Varda Akiva 370.
(photo credit: Ben Hartman)
Sitting alone in her house in Rosh Ha’ayin, Varda Akiva, 76, fears the day she
runs into her son’s killer face to face.
“I won’t stay silent, if I run
into him – “Let me die with the Philistines,” she says, quoting the last words
of biblical hero Samson before he brought down the Temple of
Akiva’s son Shaltiel was a 21-year-old Logistics Corps soldier when
he was kidnapped while hitchhiking home from his base during Passover in 1985.
His body was found a two days later near the village of Beit Aryeh in
Twenty-eight years later, the last of his three killers, Israeli
Arab Ahmed Ali Hussein Abu Jabar, could be freed as part of the prisoner release
meant to get the Palestinians to negotiate with Israel. The first stage of the
releases was up for a cabinet vote on Sunday.
The bitter pain of knowing
that her son’s killer could be released is worsened by the fear of knowing that
he would return home to his family in Kafr Kasim – only a couple of kilometers
away from Akiva’s house, where she lives alone.
The towns have an
intertwined present and future – residents shop at many of the same markets and
malls, ride the same buses and the same trains to work and back each day. The
probability that she’ll soon be neighbors with the man who killed her son fills
her with fear and anger.
“Every day people from Kafr Kasim are here and
on Shabbat everyone [from Rosh Ha’ayin] goes to the shuk in Kafr Kasim. What
will happen if the day comes that I run into him somewhere, then what?” she
On Sunday morning, Akiva sat watching a Bollywood movie in the
living room – which years earlier was Shaltiel’s bedroom. Where his bed used to
be against the window today stands a shrine of sorts, complete with a blown-up
high-school portrait, and a dresser holding photos of him from high school and
the army. The photos stand next to trophies from the local soccer team his
brothers founded in his memory, as well as faded bottles of cologne and a pack
of cigarettes, personal effects returned to Varda and her late husband, Shalom,
by the army in the days after her son’s body was found.
The dresser also
has a photo of Varda meeting then-prime minister Yitzhak Shamir during a visit
he paid to the house during the shiva for Shaltiel, as well as a single
commemoration from the army – a framed note issued by the Logistics Corps on
Remembrance Day in 1985.
The opposite wall is covered with photos of
Shaltiel’s five brothers and sisters from their weddings or wearing elaborate
Yemenite headdresses at their henna pre-nuptial ceremonies, with a space left
missing for Shaltiel, who died years before he was able to build a family of his
Akiva, who immigrated to Israel from Yemen with her family in 1948
at the age of 11, wears a golden medallion imprinted with the picture from the
high-school portrait of her son, whose death, she said, left the family in ruin,
her children in need of psychiatric treatment and her husband falling into a
spiral of alcohol abuse.
“Our house has been destroyed for 28 years, but
here and there the wound heals a bit – grandchildren are born, there are
weddings, but then this happens [the planned terrorist release] and opens the
wound all over again,” she said.
Like many of the parents of victims of
terrorism, she said she supported the 2011/12 prisoner releases to free IDF
soldier Gilad Schalit, then held in Gaza, saying that in that case there was at
least a clear payoff – a young man would be returned to his family alive and
Like Varda Akiva, many of those families whose loved ones’ killers
are among the 104 terrorists now set to be released say that the current deal
has no clear dividend – only the promise of a round of peace talks that they are
skeptical will lead anywhere.
“This is not a solution. What I’m asking is
for the government not to abandon the blood of our sons,” Akiva said, vowing
that she won’t let the deal go ahead, while at the same time admitting that she
doesn’t have the energy these days to attend the protests against the prisoner
release and doesn’t know what she can do to stop it.
Next door in Kafr
Kasim, Abu Jaber’s family was waiting with bated breath on Sunday to find out
whether Ahmed would be among the 26 prisoners freed in the first stage of the
deal this week. Reached by phone on Sunday, Abu Jaber’s son Samer said the
family was hoping for the best, but fearful that their hopes for their son’s
release would be dashed.