Palestinians and Hezbollah are wildly celebrating the release of a great Lebanese hero, Samir Kuntar, from Israeli prison. Their excitement matches that felt in South Africa when Nelson Mandela was finally released. Nelson Mandela, of course, was a principled man who spoke up against apartheid and was imprisoned for exercising his freedom of speech against that terrible regime.
If you’d like to know what Kuntar did to earn his countrymen’s adulation, here’s the story, as described by an eyewitness, Smadar Haran Kaiser:
It had been a peaceful Sabbath day. My husband, Danny, and I had picnicked with our little girls, Einat, 4, and Yael, 2, on the beach not far from our home in Nahariya, a city on the northern coast of Israel, about six miles south of the Lebanese border.
Around midnight, we were asleep in our apartment when four terrorists, sent by Abu Abbas from Lebanon, landed in a rubber boat on the beach two blocks away. Gunfire and exploding grenades awakened us as the terrorists burst into our building. They had already killed a police officer.
As they charged up to the floor above ours, I opened the door to our apartment. In the moment before the hall light went off, they turned and saw me. As they moved on, our neighbor from the upper floor came running down the stairs. I grabbed her and pushed her inside our apartment and slammed the door.
Outside, we could hear the men storming about. Desperately, we sought to hide. Danny helped our neighbor climb into a crawl space above our bedroom; I went in behind her with Yael in my arms. Then Danny grabbed Einat and was dashing out the front door to take refuge in an underground shelter when the terrorists came crashing into our flat.
They held Danny and Einat while they searched for me and Yael, knowing there were more people in the apartment. I will never forget the joy and the hatred in their voices as they swaggered about hunting for us, firing their guns and throwing grenades. I knew that if Yael cried out, the terrorists would toss a grenade into the crawl space and we would be killed. So I kept my hand over her mouth, hoping she could breathe. As I lay there, I remembered my mother telling me how she had hidden from the Nazis during the Holocaust. “This is just like what happened to my mother,” I thought.
As police began to arrive, the terrorists took Danny and Einat down to the beach. There, according to eyewitnesses, one of them shot Danny in front of Einat so that his death would be the last sight she would ever see. Then he smashed my little girl’s skull in against a rock with his rifle butt. That terrorist was Samir Kuntar.
By the time we were rescued from the crawl space, hours later, Yael, too, was dead. In trying to save all our lives, I had smothered her. (Emphasis mine.)
You can tell a lot about a culture by its choice of heroes, can’t you? I’m suddenly less embarrassed by the American propensity to elevate to hero status basketball players and rock stars. At least they don’t have children’s blood on their hands.
As for the caption for this post, it comes from the way in which the New York Times, reporting on Kuntar’s release, decided to educate its readers about the crime that resulted in his imprisonment:
Perhaps Israel’s most reviled prisoner, Samir Kuntar, will return to a hero’s welcome when he crosses into Lebanon this week, 29 years after he left its shores in a rubber dinghy to kidnap Israelis from the coastal town of Nahariya.
That raid went horribly wrong, leaving five people dead, a community terrorized and a nation traumatized. Two Israeli children and their father were among those killed.
I hope you appreciate the way in which the Times used passive voice there. It was just a dreadful coincidence that, without any human intervention, two kids and their dad were dead. In Times-land, the raiders have no moral connection to the fact that a 4-year old’s father was shot in front of her and then her head was smashed against a rock. While the Times can spare endless space to report on the horrors of kids accidentally killed because the Palestinians encourage them to play on rocket launchers, it suddenly finds itself incapable of explaining to its readers just why the average Israeli might be a tad distraught about the Olmert government’s latest decision.
I guess you can also tell a lot about a country, or at least a political ideology, based on the way its free media spins a story. And this does embarrass me.
Hat tip: Best of the Web
I should add here that, insofar as I have an extremely limited knowledge of Jewish tradition, the body is very important. Religious Jews don’t cremate their dead because an inviolate corpse is the preferred condition for the end of the world.
A friend once explained to me that this prohibition against any violation of the body was a reaction to the pagan practice of sacrificial deaths and corpse desecration. (In the same way, the Jewish practice of speedy burial was both an attempt to protect Jewish bodies from pagans and a practical response to a hot climate.) This prosaic origin, however, morphed into a spiritually significant practice.
Despite the religious importance Jews impart to an intact body, though, I still have a problem with a nation doing what Israel did for the sake of those two bodies. After all, I have great faith that, at the end of days, God will be able to sort things out, and that those two poor boys will be given their due in the afterlife. In that same vein, I have no doubt that the souls of those who were incinerated in Auschwitz will readily find their way to God. Perhaps some things are better left to God, and the Israeli government would have done better to leave this one alone, family anguish notwithstanding.