Israel: Intense Emotions Over the Hezbollah Prisoner Exchange

Wednesday, July 16th, was a day of mourning all across Israel. Hopes for the slight possibility that the approved prisoner exchange deal with Hezbollah will bring the two abducted soldiers, Ehud Goldwasser and Eldad Regev, back home alive were shattered as their coffins were transported across the border. In return, Israel released several Lebanese terrorists, including Samir Kuntar who has been serving four life sentences for the murder of four Israelis in Nahariya, 1979. His release is extremely controversial because of the cold-blooded nature of his crime, comprehensively described by Smadar Haran in the following post: The World Should Know What He Did to My Family.

While Smadar Haran supports the prisoner exchange deal, claiming that she has no monopoly over suffering or justice, it has been intriguing to follow the different opinions and perspectives regarding this difficult topic. The return of the soldiers, regardless of their condition, fulfills an important central value of Israeli society – that the State of Israel will do its utmost to recover soldiers behind enemy lines – nonetheless it poses serious questions such as giving terrorist organizations an incentive to act again. In fact, The Jerusalem Post presents a troubling statistics, showing long-term consequence of such an exchange:

According to the Almagor Terror Victims Association, 854 of the 6,912 Palestinian terrorists released in confidence-building measures between 1993 and 1999 were subsequently arrested for acts of murder and terrorism (as of August 2003). In fact, 80 percent of the terrorists released committed criminal offenses related to terrorism, “whether as commanders, planners, or murderers.” Since the year 2000, 180 Israelis have been murdered by terrorists who had been released from Israeli jails. These statistics do not account for the hundreds more who were injured by these same recidivists.

There is much criticism over how the Israeli government handled this topic in the past two years. On the one hand, the government announced that it will “do anything” in its power to bring back the abducted soldiers. But on the other hand, the government declared that there will be absolutely no negotiations with the kidnappers.

Nadav Peretz writes a thoughtful post on the destructive role of Israeli media and the general public during the past months of negotiations:

The media unequivocally adopted the popular ‘bring the boys home’ narrative. If this was the radio broadcaster who dedicated every song to them, or the newspaper which included their pictures on a daily basis – everyone broadcast that Israel has one national goal: to bring Regev, Goldwaser and Shalit home.

But it was known to everyone, 99% certainty, that both were dead – for many months. One did not need connections with the security entities in order to hear the rumors. In addition, this was also claimed, with no commitment, by the media. However, in order to not harm the families, and with media pressure, they were not announced as dead.

From the moment that the media supported the following two base assumptions – that we must bring the boys home, and that we cannot declare their death without 100% certainty – it was obvious that this story will end badly; especially with the current weak state of the government.

Politicians who knew they were negotiating for dead bodies, were forced to act as if they are in negotiations for live soldiers – knowing that they cannot fail in this negotiation. As a result, Israel had to fulfill Hizbollah's main request – release of Samir Kuntar in return for the soldiers’ bodies.

Not only the media is to blame, but every one who placed a sticker with the soldiers’ pictures on their car, every blogger who wrote that ‘it is absurd that we have not brought them back yet’ – every one of you took part in this public campaign which led us to this day.

Yonatan also criticizes the government for lying about the soldiers’ state, suggesting that they most probably knew about their death ahead of time. He suggests that instead of lying in attempt to raise National Morale, the Israeli government should have simply said: “Goldwasser and Regev are dead.”

Others criticize Israeli media for being disgraceful – turning this harsh tragedy and strategic dilemma into a soap opera.

Over the past day, Israeli media has been following the emotion-filled funerals of the two soldiers. Moreover, it has been covering the celebrations in the Palestinian territories reacting to Kuntar's release, who was
welcomed into Lebanon
like a true hero. The Hebrew blogosphere is filled with strong emotions, both supporting and against the prisoner exchange deal. Below are translations of several picked posts:

perspective 1:

The State of Israel has known a substantial amount of abductions. And every time, the same moral question comes up: “to pay or not pay the price?”
Every side has their claims and answers. Until today I did not know to which side I belonged.
Until today.
Today I understood.
After the soldiers were returned (unfortunately) in coffins, you could literally hear the relief all across Israel. This massive rock that was released, for every person who cares about the situation here.
Today I realized: it is necessary to pay any price. Even the most hurtful.
And yes, it is difficult to see the monster, Samir Kuntar, entering Lebanon with song and dance, but the feeling from knowing that “our sons are home” cannot be substituted.

