Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and his cabinet have found a unique way to celebrate the Islamic holiday of Id al-Adha, the "Festival of the Sacrifice," that commemorates the willingness of Abraham to sacrifice his son.
But instead of slaughtering lambs or goats, as millions of Muslims throughout the world do, Israel's leaders were prepared to sacrifice the lives of countless innocent Israelis.
Olmert's willingness to free terrorists in exchange for kidnapped soldiers, along with his newest plan to release terrorists as a goodwill gesture to Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas will cause more Israeli deaths than if he were to hand a terrorist a loaded gun.
Freeing terrorists by giving in to blackmail empowers an entire generation of terrorists with the knowledge that their actions have no lasting consequences, and that even the toughest Israeli prison sentence will never be permanent. They just have to wait for their fellow terrorists to kidnap another Israeli hostage, and kill a few more in the process. Then freedom will just be a matter of time.
It's important to recognize that Israel's past behavior has repeatedly proved the effectiveness of these murder-kidnappings and caused them to become an integral component of Palestinian policy and strategy.
When Israel released 400 terrorists in exchange for the freedom of Israeli businessman Elhanan Tannenbaum and the bodies of three soldiers kidnapped by Hezbollah in 2004, the Palestinian press reported that their leaders were quick to recognize the effectiveness of Hezbollah's strategy.
The recurring theme of public proclamations in the months before the kidnapping of Israeli soldiers Gilad Shalit, Ehud Goldwasser and Eldad Regev also confirms that Israel's previous surrenders to blackmail have made kidnapping a cornerstone of P.A. policy.
If Israel releases more terrorists this week there will be four waves of Israeli victims — starting with Gilad Shalit. Israel hoped that Hamas would eventually lower its demands for Shalit's release and be satisfied with the symbolic victory of securing the freedom of a modest number of terrorist prisoners. By releasing terrorists to Abbas without getting anything in return, however, Olmert is forcing Hamas to raise the stakes and lessening Shalit's chance of an early release.
Whatever number of terrorists Abbas receives gratis, Hamas will have to hold out for many times that number. Whatever the crimes committed by the terrorists released to Abbas, Hamas will demand the release of even more dangerous criminals.
The result will certainly be much longer and harder negotiations. If Shalit is lucky, this will merely extend his ordeal. If Olmert's goodwill gamble fails, Shalit could well become the next Ron Arad.
The second wave of victims will be the dozens, perhaps hundreds, of Israelis who stand to be killed and maimed by these released terrorists. According to a September 2006 report by the Almagor Terror Victims Association, at least 14 major terrorist attacks in recent years — accounting for 123 murdered Israelis — were carried out by terrorists released from prison through "goodwill gestures" and Israeli prisoner deals.
The third wave of victims will be all those killed by a new generation of terrorists empowered and emboldened by the images of "heroic" prisoners carried aloft as they step to freedom.
And the fourth wave will be those soldiers and civilians who fall victim to the kidnappings and murders that will continue as long as Israel keeps proving to terrorists and their handlers that this tactic works.
Olmert has a unique opportunity to break this cycle of killings, kidnappings and ransom by rejecting all attempts at this kind of blackmail, thereby depriving Palestinian terrorists of one of their favorite weapons.
But instead, he appears so intent on demonstrating what he describes as "flexibility and generosity" that he ignores the reality of the deadly consequences his actions will inevitably have.
As Olmert and his cabinet prepare to make the ultimate sacrifice — with the lives of other people's children — they might want to recall that at the end of the biblical story, at the very last moment, God called off the sacrifice and saved an entire nation. It's not too late for them to do the same.
Itamar Marcus is director and Barbara Crook associate director of Palestinian Media Watch.