The Israeli public woke up to a new reality yesterday morning when Hezbollah delivered the bodies of two dead Israeli POWs in exchange for one of the most lethal terrorists in an Israeli jail, along with four other Lebanese terrorists who were not identified by Israeli authorities. Within a few hours, the families of both POWs held spontaneous press conferences, in which they accused the Hezbollah of murdering their sons in captivity.
That accusation was made because of the consistent assurances that the families of the POWs had received that the Israeli POWs were taken alive.
Exactly two years ago, a few days after Ehud Goldwasser and Eldad Regev were captured, the Israel government cabinet secretary Yisrael Maimon convened a press briefing following the Israel government’s cabinet meeting, which The Bulletin attended. At that time, Mr. Maimon reported to the media that Mr. Goldwasser and Mr. Regev were captured alive.
Mr. Maimon held at least 12 more briefings over the next few months in which he said that Mr. Goldwasser and Mr. Regev were captured alive. The media that he relied on Israeli intelligence data that confirmed the two Israeli POWs were captured alive.
The Rev. Jesse Jackson, acting as an independent envoy, along with the Red Cross and the U.N., all confirmed that Israeli POWs Mr. Regev and Mr. Goldwasser were alive.
The families of the murdered POWs reminded the media “the murder of a POW is defined by international law as a war crime,” which Hezbollah bears responsibility for.
Mr. Regev’s father, Zvi, said he fell apart the moment he saw a television broadcast of Hezbollah taking the coffins out of a van and placing them on the ground.
“It was horrible to see it. I didn’t want to, I asked them to turn off the TV,” he said, choking back tears.
“We were always hoping that Udi and Eldad were alive and that they would come home and we would hug them,” he added, using Ehud Goldwasser’s nickname. “We had this hope all the time.”
An aunt of Mr. Regev’s sank to the ground when she saw the coffins appear on the small TV. Some 50 friends, neighbors and family sobbed, rocked back and forth in prayer or pulled their hair.
“Nasrallah, you will pay,” several vowed, referring to Hezbollah leader Sheik Hassan Nasrallah. Other people in the crowd criticized Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, saying the soldiers died for nothing. The family’s neighbor, Simona Adda, 68, said her children had grown up with Mr. Regev. “It’s the saddest day for Israel. They kept us waiting until the last second to learn the fate of our sons,” she said, then burst out crying. Mr. Goldwasser’s father, Shlomo, said the sight of the coffins “was not easy to see, though it didn’t come as much of a surprise.”
“But coming face-to-face with reality is always tough,” he told Israel Radio.
While Israel mourns the loss of the slain Israeli POWs today at their state funerals, the other side celebrates the freedom of Samir Kuntar, a Lebanese militant who brutally murdered an Israeli family in a manner too gruesome to print, including two small children, in April 1979. A detailed account of the crime can be found at samirkuntar.net.
Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, yesterday, sent his regards to Mr. Kuntar’s family as well as those of the other four Lebanese involved in the trade.
Mr. Abbas congratulated the Kuntar family. Similarly, the prime minister of the Hamas government in Gaza, Ismail Haniyeh, called the convicted murderer’s mother yesterday morning to congratulate her on the imminent release of her son, according to Hezbollah’s al-Manar television. Meanwhile, dozens of Palestinians appeared on Mr. Abbas’ official Palestinian television, handing out candies and waving yellow Hezbollah flags to celebrate what they saw as a major victory for the Lebanese militant group. And a hero’s welcome for was prepared for the five prisoners returning home in exchange for Ehud Goldwasser’s and Eldad Regev’s corpses.
In Gaza, residents listened to radios broadcasting a live feed from Hezbollah’s al-Manar television in Lebanon. Televisions in coffee shops stayed on Arab news channels, and a local souvenir shop was decked out in Hezbollah and Lebanese flags
For the past 10 years, Hezbollah clerics have referred to Mr. Kuntar as a leader, a model, and a hero. He will address at least five celebration rallies that Hezbollah has planned for Mr. Kuntar.
In spite of his horrific crime, for which he just completed 29 years of imprisonment in Israel, Mr. Kuntar, who was supposed to be in jail until the end of his days, will be able to celebrate his 46th birthday in another four days, together with his mother and brothers in Lebanon. At the same time, Mr. Goldwasser’s and Mr. Regev’s families will mourn the loss of their sons.
On Tuesday night, President Shimon Peres signed the pardon enabling the convicted murderer’s release, in a letter to Justice Minister Daniel Friedmann.
Earlier yesterday, Mr. Peres met in his Jerusalem bureau with the Haran family. “I told the president that it was hard for me to hear the word pardon, which means to forgive. We did not even hear Kuntar say that he regretted what he did,” said Nina Haran, Danny’s mother and Einat’s grandmother.
Afterward, the president also met with Ronen Shahar, brother of policeman Eliyahu Shahar, who was also murdered in the attack carried out by Mr. Kuntar in Nahariya in 1979. “The heart of the State of Israel is pained and torn, and the decision was not simple,” Mr. Peres told the families. In the morning, the High Court of Justice rejected a petition against Mr. Kuntar’s release submitted by the brother of policeman Eliyahu Kuntar, the parents of Israel Defense Forces soldiers who were killed in Second Lebanon War and Almagor, the terror victims organization. Judges Asher Grunis, Miriam Naor and Yoram Danziger said that there was no reason for them to intervene in the matter.