}

The “Return”

[reposted from MyUrbanKvetch]


“Hezbollah hand over the remains of two Israeli soldiers in a prisoner swap with Israel. Details soon.”
— CNN.com, 9:50am (ISR).

With a heavy heart, knowing what was about to happen and hoping that it wouldn’t, I woke up this morning and joined my roommate at our “laptop table,” our backs to the TV, listening with half an ear to the “prisoner swap” with Hizbullah. The event turned out like no one hoped and everyone probably expected, with Israel trading five live “freedom fighters” and the remains of 199 Lebanese militia for the remains of two soldiers. It sounds like some ridiculous sale at Supersol: pay 2 and get 5+199. What a deal.

The inequality of the trade is stark. The power position was Hizbullah’s–we know what we have, and you don’t, but you trade your known quantity for our unknown quantity, and no, you don’t get to know what we have before you agree–and Israel…well, Israel calls in the forensic scientists to figure out if we’re really getting back what we think we’re getting back. It’s all theoretical until DNA proves otherwise.

Even before we see Channel 10’s split-screen coverage–one half of the screen devoted to replaying the footage of the two black coffins being laid on the ground, and the other half filled with the faces of the family–our collective heart goes out to the families. For the friends and families, this marks a terrible closure as they gathered to learn the fates of the soldiers, who have been missing since their capture two years ago.

But now begins the process for the Israeli imagination, of understanding what happened to them. Were they captured and killed instantly, with an eye toward using them for bargaining chips and exploiting Israel’s premium on human life? Was there a process of torture, either violent or insidious (malnutrition)? Has Hizbullah (or other terrorist organizations) ever returned Israeli soldiers alive? Or the most horrifying prospect: is it possible that they were alive until the prisoner swap was announced and then killed?

Plus, for non-native English speakers who rely on a combination of TV images and online English reports, there’s much opportunity for confusion as to what is actually happening. The footage of the two black boxes, next to each other evoking the image of two fallen towers that is still active in my bi-national memory, replays and we understand, much like we did with those towers, that the image happened once and was now being repeated. But that doesn’t stop the emotional impact of seeing the image. Stab, stab, stab. Each time hurts.

But when footage of caravans of glass-walled trucks, bearing coffins decorated with the flag of Lebanon, make their way through crowded Lebanese streets, seemingly the freedom fighters’ remains, even while CNN reports that Israel will keep their end of the deal only if forensics reports ascertain that the remains in the two boxes are Goldwasser and Regev–there’s a dawning awareness: we see what the media wants us to see, and we really don’t know what we’re looking at.

Israel as a nation lived the capture of the soldiers, with banners flying from apartments and in front of businesses, urging vigilance on behalf of the kidnapped soldiers. As late as yesterday, I saw one that read, “Don’t let apathy kill our sons.” It struck me because it seemed so opposite the national sentiment; you didn’t have to say “don’t be apathetic,” or “never forget,” because remembering national service is a daily occurrence. I don’t know a single Israeli (or even an oleh from the Diaspora) who didn’t remember these soldiers in an active sense. Apathy, as an entity, is not what killed Goldwasser and Regev. In this region, there are many enemies, and although it’s metaphorically tempting to cast apathy in an equivalent role, such symbolic casting misses the point.

Israeli families know the risks of living here, but accepting it in the abstract is very different from living it on a national level. To live it means that in every negotiation, you are setting the precedent for the future. If two presumed-dead soldiers are worth X, then what is one living one worth? We know the rabbinic opinion, that one person’s life is worth worlds, that “bloods” cry out from the ground, symbolizing not just the one life, but countless other lives that that person may have birthed or inspired.

There’s something powerful to the hardline of “we will not negotiate with terrorists.” But Israel does, not just as political entity, but as a country where the heartbeat of its very life comprises the heartbeats of many soldiers and civilians. Say what you want about the rising oil prices, or corruption in some of the high government offices–Israel the country feels a responsibility to each of those heartbeats.

Esther Kustanowitz

For more posts by Esther, see EstherK.com, MyUrbanKvetch.com and JDatersAnonymous.com.

