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 Dagon.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 Samaria.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 asks. 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 own.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 well.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.