunteer for the elite commando and armored corps. Military effectiveness drops off.

Military Identity has two inputs: from the soldier, and from the army. If the soldier’s pledge to stand up for the army is weakening, it can be to some degree revived by an enactment of the IDF’s pledge to stand by the soldier – to bring him or his bones home. If the organic connection between the people and its army is restored by the recent prisoner exchange, then - at a time when the enemy’s noose is tightening around Israel’s neck – it will have been worth the high cost.

Dalrymple: I feel somewhat under-qualified to reply to some of what has been said. I have travelled a little in the Arab world, but do not speak Arabic. I have not been struck by any particular death wish or glorification of death, at least as a mass, let alone a universal, phenomenon. I am extremely wary of such sweeping statements, although I confess I have been struck by the propensity I found among people to political self-pity and exaggeration, so that people don't seem very good at distinguishing between the deaths of, say, 70 people, and that of 500,000. A statistical sense doesn't seem very strong in Arab countries, a sense that is necessary for any sense of perspective. But the people whom I met seemed as attached to life as I.

As it happens, I have been interested in the question of human remains, because an American doctor whom I knew only by correspondence, who was a very witty and erudite man, died recently, and sent me a letter from beyond the grave (it was to be posted only in the event of his death). Something in that letter shocked me: he was a rationalist, and said that his remains should be treated with no more reverence than a piece of meat that had gone bad.

I am not religious at all, but I found this attitude shocking (though I revered the man who had it). It seems to me that reverence for human remains, however expressed, is part of the deepest level of our humanity. We are - or at least most of us are - incapable of thinking about human remains, a fortiori of those whom we love, respect or cherish - in these brutal terms.

If I am right, it sets a limit to the degree to which rationality can decide a question like this. What are a set of human remains worth, in a rational sense? This is a question that one cannot bring oneself to consider - it is to break a taboo that should not be broken. At the same time, a government has to decide on the best policy it can, and releasing terrorists does not on the face of it seem a very good one. There is a tension here that I think cannot be resolved.

Lachkar: Thank you Dr. Levin. You hit the nail on the head as you emphasize the basic theme in dealing with the Arab mentality as being culturally based. Very profound to quote Maimonides’ idea that winning freedom must be weighed against its impact on public security. As a psychohistorian, I will expand this approach from a psychohistorical/psychological perspective. (Lachkar, 2002, 2007, 2008).

First, the Israelis group collective fantasy that they are the "good guys," the only democratic country in the region pre-scripted and pre-programmed to live up to their "choseness" the special child of God. This can explain their over-indulging benevolence even if it means a risk to their own country. Arabs, on the other hand, an abandoned orphaned society, are not so much invested in proving their “specialness.” Instead, they are more preoccupied with proving they “exist” as a thing in itself (this may fit with Guttman's concept of ego identity).

One might be reminded when Nassar Gamal Abdel of Egypt, the highly revered leader in the Arab world, began to challenge western dominance as one of the first to bring “meaning” and importance to Arabs by suggesting the destruction of Israel. Thus the slogan “We will drive the Jews into the Sea.” Although many Arabs opposed this slogan, after a while they began to see that it gave them meaning to their lives. Nassar brought meaning purpose to the meaninglessness. “Now we have a goal and direction—the destruction of Israel at any cost!”

This can explain why they celebrate death, and explain why Arabs rejoice when an Israeli soldier is captured or even when a child is mutilated and killed, or make national holidays out of such events as Daniel Perlman’s beheading, or the return of Kuntar. The Israelis on the other hand can attack the enemy but then release them to show the world their fairness and benevolence. Levin makes the point that perhaps the Israelis have gone too far with their benevolence and lose sight they must give way to the enemy to play hard ball during this kind of crisis-a war that cannot give way to weakness, as Muslims are insatiable -- give an inch they take a mile.

The Oslo mentality is a good example of this “Inshallah” seduction toward peace, only to be sabotaged by the commitment to destroy. Yasser Arafat immediately after staging the Olso peace accord admitted he signed the agreement in the spirit of Hudaybiyah. Shortly after terrorism increased rather than decreased.

Levin: I agree with Dr. Gutmann's points about identity objects and the relationship between the IDF and Israeli adolescents. But I don't see the recent hostage trade as necessarily a move by Israel in the service of shoring up identification with the IDF by demonstrating the country's commitment to its soldiers that fall into enemy hands, whether dead or alive.

Identification with the IDF by Israelis of all ages is based on the perception of Israel's military as the selfless and effective defender of the nation and of them and their families. There has been, as Dr. Gutmann notes, an increase in draft-dodging in recent years, much of it by those segments of the society that continue to buy into the Oslo delusions that peace is readily at hand if Israel only makes sufficient concessions. Some of those who share this mind-set are unprepared to do military service because they choose to believe that military actions would be unnecessary if the state only made the "right" diplomatic and political decisions.

