Haim Avraham died early Sunday morning. He was sixty-five years old. In a world filled with people who are forever seeking fame, Haim was one of the many Israelis who became famous for the worst possible reason – his 20-year-old son Benny was killed in 2000 on the Lebanese border by Hezbullah terrorists. Haim’s death from cancer at the end of this traumatic week, reminds us of the high price Israelis keep on paying simply for trying to live their lives – and the world’s insensitivity to their plight.
On October 7, while patrolling along Israel’s internationally-recognized border with Lebanon, Staff sergeants Benny Avraham, Adi Avitan and Omar Souad were ambushed. The best evidence suggests that the terrorists may have used UN vehicles to surprise the soldiers and that the three died either immediately or shortly thereafter. The UN definitely had footage of the kidnapping and important clues which the UNIFIL forces in Lebanon tried hiding. For more than three long years, Hezbollah played a cruel game on these parents, and the State of Israel, pretending they were alive. Finally, in January, 2004, the three bodies were returned, along with a kidnapped reservist Elhanan Tenenbaum in exchange for freeing 436 prisoners.
I met Haim while he was looking for his son. He felt so betrayed by the UN’s behavior and by the failure of Amnesty International and other human rights organizations to help him. They always wanted to debate Israeli policy toward the Palestinians – even though Hezbollah is in Lebanon, which Israel had withdrawn from. Haim said, “I’m just an Abba, a father, looking for my son. Doesn’t my son have human rights? Don’t I?”
I was at Haim’s side frequently during those difficult years and I was with him when the bodies came home. After the funeral, he declared: “my family has been in purgatory for three long years, now it is time to start living again.” He and his amazing wife Edna watched with pride as their two daughters married and started families of their own. Haim was a passionate man who loved life, his family, the Jewish People, Israel and humanity. One love reinforced the other – even with the trauma he endured. He and his family became part of our extended family; they are the kind of warmhearted lovely people who become instant friends; they creep into your heart at first meeting – and never leave it.
I last saw Haim a few weeks ago, when the cancer that would kill him was already weakening this giant of a man, with an outsized spirit and near-superhuman strength. He was too weak even to stand when I entered -- and by last week was too weak even to answer my phone call. He asked me, “Haven’t we as a family suffered enough,” as he speculated that the trauma he had endured and internalized was now taking its toll on him physically.
As we bid a reluctant farewell to this modern Israeli role model, this most reluctant hero, we acknowledge the tremendous sacrifices he and so many other families have made; and we pray desperately for peace, for everyone in the region, so no fathers will endure what he and too many others have.
The writer is Professor of History at McGill University.