Saturday, July 19, 2008

Israeli prisoner exchange math

Upyernoz points out something that has baffled me as well:

i must admit, i don't understand why israel would trade live prisoners for dead bodies. i realize that hezbollah didn't reveal that they were dead until they showed up at the border with the coffins, but couldn't the israeli government demand proof that the soldiers were alive as part of the negotiations? or make the whole deal contingent on the soldiers being alive?

His commenters point out that Israel probably new that the soliders were dead beforehand, and that Israel has traditionally placed enormous emphasis on recovering bodies for proper burial. But it still does strike me as odd. It reminds me of those passages in Classical Greek stories where living daughters were traded for the corpses of their brothers. It seemed weird in those stories and it seems weird in the news now.

Also, aren't the people on the other sides of these trades deeply insulted by the implied inequality? "Oh great, I'm worth one fifth of a dead Israeli body. What a compliment." I thought that concepts of face and honor were a big deal in that region. On the other hand, I probably wouldn't turn down a chance to get out of prison just because I thought my cohorts got me out on the cheap.

Or is it that Israel get so many prisoners relative to their enemies that traditional market forces force this remarkable "exchange rate"? Comments and explanations most welcome.


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