32 Comments

  1. emmanuel

    7/16/2008 at 3:59 am

    It is a big shame. how could Isreal do such a thing?
    I feel sad. A nation is being let down by its own soiled leaders. Olmert should go now. He is gutless, dubious shameless and a betrayer. He has finally lost the war. I feel so bad.

  2. DJ

    7/16/2008 at 6:13 am

    Trade a murderer, someone who beat a child to death, for the return of two bodies. Now doesn’t that make sense. With logic like that it’s no wonder that problems in that part of the world will never be resolved.

  3. david

    7/16/2008 at 7:38 am

    DJ,
    there wasn’t a choice and it really hasn’t a lot to do with Ulmert – In Israel it is of uttermost importance to bring back soldiers – or even dead soldiers’ bodies. It is an integral part of this society that may be hard to understand. But if Israel wouldn’t do this then lots of people wouldn’t show up for milium (reserve duty) anymore, that’s for sure.

  4. Tom Morrissey

    7/16/2008 at 7:54 am

    I guess that’s our difference in values, david. In the United States, it’s of the utmost importance to punish mass murderers very severely. And, as we’ve seen in Iraq, our government does not believe in negotiating for the release of our soldiers taken hostage by terrorists, even if that means those soldiers are slaughtered like farm animals. Something about creating dangerous precedents.

  5. Richard

    7/16/2008 at 8:08 am

    But why even keep a murderer like kuntar alive? What purpose does it solve? I can understand the reason that Israel doesn’t want him seen as a martyr, but is he not more of a threat alive and free? I saw the prisoners picture, they all look like they have been kept in good health, including kuntar. There is no remorse from him about what he’s done, he looks more like a deranged psycopath. Condolences to the families of the fallen soldiers, to the victims of kuntars so called patriotism ………
    Israel will prevail !!!!!!!!!

  6. froylein

    7/16/2008 at 8:22 am

    I’ve read Kuntar is Druse; why else would Lebanon want him back other than for Israel’s humiliation? Druzes are persecuted in Lebanon..

  7. Jorge

    7/16/2008 at 8:57 am

    How much cost two Israeli soldiers?

    A lot, we love so much our soldiers, I feel sad…

  8. Joshua

    7/16/2008 at 9:13 am

    david,

    Olmert had a choice to publicly declare the soldiers dead based on the intelligence reports, thus driving Hezbollah’s price way down. But because he’s a weak leader, he chose not to.

  9. david

    7/16/2008 at 10:04 am

    Tom,
    I am not sure I understand what you want to incline by that. If your country punishes mass murderers severely that is definitely good for you (if you’re not a mass murderer).
    In Israel the Law reflects Jewish values and we celebrate and appreciate life and hold it in the highest regard, even while a bloody conflict is forced on us. This means among other things that there is no capital punishment. So yes, murderers get jail for life and are not put to death like in the US.. But jails here are not exactly a holiday on the tax payer’s sheqel and conditions are pretty harsh. My wife worked as a psychologist in a Israeli jail and knows a lot of interesting and shocking stories. But now it’s probably not the right time to share them.
    Not executing capital punishment doesn’t mean that that the judiciary system in Israel is weak. And on the other hand, executing prisoners not always works as a deterrent anyway – and certainly not against terrorists who are literally craving to die for the twisted sake of their horrible cause. Also, the US still has a higher per capita homicide rate than Israel, even higher than Albania or the Philippines. Another shocking example is that the total number of casualties in the second Lebanon war is less than the number of people getting killed in Baltimore alone in 24 months.
    Apart from that I don’t see too many differences in judiciary and socio-ethical values between the US and Israel. I would like to let comedians do the nit-picking of the minor differences. They can do it better. I am just not in the mood for that now and I come only up with these terrible numbers that don’t say much at all.

  10. Tom Morrissey

    7/16/2008 at 10:25 am

    david, I happen not to favor capital punishment, but here in my state, which doesn’t have it, it’s life in prison without possibility for parole for first degree murder.

    I appreciate your statement of values, yet the core of the problem with this swap is that it’s inconsistent with those values. ‘Celebrating and appreciating life’ should mean, one would think, insuring those who wrongly take it are punished and, further, innocents are not put at enhanced risk of harm. In this instance, Kuntar, looking spry enough, gets loudly acclaimed as a hero and can resume his murderous career. And there is every incentive for Hamas, Hezbollah et al. to capture and, indeed, kill Israeli soldiers and civilians and barter them for more terrorists.

