The Human Spirit: Sisera's mother

How does a mother react when children she has burpedm diapered, at whose funny faces she has smiled, whose tears she has wiped, turn out to be mass murderers?

Yael smote Sisera 311 (photo credit: wikipedia)
Yael smote Sisera 311
(photo credit: wikipedia)
I saw her on TV – a brief interview amid the flood of reactions to the deal for Gilad Schalit.
An older woman draped in a head-and-shoulder scarf, she was shouting a protest. Not for the expected reasons. Her son was not included among the 1,000 evil men and 27 evil women traded for our kidnapped Israeli soldier.
She is the mother of Hassan Salameh, convicted of initiating twin simultaneous attacks in an Ashkelon bus station, and two attacks – one week apart – on Jerusalem bus No. 18. Salameh is serving 38 life sentences. His mother had been on TV the day of the announcement of a deal, already celebrating the anticipated return of her son, incarcerated in 1996.
When I saw her I thought of a recent conversation with my son-in-law’s grandmother from Libya. Whoever was left of her decimated family after the grassroots pogroms in which 25 family members were murdered made aliya in the 1950s, she told me. The pogrom preceded Muammar Gaddafi’s rule. Indeed, she knew Gaddafi’s mother, a reputed convert to Islam.
Imagine being the mother of Salameh or Gaddafi, or the latest poster-woman for motherhood for the Palestinian people – Latifa Abu Hmeid.
According to Al-Ayyam’s on-line newspaper edition, last month, the “Palestine – the 194th State” National Campaign was inaugurated with a procession from the Ramallah Cultural Auditorium to the UN office in Ramallah. Abu Hmeid personally handed over the letter addressed to UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon’s representative. She had been elected because she was the mother of lifers Muhammad, Nasr, Nasser and Sharif – 18 lifetimes total – as well as sons Basel, Islam and Jihad.
How does a mother react when the children she has burped and diapered, at whose funny faces she has smiled and whose tears she has wiped, turn out to be mass murderers? You have to wonder if there’s no shame hidden somewhere for the callous destruction of life. How different it would be if these limelight mothers made even a token statement of regret. “I love my son Hassan and miss him, but I deplore the deaths of 45 men, women and children riding to work and school on the Jerusalem buses.”
SEVERAL YEARS ago, when a different prisoner exchange seemed likely, I made what might seem like an odd request to the Prisons Service to interview Hassan Salameh. I was turned down. I have subsequently requested this of higher-ups in government and security, but no one has come through.
Salameh was not on the buses he decided to blow up. He was apprehended, wounded in the firefight. My friend Hadassah surgeon Prof. Avi Rivkind was called out of bed on a Friday night to operate on him.
Rivkind, the son of Holocaust survivors, has often spoken of it. On CBS’s 60 Minutes he told Bob Simon, “I want to prove [to] him that when you come to an Israeli Jewish doctor, you receive the best treatment in the world. To show them we are human beings.”
It’s a message he says he hopes Salameh’s followers have digested: “They know that Hassan Salameh the hero, severely wounded by Israeli soldiers during his capture, was saved by an Israeli doctor.”
The surgeon who has treated so many terror victims can’t be accused of being naïve. What he, and I, would have been hoping to hear was the tiniest expression of gratitude for Salameh’s being saved, and regret for the heinous crimes he has confessed. Maybe just a hint of awareness of evildoing, a bit of soul-searching. Even for all of us who prayed daily for Schalit’s return, the price of freeing the prisoners is loathsome. Even a moderate dose of remorse would go a long way toward helping us live with this.
IT CERTAINLY hasn’t come from the women prisoners, who were notoriously unrepentant during their stay in Neveh Tirza. The wholesale freeing of the women – no matter how heavy their crimes – is the most galling. I can’t understand how it is justified in a country that has passed anti-gender-discrimination laws.
Years ago, during a breakfast meeting with lawyer Alan Dershowitz, someone used the term “women and children.” He stopped them.
“Why would you group those two together?” he asked. “Women are adults who can make life choices. Children are not.”
I hope we are not being sensitive to the needs of the young terrorists to become mothers.
Ahlam Tamimi, 31, a student and newscaster from Ramallah, planned the terror attack at the family pizzeria named Sbarro. She accompanied the terrorists to Jerusalem, then went back to report on it. Fifteen persons were murdered, 130 grievously wounded. Interviewed in prison, she made clear that she didn’t regret her deeds, including the slaughter of eight children. No wincing. Just a smile.
What a mom she will make.
WE BEGAN the holiday season, which ended this week, with the blowing of 100 shofar blasts on each day of Rosh Hashana. Jewish tradition links those with the cries of the mother of Sisera, the Canaanite general who afflicted the Jewish people for two decades. In the Book of Judges – and rather sympathetically in the modern musical rendition Judge, presented by women of Gush Etzion – Sisera’s mother waits at the window for her son, who has not returned from battle. According to tradition, she sobs 101 times.
Why her tears should be the model for the shofar sounds has long been a subject of speculation.
She is the nurturer of Sisera’s wicked ways. Biblical commentators have focused on her gazing out the window. Does she get a glimpse of the future? According to one talmudic reference, she sees that her offspring will change their ways and become teachers of Torah. One tradition even links them to the line from which the great Rabbi Akiva arose. If the family of Sisera can change, some argue, there is the possibility for anyone. Hence, her story suits the holiday theme of repentance.
Rabbi Eliyahu Kitov, in The Book of our Heritage, has a different explanation.
“When a mother laments over her son’s anguish, she experiences compassion for other mothers who likewise weep over their children’s death,” he writes. “Sisera’s mother, however, is different. She seeks consolation in a strange hope: ‘Are they not finding, are they not dividing the spoil? A maiden, two maidens to each man.’ Her son Sisera is presently inflicting death agonies upon Jewish captives and shattering the limbs of their infants. Such thoughts seem to assuage her grief. Can there be greater cruelty? Let the one hundred shofar sounds of compassion nullify every one of those outcries of brutality, except one. For even the most brutal of mothers is not devoid of mother’s compassion. This one lament of compassion the shofar does not seek to nullify.”
Where is the compassion for the dead? Is there one in the 1,000?
The author is a Jerusalem writer who focuses on the wondrous stories of modern Israel. She serves as the Israel Director of Public Relations for Hadassah, the Women’s Zionist Organization of America. The views in her columns are her own.