After the sad songs on the radio, and after we all felt truly a day of mourning, everyone will go back to their routine.
Another soldier will be captured, another prime minister will change, another war, bombing… you know, our routine.
And we will not remember anymore who Udi and Eldad were.
It is sad. But this is how they ball spins.

perspective 2:

אתה חופשי, סמיר קונטאר, חופשי לרצוח, לחזור הביתה ולחייך אך תיזכור את התינוקת הקטנה של גרמה שום נזק לך או למשפחתך.
נתתם לו עשרות מאסרי עולם אך שיחררתם אותו ביום אחד…
רק אחדים יודעים למה עשית את זה אולמרט…
בך ראש ממשלה המכובד הוא לא יפגע אך האזרחים הפשוטים יסבלו בגלל מעשייך.
You are free, Samir Kuntar – free to murder, to go back home smiling. Just remember the little baby who did you or your family no harm. You gave him several life sentences, but released him in a single day… Only a handful of people know why you did this, Olmert… He will never harm you, honorable Prime Minister. However the simple citizens will suffer from the consequences of your actions.

perspective 3:

זה פשוט לא יוצא לי מהראש

“דמעות של עצב בישראל, דמעות שמחה בלבנון”
יבוא יום, והם ייתבישו בהתנהגות שלהם

היום הזה פתח את פצע המלחמה מחדש, לפחות אצלי
הדבר היחיד שיכול “לסגור” את הפצע הזה
זה החזרתו של גלעד שליט

It simply does not leave my head.
Tears of sorrow in Israel – Tears of joy in Lebanon
The day will come, and they will be ashamed of their behavior.
This day has opened up the wound from the war again, at least for me. The only thing that can close it, is the return of Gilad Shalit.

perspective 4:

גם אני האמנתי שהם בחיים.
התפללתי בשבילם.
חיכיתי כל כך שיחזרו הביתה, ושכולם ישמחו…
שירדו דמעות של אושר.
ושבו בנים לגבולם.
מי יודע כמה זמן, מי יודע איך, מי יודע למה ?
מי יודע כמה הם סבלו שם, מי יודע כמה התעללו בהם ?
ומי יידע לספר ?
עכשיו, כשבלבנון החגיגות, כאן בישראל..
מחפשים אשמים.
I also believed that they are alive. I prayed for them. Waited to celebrate when they come home… to cry tears of happiness.
The sons have returned to their land.
Who knows how long, how or why?
Who knows how much they suffered there, how much they were tortured?
And who will be able to tell?
As there are celebrations in Lebanon, here in Israel… we are looking for who to blame.

17 year old Litalush writes:

החטופים מתים-כל תקווה שהייתה בליבי התפוצצה כאילו לא הייתה.
ישבתי שעות מול הטלוויזיה והדמעות לא הפסיקו לצאת .
לא הפסיקו לצאת למראה השמחה של החיסבאללה הנבלות האלה החסרות לב.
והדמעות המשיכו לפרוץ לנוכח הארונות השחורים….

אני יסכם את היום הזה ויגיד שוב.שהיום היה כואב וקשה .
אך עכשיו יש לי בטחון במדינה שכאשר אני יהיה חיילת תהיה לי מדינה שתעמוד מאחורי.

The abducted are dead. All hope that was in my heart exploded as if it never existed.
I sat in front of the television and the tears did not stop… did not stop with the images of Hizbollah's celebrations.
And the tears kept coming, with the black coffins…

I will summarize this day by writing again and again that today was difficult and hurtful.
But now I am confident in my country, that when I will be a soldier, my country will stand behind me.

 - הדלקו נר לזכרם

From the Facebook group Free Ehud Goldwasser, Gilad Shalit and Eldad Regev

After the rest of the family members left Olmert's office, Karnit Goldwasser, Ehud's wife, stayed behind. She went up to Olmert, shook his hand, and with red-rimmed eyes said: “I've been fighting for two years, and I feel that in the end, even if I won, what has it all been for? So I can shout ‘Hooray, I'm a widow'?”
Olmert listened, and the tears coursed down his cheeks.

The debate in Israel is still intense – is it fair to release prisoners who have blood on their hands, especially in return for dead bodies? As you can see above, there is no clear opinion, within the general public nor within the government.
What do you think?

Other GV Posts:
Lebanon: Return of Prisoners


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