    Not negotiating with terrorists has a price. It may even mean excruciatingly difficult choices, like accepting the death of hostages and prisoners. But the price of caving in and making deals are more cave-ins and more deals– and more death.

  11. Ephraim

    7/16/2008 at 12:26 pm

    Deterrent, deshmerrent. Jewish values, Shmuish values. You think a government run by people like Olmert reflects “Jewish values”?

    Animals like Kuntar should be shot. Who cares if it “deters” anybody? Punishment is a value in and of itself. Kuntar deserved to be killed for what he did. Deterrence has nothing to do with it.

    As it is, they get a live terririst “hero”, we get corpses.

    Next time, don’t capture these fuckers, fucking shoot them. This is war, not some fucking, 7-11 stick up. You can always say that in the heat of battle he got shot before he had a chance to surrender. It shouldn’t be too hard.

  12. Tom Morrissey

    7/16/2008 at 12:29 pm

    These scenes of Arab celebration are pretty incredible…

  13. david

    7/16/2008 at 1:46 pm

    Ephraim,
    I disagree. Ulmert didn’t have a lot to do with this, because the deal was put up up for vote in the Knesset and passed to put this endless hope-despair-continuum to an end. There is time to mourn and there is time to fight.

  14. Ephraim

    7/16/2008 at 2:11 pm

    Yeah, but Israel keeps confusing the two.

    Olmert needs to go. The fact that the Cabinet agreed to this abject surrender means they need to go too. The whole Knesset needs to be hosed out, for that matter.

    They came back in a box, Kuntar should have gone back in a box. As I said, he never should have been captured to begin with. He should have been shot down like the rabid dog he is.

    Pretty easy to be a “martyr” when you know that the stupid fucking Jews are going to capture you, put you in prison, and then release you later. Such a deal.

    We’re our own worst enemies.

  15. david

    7/16/2008 at 3:08 pm

    I also think this is a foul deal. But I also see the realpolitk and the integrity of Israeli society where everyone is in the Army or has a son or daughter serving right now. And while this deal doesn’t do a lot of good to Israel’s image as a formidable enemy in battle, it is the essence of our morale to bring back every soldier – and even if it is only the remains.

    Joshua,
    you are ill-informed. The government declared the soldiers dead already, about 2 weeks before the deal. Yet in halacha it is impossible to declare someone dead before you are not absolutely sure of it. Also, the families of the abducted soldiers literally begged and pleaded to bring back whoever, whatever possible, as long there is the slightest chance to someone’s life, which price is too high? Face it. It is a no-win situation.

    Ephraim,
    there is no need to take words from the dictionary of barbarians. For someone who came to die for his sick martyrdom, isn’t it more punishment to not let him die easily? And what does Nasrallah want with a druze terrorist anyway? He’s just another snake in the pit.

  16. Tom Morrissey

    7/16/2008 at 3:19 pm

    david, Ingrid Betancourt’s family also publicly lobbied the Uribe government to negotiate with the FARC for her release, and tried to get Hugo Chavez to intercede. It’s natural for families to seek a peaceful release of their captive loved ones, regardless of the cost.

  17. Ben-David

    7/16/2008 at 3:56 pm

    david wrote:
    In Israel it is of uttermost importance to bring back soldiers – or even dead soldiers’ bodies. It is an integral part of this society that may be hard to understand. But if Israel wouldn’t do this then lots of people wouldn’t show up for milium (reserve duty)
    – – – – – – – – – – – –

    1) It was not always like this. The pressure for this deal came largely from a sensation-seeking press pushing the subject in the public’s face, and giving the families inordinate influence over policy decisions.

    Previously, these situations were not exploited in this way, and there were no emotional appeals to use “any means necessary”.

    This is part of a general weakening of the Israeli civic spirit.

    2) It still is not all like this. The real heroes of this whole episode are the soldiers and officers who signed the declaration requesting no such interventions if they are captured.

    Many of the reservists you mention see quite clearly that this game encourages further kidnappings, and endangers them.

