A number of emotions vie for top billing in the wake of the tragic exchange that took place this week between Israel and Hezbollah. Sadness and sympathy for the Goldwasser and Regev families, of course; shock and disbelief at the inhumane callousness of Hezbollah, naturally; but outrage and disgust for the Israeli government should be right up there as well.
The anger has been building for weeks, ever since the Israeli Cabinet issued its original statement announcing the exchange agreement. The manipulative character of the Olmert government is shamefully revealed by the Orwellian language employed in the Cabinet communiqué.
The wording of the Cabinet’s decision is worth repeating verbatim, as it reveals the full measure of cynicism behind the government’s verbal hi-jinks:
“The abducted soldiers Ehud Goldwasser and Eldad Regev will be returned to Israel; a report on the disappearance of Ron Arad… will also be delivered to Israel, as well as remains from the Second Lebanon War. In exchange for the return of the abducted soldiers, the State of Israel will release prisoners and detainees being held in its prison facilities, and will transfer bodies and information, as follows: i) Prisoner Samir Kuntar and four illegal Lebanese fighters being held by Israel will be released to Lebanon. ii) The bodies of dozens of infiltrators and terrorists, including eight members of Hezbollah, will be delivered to Lebanon.”
And then, in an addendum to the communiqué, the government quotes Prime Minister Ehud Olmert as declaring, “As far as we know, two soldiers, Udi Goldwasser and Eldad Regev, are no longer alive.”
Wait a minute! The Israeli government had just told us that we are getting Goldwasser and Regev back, in exchange for five live prisoners and the bodies of scores of other assorted terrorists. Quite logically, the human beings being sent to Lebanon are all either in one category or another: either living and breathing two-legged creatures, or corpses.
Apparently, however, Goldwasser and Regev fit into neither of these categories. Unlike the very specific word used to describe the dead men Israel is sending north, we were not told we were getting their bodies back. On the contrary, we are getting our “abducted soldiers” back — albeit with the unfortunate proviso that they are no longer alive.
Israel is a country whose experience with negotiations and treaties has taught its diplomats to choose its words very carefully. The only possible explanation for the kind of obfuscation going on here leads us, sickeningly, to the most cynical of conclusions: That Olmert and his Cabinet wanted us to believe that somehow they had done the impossible by bringing our boys home, as promised.
It is only a nitpicking detail — an afterthought, really — that they might be coming back in body bags, and not waving and smiling.
The people of Israel have lived through enough deception from this government, the same one that brought us “victory” in the war against Hezbollah. We do not deserve to be toyed with over and over again by politicians trying to obscure the most shameless of facts — that it is willing to set free a vicious murderer in exchange for a pig in the poke.
The deal is as treyf as the animal in the saying: Israel’s Cabinet appears to be concerned only with taking credit for the return of the abducted soldiers.
Nor is this the only instance where the government despicably whitewashed the deal. The announcement used the word “prisoner” to describe Kuntar. The term may be technically correct, but so, too, was Natan Sharansky once a “prisoner.”
Would anyone in the Cabinet really presume to lump Kuntar and Sharansky together? It sounds a lot more innocuous for Israel to be setting free a mere prisoner than the actual bloodthirsty monster that was welcomed home this past week as a hero in southern Lebanon.
Former Israeli prime minister Menachem Begin coined a unique term for terrorists of Kuntar’s ilk: “m’ratzeah.” As close as I can come to translating it, it means an assassin who has no other raison d’etre for living but to kill innocents.
That is the word we should be resurrecting for this occasion, not the inadequate modifier “prisoner” that an Olmert, but never a Begin, would countenance.
Buzzy Gordon is a former spokesman for Israel’s Government Press Office.