The Human Spirit: The view from Nahariya

The self-reviling expressions in our national dialogue do us no good.

0108-sofer (photo credit: )
(photo credit: )
Last Sunday, I had coffee with bereaved Miki and Shlomo Goldwasser in their home in Nahariya. Photos of their son Ehud were prominent in the living room. A hand-carved mezuza case with his photo attached had arrived from a stranger in Mitzpe Ramon. Miki's back was stiff and aching from the week of mourning. Two thousand Israelis had made their way to Nahariya, but today the Goldwasser home was eerily quiet. Miki shared with me and my two Jerusalem friends the sickening experience of seeing her son's casket on television. Until then, despite all the briefings and reports, she had clung to a mother's last glimmer of hope that the reports of her son's death were false, one more tortuous tactic on the part of Hizbullah. Only when she saw the casket did she internalize that Udi was dead. Yair Goldwasser, Udi's younger brother, who had also been involved in the campaign for the MIAs, arrived home and joined us. He wanted to know about an article that had run two days earlier in The Jerusalem Post harshly criticizing his mother. Readers in the US had just alerted him, and the family members hadn't yet read the article. And so, with terrible awkwardness, we sit and read the opinion piece, "Put them to death," by Sarah Honig, my fellow columnist whom I much admire. I tried to explain the nuances in English. THERE WAS much in the column with which the Goldwassers agreed, particularly the central point about the need for capital punishment for terrorists. But Miki's face turned white as she heard the many charges laid at her door, especially the conclusion that she had "pushed us another step closer to losing our existential war." Honig wrote of Miki's "cleverness" in her June 18 letter to Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and the cabinet using "scare tactics like her warning that if Kuntar weren't let out, the next hostages may be families and youngsters." Miki winced at the term "scare tactics." In addition to the prime minister and cabinet, the meeting to decide on the prisoner exchange was scheduled to include the chief of staff, the Mossad and Shin Bet chiefs and MIA emissary, Ofer Dekel - presumably not a group easily scared or influenced. The column continued: "It may have been her prerogative to shout to all and sundry that she doesn't give a hoot about why Kuntar was convicted in the first place, nor does she care about the consequences of his release. It is legitimate for a distraught mother to focus only on her personal pain. But it's illegitimate to cynically contrive to mess with the minds of the rest of the nation, from whose ranks emboldened Hizbullah's next victims will surely come." Isn't Miki Goldwasser part of that nation, and not an enemy of it? Indeed, she has received widespread affection, respect and support in her struggle. And it's true that Miki and Shlomo Goldwasser were more inclined than others to release Kuntar. His incarceration, they argue, hasn't prevented other despicable acts of terror. Indeed, Miki predicts that the puffed-up hero's welcome he received will soon fade and his downfall will be swift. "His real horror will begin now," Miki said. "He'll have to look behind him wherever he goes." About her criticized theory that a deal could prevent further kidnapping, she said only, "No one can prove that I'm wrong." And there's another issue: The Goldwassers have been consulted by numerous soldiers as to whether or not they should take up combat positions in the face of what they perceived as lip-service in "making every effort" to bring captured soldiers home. WHETHER WE agree with the Goldwassers or not, the final deal that brought about the return of the bodies of Ehud Goldwasser and Eldad Regev had to arouse pain, disappointment and anger in Israelis and friends of Israel. The soldiers' abduction in the first place, the Second War in Lebanon, the negotiated ceasefire without the return of the soldiers, the decision to negotiate with Hizbullah, the payment of such a high price including the freeing of a monster, and the sight of the soldiers' coffins are a nightmare to us as a nation. We hate having to deal with those who want to see us all dead. We despise returning a child murderer. We loathe being in a position of vulnerability. At the same time, we realize there is no greater vulnerability than our love for our children - our own personal children and those of our nation. And when it comes to our children, how often do we suspend our own rules, logic and principles of ideally balanced reward and punishment? This is not a case, as Honig suggests, of political correctness or incorrectness. Blaming Miki Goldwasser for cynicism and manipulation is wrong. Nor does anyone have the right to lecture her about the capacity for murder and cruelty of the enemy, reminding her of details of the horrors Kuntar inflicted on the Haran family. Like the Harans, the Goldwassers live in Nahariya. Miki and Shlomo stayed home throughout the Second Lebanese War and faced the falling katyushas. They have been consumed for the past two years with an around-the-clock struggle to bring their son and the other MIAs home. Every night and day since the kidnapping, she imagined the maniacal tortures inflicted on him. SADLY, WE don't have a string of successes in bringing home our soldiers. Before reading the next sentence, try naming all seven of our MIAs. Zach Baumel, Zvi Feldman, Yehudah Katz have been missing for 26 years, Ron Arad for 22 (he's 50!), Guy Hever for 11, Majdy Halabi for three. Amid all the sadness and fury, can't we admit that there's some measure of relief in burying Udi and Eldad in Jewish graves in Israel? For all our very real military intelligence and prowess, wish as we may, we have been unable to rescue Gilad Schalit, who is so near in Gaza and not in a far-flung country like Uganda. We're angry, but we have no answers. Our enemies are both cruel and cunning. That we are willing to pay high prices for the return of our beloved children when the tiniest hope exists that they're alive, and even for the return of their bodies, is no secret. Some call that a weakness, but others might call it a strength. The frustration of not having good military or diplomatic solutions to the tragic situation of our MIAs has unleashed misplaced anger and finger-pointing, and not just in Honig's column. The self-reviling expressions in our national dialogue do us no good. Imagine the glee with which Nasrallah must greet our internal strife, our name-calling and our talk of national shame and gullibility. Let us resolve to continue the internal dialogue with greater respect and sensitivity, especially during these days in which we remember the destruction of the Temples, one of which fell because of something as seemingly benign as ill will among the populace. We cannot afford the accusations and despair as we struggle to meet the many challenges with which we are confronted.