  18. Ephraim

    7/16/2008 at 4:16 pm

    David, that’s assuming he really intended to be a martyr (which I doubt).

    But if by “isn’t it more punishment to not let him die easily”, you mean torturing him slowly so he dies a long and painfully excrutiating death, then I agree.

    Sending him back in a box with his junk stuffed in his mouth would have sent a better message.

    You’ve heard of General “Blackjack” Pershing and how he defeated the Islamic Moro insurgency in the Phillipines, haven’t you?

    He captured a bunch of Moro fighters in a battle and executed all of them except one by firing squad with bullets that had been dipped in pig’s blood, then buried the bodies in a mass grave filled with pig carcasses. This prevented the dead Moro from entering “Paradise”. He sent the the survivor back to tell his buds what they could expect.

    The result?

    No more rebellion.

  19. Bill C

    7/16/2008 at 5:45 pm

    “Woe to the nation that celebrates in these hours the release of a bestial person who smashed the head of a 4-year-old child,” Olmert said in a statement.

    WRONG!

    Woe to the thieving Prime Minister for the left Olmert wh turned this racist child murderer loose!

    Olmert will get his and soon!

  20. Bill C

    7/16/2008 at 5:54 pm

    tom morrissey

    “And, as we’ve seen in Iraq, our government does not believe in negotiating for the release of our soldiers taken hostage by terrorists, even if that means those soldiers are slaughtered like farm animals. ”

    SAY WHAT?

    You are compared apples to orangutangs!

    This sick piece of work and thief Olmert traded for 2 dead bodies. He was trying to save their lives. They were dead for over 2 years and this lefty thief Olmert who refuses to step down until he gives the Golan Heights away and allows Palestiniann descendents all 20 million of them back into Israel, this Olmert must be removed whether by military OR whatever means like the unsuccessful try at the airport.

  21. Bill C

    7/16/2008 at 6:04 pm

    http://www.haaretz.com/hasen/spages/1002752.html

    youtube video of murderer Olmert sset free

  22. El

    7/16/2008 at 8:07 pm

    As an Israeli i completely disagree with David, this is a very bad deal. The ones who are going to suffer are practically the next soldiers that are going to be kidnapped. It used to be hard to kidnap a living soldier, but now it seem that even kidnapping a dead soldier will be a good deal, and that can be much easier. David, Israel should survive for ever, but if our leaders dont think about eternity when they make decisions, but on the next elections, we are in big trouble. I am 100% sure that the short term prevailed in this case, i have read in the paper that the head of the mosad and the shabak were against this deal, I wonder why!!

  23. david

    7/17/2008 at 5:31 am

    Technically it was Shimon Peres who set Kuntar free.

  24. david

    7/17/2008 at 6:18 am

    > the soldiers and officers who signed the declaration requesting no > such interventions if they are captured.

    Ben-David,
    I just read in the Yedioth that there is no such thing and if someone signs such a paper on his/her own account the army would ignore it.

  25. Pingback: Principle vs. Love and Devotion in Israel’s Prisoner Exchange

  26. Omar

    7/18/2008 at 6:56 pm

    Whats the shock? Israel has already kill thousands of palestinian children during IDF operation so far. Now, you guys are crying out loud to start fabricated blog to demonize deal. Its always the arrogance, and lies that spread. The truth is now Israel wants to stop Iran military power. It’s not about nuclear weapons Iran want to have but its about global dominance. People of lebanon are not stupid to kiss Israel ass or be zionist slaves.

  27. themiddle

    7/18/2008 at 8:02 pm

    Hey Omar, if Hizbullah hadn’t attacked, there would have been no war. If Hamas and Fatah didn’t attack, there would be very few, if any, Palestinians killed by Israelis.

    The “people of Lebanon” interact with Israel through the efforts of Hizbullah and, previously, Fatah. They led and lead you by the nose to war, and you sit there afterwards and blame the Israelis. Seven eights of Beirut sat around in coffee shops in 2006 because Israel tried to attack the attackers, not the Lebanese. In the meantime, Hizbullah rained 4000 rockets randomly at Israeli cities and towns in the north of Israel. So you may not be stupid enough to kiss Israel’s ass, but you appear to be stupid enough to kiss the ass of Hizbullah or others who bring war upon you.

