If the Second Lebanon War was characterized by a lack of clarity in execution and result, yesterday brought a rare measure of clarity, and not only to the families of the Israeli soldiers kidnapped by Hizbullah two years ago, who finally learned the fate of their sons. When the heart-sickness subsides, we will all have been left with a searing glimpse of the contrast between two very different cultures. Lebanon yesterday celebrated the return of four Hizbullah terrorists, along with Samir Kuntar, 45, who in 1979 murdered a civilian, Danny Haran, in front of his four-year-old daughter, before crushing her skull against a rock with the butt of his rifle. Kuntar has never expressed remorse. "My oath and pledge," he wrote Hizbullah leader Sheik Hassan Nasrallah in a letter reprinted in a Palestinian newspaper, "is that my place will be at the battlefront, which is soaked in the sweat of your giving, and the blood of the most beloved among men, and that I shall continue down the path, until complete victory." In his hometown of Abey, one sign read: "Samir Kuntar is the conscience of Lebanon, Palestine and the Arab nation." Mocking the notion that much distinction remains between Hizbullah and the Lebanese government, Prime Minister Fuad Saniora and President Michel Suleiman extended an official state welcome, declared a national holiday, and greeted the five freed prisoners at Beirut's airport. (With 11 of the 30 cabinet positions, Hizbullah enjoys veto power in the Lebanese government.) The celebrations were led by Nasrallah, who has characterized Jews as the "grandsons of apes and pigs." "If we searched the entire world for a person more cowardly, despicable, weak and feeble in psyche, mind, ideology and religion, we would not find anyone like the Jew," he has said. This from a man who, fearing for his own safety, hardly leaves his bunker. A more undignified and morally offensive spectacle is hard to imagine. IN ISRAEL, by way of the starkest contrast, dignity was the order of the day. The country has always respected the rights of its prisoners, even those with blood on their hands. Kuntar, for instance, received a fair trial, due process, and conjugal visits. While in jail, he earned a social science degree from the Open University. Yesterday, however, brought to light something extraordinary: the dignity with which the Israeli side handled enemy remains; the dignity of Smadar Haran, Danny's widow, who had asked the prime minister and cabinet not to take into consideration her pain in their deliberations about the exchange; and, not least, the dignity with which the Regev and Goldwasser families began to mourn their fallen - not in anger, but in sorrow. There are things Israel must now do to prevent another kidnapping, including renewed vigilance on both the Lebanon and Gaza borders, and ensuring the return of Gilad Schalit. But in moving ahead, Israel must now, in its collective mourning, draw strength from its human instincts of dignity and morality - instincts which as of yesterday stand in ever starker relief with the barbarism of its enemies. Terror is by its nature spectacular; it relies on psychological manipulation and on the propagandistic use of dramatic images and belligerent rhetoric. But its successes are empty and ephemeral. Rather than slip into demoralization, Israel must remain confident that democratic achievement, on the other hand, is by its nature seldom dramatic, but its victories are principled and lasting. DESPITE yesterday's ignominious displays of chest-thumping and gloating, Hizbullah stands somewhat chastened. It reportedly lost 500 to 600 of its fighters in a war which brought devastation to the Lebanese economy and infrastructure. The Iranian-backed Shi'ite militia's senior tactician and liaison with Iran's Revolutionary Guards, Imad Mughniyeh, was assassinated in February, and Hizbullah has not dared - or been able - to avenge his death. It has not staged an attack in two years. But Hizbullah's greatest loss, perhaps, has been its standing in the eyes of principled people everywhere, who can now see the difference between a political culture that valorizes brutality and celebrates a killer as its national conscience, and one that manages a quiet dignity even in the most trying of times.