A moment of moral clarity

As Lebanese leaders cheer return of a child-murderer, Israel mourns its two soldiers

Montreal Gazette, July 18, 2008
 
GIL TROY
Getty Images

 

Lebanese citizens cheer the release of five prisoners and the return of the bodies of 199 Lebanese.
CREDIT: Paula Bronstein, Getty Images
Lebanese citizens cheer the release of five prisoners and the return of the bodies of 199 Lebanese.

How do you welcome a child murderer as a hero?

Depending on the tone, this question becomes an attempt to clarify, or an expression of outrage. Stated calmly, “How do you welcome a child murderer as a hero?” can be a factual question – such as the one that faced Lebanese leaders this week as they proceeded to celebrate the freeing of Samir Kuntar from an Israeli prison, where he had been held since 1979 for murdering 4-year-old Einat Haran, her father Danny Haran, and a policeman.

Stated angrily, “How do you welcome a child murderer as a hero?” is the question Israelis are asking – and the rest of the civilized world should be asking, too.

On the night of April 22, 1979, Kuntar, working with three other terrorists, took Danny and Einat hostage, marching them to the Mediterranean beach after seizing them in their home in the coastal city of Nahariya. After shooting Danny in front of his daughter, then drowning him to make sure he was dead, Kuntar turned on Einat. Swinging his rifle butt, he smashed the 4-year-old’s head against the rocks, until she too died.

Adding to the horror, Einat’s mother, Smadar, hiding in a crawl space, accidentally smothered 2-year-old Yael Haran while trying to stifle her whimpering.

Any civilized court of law would hold the attackers responsible for the toddler’s death, too. Judging by the euphoria in Lebanon and in the Palestinian territories this week, by the terrorists’ barbaric, topsy-turvy immoral logic, the additional carnage enhances Kuntar’s heroic status.

Of course, this kind of language is terribly impolite. We Westerners are not supposed to call ourselves “civilized” and deem others “barbaric.” For decades now we have been told that such terms are too judgmental, too culturally-determined, too imperialistic, too arrogant.

We have been so sensitized and issues have become so relativized many of us have lost our moral bearings. We have to call Kuntar a “militant,” a “fighter” but not a “terrorist.” We are supposed to explore Kuntar’s motivations.

And besides, whatever his motives, we are expected to excuse his crimes by pointing to equally heinous Western sins, or the religious-cultural-nationalist foundations for his actions.

And yet, occasionally, illuminating moments of moral clarity shine through the haze of amoral theorizing that emanates from our finest campuses, that is disseminated by our most technologically sophisticated media. We all witnessed such a moment this week with Israel’s heart-breaking prisoner exchange.

As the two coffins bearing the bodies of Eldad Regev and Ehud Goldwasser arrived in Israel from Lebanon, the nation of Israel plunged into mourning. These two young men became the entire country’s collective children. Strangers who had never met either of them wept bitterly, sharing the pain of the family and the friends, remembering other losses, fearing more tragedies in the future.

By contrast, the massive celebrations in Lebanon for Kuntar and four other terrorists revealed not only the thuggery of Hezbollah but the descent of Lebanon itself. Rolling out the red carpet for a murderer, dispatching the country’s top leaders to greet someone who crushed a 4-year-old’s skull, declaring a national day of celebration, revealed just how thoroughly the Lebanese leadership had succumbed to the brutal sensibilities of Hassan Nasrallah and his Hezbollah terrorists.

At first glance, it is easy to conclude that the country that is mourning lost this week and the country celebrating won. In fact, Israel won a great moral victory. Israel showed why Westerners should and will support the Jewish state, empathize with the Jewish state, identify with the Jewish state.

We want to side with the country that moves heaven and Earth to bring its boys home, to protect its citizens; not with the country of bloodthirsty mobs deifying cowards who smashed the skull of a 4-year-old girl with a rifle butt on a lovely Mediterranean beach. We learn about a people by observing whom they love and whom they hate. Joy is fleeting and often triggered by base instincts. Sometimes collective anguish is a sign of moral strength, not national weakness.

“I’m proud to belong to those who love and not to those who hate,” Ofer Regev said while eulogizing his brother Eldad. Israelis should be proud of this moment of moral clarity – and wary of enemies with such distorted value systems. Israel’s – and the West’s – enemies are wrong.

A nation that risks so much even just to bring two corpses home, a country that celebrates life not death, is not only a worthy ally – but a dangerous adversary when provoked.

Gil Troy teaches history at McGill University.

© The Gazette (Montreal) 2008
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1 Comment

  1. Center Field: A pornographic approach to violence « Gil Troy — Zionism and Israel

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