    Hey, when you get tired of kissing those asses, why not move on to Syrian asses?

    Oh wait, you’ve already done that.

  28. Omar

    7/18/2008 at 10:48 pm

    Themiddle, I don’t kiss nobody ass in any means. You seem to believe those news telling you hezbollah attack first in 2006. It’s a mental war to see the otherside as evil on the media. I am not praising kuntar for his terror killing. 4000 rockets is nothing compare to israelis best weapons in the world. Those rockets are not that advance; look the israelis fighter jets and military advancing. Hamas and hezbollah are just small little army trying to resist israeli attacks. In realty they are not that heavely arm as the israeli. Those israeli jets are powerfull to torn down whole population or to cause great destructions. I can name many other military advances. Those palestinians are really helpless to get atleast good weapons. Suicide is unislamic and forbidden, those suicide bombing is started by arab militants. I am not an arab at all. I am not blaming the israelis for arab failures in the middle east. Arab countries are becoming the nation of whiners thats how I would describe them when get pissed at them.

  29. El

    7/19/2008 at 12:01 am

    Omar,

    I agree with you that no one is evil. Israel has done some tremendous mistakes over the years (the first Lebanon war was one of the biggest and dragging the feets for 25 years until agreed to negotiate with the Palestinians is another), on the other hand some progress was made during the 90s and it seems that all that just went away by now (I have seen it from a close range not through the media and believe me that the Palestinians had a lot to lose back in the 90s, but nevertheless they decided to start their own independent war, as we in Israel know too well but never learn, it is easy to start a war but it is much harder to control the outcomes, so they have lost it all. The situation is tough and it seems that war is at the area door step. I agree with you that Israel military force is great, and justly so, otherwise Israel would not survive thus far. Let’s be honest that if Israel will lose a war it will be the last war it will participate in, on the other hand if Iran or other middle east country will lose a war, they will still exist. Israel most likely fight Iran since it has no other good choice. It is purely pragmatic; believe me that no one in Israel “hates” Iran. But if someone is threatening to destroy you and develop nuclear weapons it is wise not to wait to see if he is serious about it, by then it will be too late. As for Lebanon, I am sure that a lot of people there don’t want to fight or be involved in any war, but you guys seat in the same boat with Hezbollah and Hezbollah is Iran’s little army (if it is so little I wish someone in Lebanon would arise to fight it, but this is just false hopes.) I hope that after the next war this region will come down. At this point we should hold on tight and pray that we will all survive the bumps ahead.

  30. Omar

    7/19/2008 at 1:54 am

    El, I am wishing peace for all people in the holy land. I am human I have frustretion on palestinians and israeli conflict. We all get emotions and anger but I hope hate will vanish. It’s fact non-violance will never be both sides choices. Hezbollah is resistanse but not at it’s best since they kill innocent. I am not spokesperson for hamas or hezbollah, since their civilization going backwards. I am speaking for people of palestine not hamas or hezbollah. Iran is Israel’s enemy and I understand why israel is pushing for war. I would not agree israel go to war, Iran threat is not that dangerous. I would go to tahrain and shout “long live israel” they wont mess with me. I would not recommend any jew to do that.

  31. themiddle

    7/19/2008 at 3:55 pm

    Omar, you seem to agree with me that Israel is well armed and could cause tremendous damage if it wanted to do so. Instead, as I wrote, most of Beirut was not affected by the war and the cities and villages targeted by Israel tended to be affiliated with Hizbullah in some way. I contrast this with the random attacks by Hizbullah’s 4000 rockets which targeted any civilian center they could reach.

    But whether you agree or not, let’s be clear that Hizbullah DID start the 2006 war. They launched a simultaneous attack on the Israeli soldiers and on a nearby civilian town to create a diversion. This was an unprovoked attack and it was definitely launched by Hizbullah. Nasrallah just wasn’t expecting to be attacked with large forces and the type of military campaign launched by Israel.

    Wars cause losses to both sides, but Israel cannot afford to lose a single war. Remember that when you consider what drives the Israelis. They cannot afford to lose even one war.

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