Update 2014: Days after writing this…Israel was shocked to see the very image it expected to see. I know that doesn’t make sense but it is what happened. We all expected to see coffins, but I remember gasping out loud when it became clear that our greatest fears were true – both soldiers, Ehud and Eldad were dead…and we had agreed to a trade that would, only a few years later, pale beside what we released for Gilad Shalit.
She Knows (first posted June 30, 2008)
Recently, I wrote about The Big Debate in Israel – the discussion about releasing Samir Kuntar and other terrorists in exchange for what is likely to be the remains of two soldiers who were kidnapped two years ago.
While most in Israel agree that releasing this child killer for the safe return of our soldiers is the proper thing to do, the Israeli thing to do, there remains a debate about completing the deal, if our soldiers are no longer alive.
Yesterday, I watched as Karnit Goldwasser, Ehud’s wife and champion over the last two years, stood outside the Knesset while the debate raged inside the Cabinet. In the end, the vote was 29-3 to accept the terms of the deal. Within the next few days, two weeks at the outside, Israel will indeed release the murderer Samir Kuntar (may he know no peace and may the truest of justice be his in the world to come) and others.
On Karnit’s side, as the day dragged on, were more and more Israelis. All have agonized with her, all have debated, and all have come to the conclusion that ultimately, what sets us apart from our enemies is that we cannot willingly allow her suffering to continue. Smadar Haran, the wife and mother who lost everything on that horrible day back in 1979 when Samir Kuntar murdered her husband and her young daughter, and caused the death of her other child as well, came forward. She too cannot stand the suffering anymore.
The family of one of the three soldiers captured in 2000 was there to lend his support. Former prisoners of war stood with the family as well. Throughout the debate, my anger at Kuntar’s brutal attack burned inside me, warring with my own feelings, and the mother inside me added yet another perspective as well.
In the end, as the announcement was made that the Cabinet had approved the deal, my anger melted away with Karnit’s simple words. She wanted to go home. She was tired. She wanted to be alone with her pain. Until now, I have opposed the deal very strongly and couldn’t really explain why.
Certainly, I believe, if they are alive, we should do all in our power to bring them home. But, everything points to their not being alive and with the government’s announcement that they were almost certainly dead, I was not convinced that we should agree to this deal. The possible dangers to future soldiers, the injustice of freeing this murderer and yet again caving in to Hizbollah overwhelmed me. No, there is no mitzvah, no victory, no justice in releasing Kuntar to receive back two bodies.
What convinced me, in the end, was Karnit’s words. She knows, I thought to myself. She really knows. It is not a question of a family deluding themselves into believing that their sons will be home soon and resume their lives. It is about bringing their bodies home to be in Israel, a promise we must make to all our soldiers. We will not abandon you, no matter what, no matter when. She knows.
And with that reality came a change in my heart. It is no longer about them, though Karnit would say otherwise. For me, it is about her. It is a promise that we must make to each mother, to each wife. We can’t stop you from worrying when your sons go off to war; we can’t protect them in all cases. But we won’t allow you to suffer more than necessary; we won’t abandon you either.
The Goldwasser and Regev families have suffered enough and, in many ways, always will. The Haran family will never stop suffering – that was Kuntar’s wish and he will receive it. Justice was lost to us when the Olmert government caved in and stopped the war prematurely. Justice was lost when several years ago, the Sharon government swapped hundreds of terrorists and security prisoners for three dead bodies and a drug dealer, and finally justice was lost when our government lost its nerve and placed the interests of our enemies above the interests of their own people.
This deal is the best we can get, not because we don’t deserve better and not because it is just, but because until the Olmert government finally leaves office, a weak and cursed deal is the best such a weak and cursed government can achieve. All we can do for now, is be what we are – a society that cares and loves its own.
The strength of Israel may not be in the government, but it most certainly is in the people and in the love we have for one another. Smadar Haran helped us yesterday when she released Israeli society from the fear of causing her yet more pain. Her dignity and courage, then and now, enables us to look at Karnit and the Regev and Goldwasser families and do what is right for them. Ultimately, what it comes down to is a choice of this world and the next one. Judaism teaches that there is justice, ultimate and final and fair.
In this world, the justice for Ehud and Eldad is to stop the suffering of their families and to let Karnit rest. In the next world, we will all have our justice. If Samir Kuntar receives a heroes welcome when he goes home to Lebanon, he should enjoy it.
His reception in the world to come won’t be nearly so enjoyable. And in that, there is justice.