There is a movie that came out years ago called Groundhog Day, in which the main character is stuck in time and cannot move forward. No matter what decisions he makes, what activities he pursues, each morning he awakens to the exact same scenario.
The recent kidnapping of Eyal Yifrah, Naftali Fraenkel and Gil-Ad Shaer feels exactly like that of Nachshon Wachsman, and so many others before him. The same innocent trip home interrupted. The same car with the haredi-looking passengers offering a lift. The same terrified parents realizing the child isn’t home when he said he’d be home. The same national trauma, public prayers, government and army warnings to the enemy. The same hand-wringing deliberations on how to respond.
Terrorist kidnappings in Israel have a long history.
But it is the Hamas terrorist organization, founded in December 1987 by Muslim Brotherhood members Sheik Ahmed Yassin and Mohammad Taha, who came up with the satanic idea to hold kidnapped Israeli soldiers for ransom to free terrorists captured and imprisoned in Israeli jails. It took them a while to perfect it.
On February 16, 1989, Sgt. Avi Sasportas of Ashdod was kidnapped when he got into a vehicle with two Hamas murderers dressed as haredim, who almost immediately killed him. There is no record of demands being made for his release, or for his body, which was found buried in a field not far from where he was abducted.
Likewise, Cpl. Ilan Saadoun, on his way home from his unit on May 3, 1989, was picked up at the Masmiya junction by a white Subaru with Israeli license plates. Again, the kidnappers were dressed as ultra-Orthodox Jews. The terrorists’ original plan – to hold Saadoun hostage at the Jabaliya refugee camp in Gaza – changed when they saw an IDF patrol. Saadoun, who fought valiantly for his life, was shot in the head.
The Hamas cell responsible for both kidnappings was headed by Mohammed al-Sharatha.
On May 5, Saadoun’s unit declared him missing, and the white Subaru was found burned in an orchard near Beit Lahiya. A month later, the IDF arrested 650 Hamas members, including Sharatha.
Over the years, various groups claimed to be holding Saadoun alive, wanting to exchange him for terrorists, even presenting Saadoun’s dogtag as evidence.
Their claims all proved false, however, and Saadoun’s body was found only after the Oslo Accords, when a map to the burial spot was drawn by one of the killers, who had fled to Dubai.
Hamas founder Yassin, arrested by Israeli forces shortly after Saadoun’s kidnapping, was sentenced to life imprisonment plus 15 years for the murders of Sasportas and Saadoun, while Sharatha was sentenced to three life terms.
In an attempt to free Yassin, a squad of Hamas terrorists kidnapped a Border Police officer, Senior-Sgt.
Nissim Toledano, in Lod on December 13, 1992. Israel refused to negotiate until it received proof Toledano was still alive. Proof was not forthcoming, and his body was found the next day near Kfar Adumin. He had been shot and stabbed by Hamas murderers within two to four hours of their deadline.
Undeterred by their failures, two years later on October 9, 1994, Hamas kidnapped Sgt. Nachson Wachsman on his way home from a military training course.
Again, the kidnappers wore black kippot and had beards. Hassidic music was playing, and there was a siddur on the dashboard.
For two days, his family had no word of his whereabouts.
Then, on October 11, a videotape broadcast showed Wachsman bound hand and foot, your typical jihadi nightmare standing over him with a machine gun. The demands once again included the release of Yassin and another 200 terrorist scum, and gave a deadline of October 15 for Wachsman’s execution.
The Israeli government under Yitzhak Rabin refused to negotiate with terrorists, launching a military operation instead. Having picked up the driver of the kidnap vehicle, Jihad Yarmur, it was determined that Wachsman was being held in a home in the village of Dir Nabala, ironically a 10-minute drive from the Wachsman family’s Ramot home, where his parents and siblings were going through hell.
Twenty-four hours before the deadline, on a Friday night while the hostage’s family was making kiddush, the elite General Staff Reconnaissance Unit attempted to smash through the door of the room where Wachsman was being held. Unbeknown to them, it wasn’t the iron door they had expected, but solid steel. Wachsman was shot and killed by his captors along with Cmdr. Nir Poraz, who headed the rescue.
Thankfully for future exchanges, all three terrorists were killed.
Yarmur, the only terrorist responsible who had been left alive, was convicted of Wachsman’s murder and jailed.
Whether it was Israel’s firm stance and refusal to negotiate (or that Yassin was released for a completely unrelated reason in 1997) or neither of the above, Hamas waited almost 12 years to try again. When it did, it hit the jackpot.
On June 25, 2006, seven Hamas terrorists, using a tunnel carved under the Gaza-Israel border, attacked an army unit, killing Staff-Sgt. Pavel Slutzker and Lt. Hanan Barak and kidnapping then-Cpl. Gilad Schalit. For five years, Hamas held Schalit prisoner, denying him basic humanitarian rights, including Red Cross access.
Following a controversial populist campaign led by his parents to give in to terrorist demands, the Israeli government approved an agreement to exchange Schalit for over 1,000 dangerous terrorists held in Israeli jails. These included Sharatha and Yamur. Luckily, Yassin was no longer negotiable: In March 2004, the IDF was able to permanently neutralize his evil influence in a targeted killing.
After their success in the Schalit deal, Hamas’s attempts at kidnappings have multiplied exponentially.
Last year alone, the IDF foiled no less that 64 kidnap plans. The Shin Bet (Israel Security Agency) uncovered an Islamic Jihad cell inside Israel funded by Jenin terrorists, which had a supply of ski masks, adhesive tape, box cutters and handguns, clearly preparing for yet another kidnapping attempt. Hamas operatives from the Gaza Strip were also arrested before they could carry out their plan to run over a soldier and stow his body in the car.
Despite these successes, our luck ran out when on June 12, three lovely teenage yeshiva boys on their way home from school ran into yet another Hamas band of barbarians. At the time of this writing, no one has made any demands, although plenty of jihadi groups were quick to “take credit” for the atrocity.
And so we begin again, a country and her people held hostage by our love of life, the preciousness and irreplaceability of every single person in this country to all of us, our government and our army. Held hostage by our kindness, Jews are easy prey for those who are cruel, those who do not hold human life as the supreme value. People like the Nazis and like Hamas.
Jews are “rachmanim b’nai rachmanim,” compassionate children of compassionate fathers. Our enemies see this as a weakness – and perhaps they are right. In the Schalit deal, this weakness tied our hands, preventing us from refusing to give in to demands that were clearly not in our best interests; demands that set free former kidnappers, enabling them to kidnap and kill once again.
On the other hand, we were able to save the Schalit family the unbearable pain of the Wachsman family.
We were able, as a people, to rejoice that Gilad Schalit’s young life had been returned to him. And in that rejoicing lies our strength and our unity, the building blocks on which our nationhood is founded and rests.
It is a very strong foundation, because it comes from the best qualities in humankind: our love, our compassion, our kindness, our charity, our concern for others. This is something the Palestinians under the Hamas will never know, and are thus condemned to lose, condemned to be homeless and nation-less forever, because a nation founded on hatred, butchery, revenge and bloodlust is not a nation, but a barbaric horde of savages.
One can only wonder what will happen this time, which of the many scenarios we have already experienced as a nation we are destined to repeat. We should have no illusions. Whatever we do, we need to be prepared wake up and start all over again, continuing to build despite all the destruction, continuing to love despite all the hatred.
May God bring our boys back to us, and save us from our enemies.