Bradley Burston/ The pleasure that Hezbollah takes in torture
For Israelis, even after all these years, the release of Kuntar is a form of self-inflicted torture.
Torture takes many forms. We take it and we hand it out, we live with it and we live with ourselves knowing that we may be subjecting our loved ones to it, that our loved ones may be engaging in it, that innocent people on every side may be torture's direct victims.
Few innocent people have been tortured like the loved ones of the people murdered by Samir Kuntar, the Palestine Liberation Front monster convicted of a crime so brutal that even the designation terrorist is too good for him.
This week, the loved ones will know that Kuntar will be feted to a hero's welcome staged by Hezbollah, whose claims to being a religious organization, stain the word religious with a level of sadism that is astonishing, reaching new levels with every gloat by the torture master who calls himself a spiritual leader, Hassan Nasrallah.
But that will be only one aspect of the glee with which Hezbollah will likely take explicit pride and claim exultant victory.
Not satisfied with keeping the families of kidnapped IDF soldiers Ehud Goldwasser and Eldad Regev in the dark for two years as to their fate, a Lebanese report which appears to have been leaked by Hezbollah two days before the prisoner swap, stated that one of the soldiers had survived the kidnapping attack, but that the other was surely dead.
Then, to torture the families further, the report refrained from revealing which of the two had been killed, or whether the other was still alive.
But for sheer gratuitous sadism, the case of Samir Kuntar has few rivals. Consider the survivors of Kuntar's acts of murder.
Consider Smadar Haran, a survivor of the 1979 attack led by Kuntar. Kuntar burst into Haran's apartment building in the dead of night, seizing Smadar Haran's husband Danny and their daughter Einat, 4 years old.
Desperate to save their two-year-old girl Yael, Smadar Haran huddled with her in a crawl space in the attic. "I will never forget the joy and the hatred in the voices [of Kuntar and his men] as they swaggered about hunting for us, firing their guns and throwing grenades," she later recalled in the Washington Post.
"I knew that if Yael cried out, the terrorists would toss a grenade into the crawl space and we would be killed," she wrote in 2003. "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."
Smadar Haran's personal torture had only begun. She would later learn that Kuntar had dragged her husband Danny and older daughter to the beach nearby, where he shot Danny execution style, making sure that her father's death would be the last sight her little girl would ever see.
Kuntar then took the butt of his assault rifle and brought in down on Einat's head, crushing it against a rock.
Smadar Haran would later recall, "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."
Two weeks ago, in an act of heroism that is beyond imagination, Smadar Haran spoke publicly of coming to terms with the impending release of the monster who turned her life into a waking nightmare. "Samir Kuntar isn't, nor has he ever been, my private prisoner," she told a news conference. "His fate must be decided now according to Israel's needs and ethical interests."
There will be those who note that Israelis have been responsible for acts as inhuman as those of Kuntar. They have. But that neither excuses Kuntar nor legitimizes his elevation to the status of hero and martyr to the Palestinian struggle or the Lebanese resistance.
For Israelis, even after all these years, the release of Kuntar is a form of self-inflicted torture. So heinous, so unpardonable were his crimes, that American Jewish author and journalist Jeffrey Goldberg, himself a veteran of the IDF, wrote on The Atlantic Monthly's Website last week, "As unbelievable as this sounds, Israel is actually thinking of swapping Samir Kuntar in a prisoner exchange with Hezbollah. Kuntar is perhaps the most terrible person held in an Israeli prison, a man who crushed the skull of a Jewish child against a rock. Sometimes, these prisoner exchanges don't seem worth it."
What are they for, these prisoner exchanges? Perhaps only for this: that when sending their troops into battle, Israeli commanders can continue to look them in the eye and say with candor and in good faith that if they are taken prisoner, Israel will spare no effort to bring them back.
It may be all we have left to endure this torture. But it may also be the essence of what we are.
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