Others, on the religious Zionist right, have been so put off by heavy-handed use of the military against settlers, and the state's creating what is in effect a separate set of prosecutorial procedures to target those who demonstrate against government concessions to the state's enemies, that they have spoken openly of avoiding military service in protest. In reality, it appears many fewer have actually acted on such threats than had at one time been anticipated.

But despite increased draft-dodging, whatever its motivation, in fact volunteer levels for combat units is still very high, and the response to the call-up of reserve units during the Second Lebanon War often exceeded what was expected on the basis of earlier precedents.

What most shakes Israelis' confidence in, and at times identification with, the IDF are situations in which - as during the Second Lebanon War - military leaders seem to be grossly mishandling the war effort and, in the course of doing so, seem to be squandering lives needlessly. In fact, during the last war the great majority of the population was in favor of a large-scale ground assault that would have cleared Hezbollah forces from areas that allowed them to fire short-range rockets into Israel. Even though people knew such an assault would entail greater casualties for Israel, they perceived that course as at least accomplishing some important end in defense of the nation. The actual piecemeal insertion of forces, with no overarching strategic objective, resulted in perhaps fewer total casualties but was seen as a waste of lives because it accomplished little and could not help but accomplish little, however well executed.

That the IDF did not execute the plans it actually had at the ready for a large-scale ground assault - a decision that involved both political and military echelons - was due in no small part to the fact that much of the highest ranks of the IDF, like the political leadership, shared that Oslo mind-set that large-scale actions such as a wide invasion of southern Lebanon were a throw-back to the past; that Israeli-Palestinian and broader Israeli-Arab diplomacy were on the way to precluding the necessity for such actions and the accompanying casualties. In fact, many within the highest echelons of the IDF gained their positions in part because they subscribed to the political orthodoxies of the pro-Oslo camp. Consistent with this mind-set, revelations of war-time decisions in post-war investigations showed that there was considerable reluctance within the IDF leadership to even acknowledge the country was engaged in a bonafide war.

This was off-putting to much of the Israeli population, and it has only been with aggressive post-war soul-searching and reform within the IDF that earlier levels of confidence, and identification, have been restored.

But the hostage exchange has in fact been seen by many among the adolescents about to enter the IDF in a negative light and not as the nation acting on its obligation to its soldiers. This is not simply because conceding so much in exchange for the bodies of dead soldiers gives little incentive to the nation's enemies to take good care of captured Israelis. It is also because many of the nation's youth recognize that the country will face military threats to its well-being and survival for the foreseeable future. These soon-to-be soldiers regard it is irresponsible to release potential combatants in exchange for dead soldiers, and to hand propaganda victories to the nation's enemies, victories that can potentially encourage future kidnapings and other assaults.

In June, members of a decorated reserve infantry battalion prepared a letter to be given to the chief of staff in case of war stating that if they are captured they insist Israel not pay a high price for their freedom, and, if they are killed, no negotiations should be held for the return of their bodies or parts of their bodies. The IDF with which these people identify is not the IDF of the recent hostage trade.

Dr. Lachkar makes the point that Israel's frequent prisoner releases are motivated by a national self-comprehension as the "good guys" and a related eagerness to demonstrate benevolence. This may be so, but these demonstrations of benevolence are also intended to impress upon the nation's enemies Israel's eagerness for peace and willingness to make concessions, and take risks, to gain it. But, of course, the response of the other side is hardly gratitude or any diminution of hostility toward the Jewish state. On the contrary, winning the release of prisoners is more likely to be regarded - like the recent hostage trade - as a sign of weakness, and the "V" for victory salutes of the released become spurs to reinforced determination to carry on the war of annihilation against Israel. Many Israelis see this clearly and are only alienated by government prisoner releases, at least those of people involved in past terror.

FP: Dr. Theodore Dalrymple, Dr. Kenneth Levin, Dr. Joanie Lachkar and Dr. David Gutmann, thank you for joining Frontpage Symposium.
Jamie Glazov is Frontpage Magazine's managing editor. He holds a Ph.D. in History with a specialty in U.S. and Canadian foreign policy. He edited and wrote the introduction to David Horowitz’s Left Illusions. He is also the co-editor (with David Horowitz) of The Hate America Left and the author of Canadian Policy Toward Khrushchev’s Soviet Union (McGill-Queens University Press, 2002) and 15 Tips on How to be a Good Leftist. To see his previous symposiums, interviews and articles Click Here. Email him at

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