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On May 14, 1948, David Ben-Gurion proclaimed Israel’s independence. If you are interested in the difference between the state established by the Palestinian Jews 67 years ago today and its neighbors – and you have a strong stomach – consider the case of Samir Kuntar.
Kuntar is a Lebanese member of the Palestine Liberation Front terrorist group. On April 22, 1979, Kuntar and three chums landed on a beach in Nahariya, Israel. After finding an Israeli policeman and killing him, Kuntar broke into an apartment belonging to Danny Haran, his wife, Smadar, and their daughters (Einat, 4, and Yael, 2). While Smadar and Yael hid in a crawlspace, Kuntar led Danny and Einat down to the beach. There, according to witnesses, he executed Danny in front of his four-year-old daughter and drowned him in the Mediterranean to make sure that he was dead. Then he smashed the girl’s skull against a rock with the butt of his rifle. Back in the crawlspace, Smadar smothered her two-year-old to death in a desperate attempt to silence her.
In the decades since this terrorist attack, we have gotten used to baroque levels of violence and sadism in the Middle East, so that Kuntar’s crimes seem almost quaintly old-fashioned by comparison. But here is my point. Kuntar was captured, convicted of murder, and spent 30 years in an Israeli prison. (Israel has the death penalty, but it is reserved for those who commit genocide; it does not apply to men who smash the skulls of four-year-old girls). While in prison, Kuntar married Kifah Kayyal, an Israeli Palestinian woman. While they were married, she received a monthly stipend from the Israeli government, an entitlement due to her as the wife of a prisoner of Israel. Also while in prison, Kuntar took online courses from the Open University of Israel, which granted him a Bachelor’s degree in Social and Political Science. In 2008, the Israeli government released Kuntar and four other Lebanese prisoners in exchange for two coffins containing the remains of two Israeli soldiers kidnapped, tortured, and executed by Hezbollah.
Kuntar returned to Lebanon a national hero. Wikipedia describes his reception:
Upon Kuntar’s arrival at Beirut Airport, along with four other freed Lebanese prisoners, he was officially received by the Lebanese President Michel Sleiman, Prime Minister Fuad Saniora, Speaker of the Parliament of Lebanon Nabih Berri, some Lebanese members of Parliament, and Muslim and Christian clerics. Hezbollah arranged a public celebration in Dahieh (their stronghold in Beirut), where Hassan Nasrallah gave a welcoming speech to Kuntar. On July 17, 2008, Kuntar visited the tomb of Imad Mughniyeh. Later that day, a homecoming function was organized in Kuntar’s native village of Aabey, southeast of Beirut. The ceremony was addressed by Progressive Socialist Party leader Walid Jumblatt and the Labour Minister and Hezbollah official, Mohammad Fneish. On July 19, 2008, Al Jazeera TV broadcast a program from Lebanon about Kuntar’s welcoming festivities. In it, the head of Al Jazeera’s Beirut office, Ghassan bin Jiddo, praised Kuntar, calling him a “pan-Arab hero”, and organized a birthday party for him.
Smadar remarried and has two daughters. Here is an archived version of an editorial she wrote for the Washington Post in 2003, before Kuntar was released, explaining the connection between Kuntar and the murder of Leon Klinghoffer during the Achille Lauro hijacking in 1985. She does not forgive, but she does not call for revenge. See if you can detect any hint of blood lust in her editorial.
A good way to judge a society is to see who its heroes are. Draw your own conclusions about a society that counts Samir Kuntar among its heroes.
Note: If I had been thinking straight, I would have posted this on April 22, which was both Independence Day in Israel (which follows the Hebrew calendar) and the 36th anniversary of the Nahariya attack.