Miki Goldwasser: For us, they are still alive

PM, cabinet secretary brief Regev, Goldwasser families after gov't votes in favor of Hizbullah deal.

karnit goldwasser 224 88 (photo credit: Channel 10)
karnit goldwasser 224 88
(photo credit: Channel 10)
Miki Goldwasser's faith in her son Ehud's safe return was not jolted when the prime minister said at Sunday's cabinet meeting that he and Eldad Regev were almost certainly dead. "For us, they are still alive," she told The Jerusalem Post in the aftermath of the cabinet vote approving a deal for the return of the two reservists, who were kidnapped by Hizbullah in July 2006. "I am very sure they will come back," Miki said. At that point she added, "I am sure I will hug him [Ehud] so strongly." For her family and the Regevs, the cabinet vote marked the beginning of the end of a two-year struggle to bring their sons home, for which they traveled around the world and lobbied politicians at home. On Sunday, they came from their homes in the North to Jerusalem, where they waited in the hot sun outside the Prime Minister's Office for more than five hours, surrounded by a small group of friends and supporters, including reservists from Eldad and Ehud's unit. Relatives of the two captives first heard details of the debate inside and of Prime Minister Ehud Olmert's decision to support the deal when reporters handed them an abridged text of highlights from the meeting. As she read from the sheets, Ehud's wife, Karnit, was initially pleased with the prime minister's support. "We're in the right direction to end this," she said. But then she was startled to see that the minutes referred to her husband and Regev as "killed in action." First she thought it was a typo, because in Hebrew the word for "killed in action" is just one letter different from the word for "soldiers." "It's a mistake," she said as she poured over the typed page. "It should say soldiers." As it dawned on her that it was indeed meant to say, "killed in action," she was puzzled as to how Olmert could speak of the two men as dead. "They have no proof. Already they are speaking of them as if they are dead?" she asked. "That's not right. The point of the deal is to end doubt. It's surprising that they are speaking with such certainty" before the exchange has been implemented, she added. Karnit noted how absurd it was that she was reduced to getting informal morsels of information as she sat on a stone wall outside the building. It proves what she has felt all along, she said, that she is just like every other citizen in Israel. "It is just by chance that we are standing here today, just by chance that it was our Udi [Ehud] who was taken," Karnit said. Only after the cabinet vote were she, Ehud's parents and the Regev family invited into the Prime Minister's Office. After the meeting, Karnit's father, Omri Avni, told the Post that the families spoke briefly with Olmert and then were given the details of the deal by the cabinet secretary Ovad Yehezkel. "We heard the decision, we asked questions and we got a few answers," said Avni, but they were not given any additional concrete information regarding the two men that would sway them to believe the assessments of death publicly made by Olmert and a few of the exiting ministers. "There was nothing new and nothing that has not been said before," Avni said. Everyone's feelings aside, "We are talking about facts, and facts were not yet delivered to the families," he said. Still, he said that he was being realistic. "We know that their chances to be alive are very poor," he said, adding that the truth would of course be known when Ehud and Eldad were returned to Israel. Neither Karnit nor the Regev family had much to add after their briefing in the Prime Minister's Office. Eldad's brother Ofer looked crestfallen but said he was holding onto hope. Karnit said, "After a very hard and intensive week, after what we heard, all I want is to go home and to rest and to absorb what has happened here." She asked that the public accept that she needed some quiet and "an opportunity to listen to my heart." So it was left to Ehud's parents to sound a more optimistic note. In the absence of any sign of life from the two men over the last two years they have clung hard to hope, and Sunday's events did not persuade them to alter their course. Ehud father, Shlomo, said that all statements about the fate of the two men were based on assumptions, but that nothing was truly known. His wife, Miki, told the Post, "We won the first battle. It is not only that we, as the family, won, but the citizens of the country won. It will show [Hizbullah leader Hassan] Nasrallah and Hamas that we are much stronger than they thought." The cabinet decision, she said, returned a sense of pride in being Israeli. "We nearly lost our moral values. I think that now we have returned to them," she said. Both Miki and Shlomo warned that there was still work to do to make sure that the deal was finalized, as there were still opportunities for it to fall apart. "There is still a long way to go," Shlomo said. "My feeling is the same that I had on the July 12, 2006, [when they were taken]. We have to work to return them home. I feel the same way I felt yesterday and the day before. The feeling will change, when they come home," he said. All the Goldwassers said that beyond their personal story it was important for Israelis to know that their government would do its utmost to return soldiers from the battlefield. Karnit said that it was not easy for her to plead for a deal that involved the release of Lebanese terrorist Samir Kuntar. "But doing so will free Udi and Eldad," she said. Kuntar was imprisoned after he and three others from the Palestine Liberation Front infiltrated Nahariya by sea in April 1979 and broke into the apartment of the Haran family, where they kidnapped the father, Danny, and his four-year-old daughter Einat. They brought the pair back to the beach and killed them. Haran's other daughters, Yael, age two, was accidentally smothered to death as she and her mother, Smadar, hid from the terrorists in the apartment's crawl space. After Sunday's cabinet decision, Smadar held a press conference in Tel Aviv to say that as painful as it was she understood the ministers' decision and that she would not oppose it. "There is a heavy price to pay for every decision. Today, on my way here, I went to the grave of my family with a broken heart out of the thought that their murderer could be about to go free. In my heart I told them that for almost 30 years I had done my utmost to make sure that their murderer would stay in jail and that the names of Danny, Einat and Yael would not be forgotten." "The despicable murderer Kuntar was never my own personal prisoner, but the state's prisoner," she said. "Even if my soul should be torn, and it is torn, my heart is whole." AP contributed to this report.