Monday, June 23, 2008


If you haven't already, please make a point of reading this J-Post column. Moshe Yaalon is saying the hard things that need to be said.

"In some situations we need to agree to make sacrifices in the face of what is demanded of us, because the price we would have to pay is far heavier than the price of losing a kidnapped soldier," former IDF chief of general staff Maj.-Gen. (res.) Moshe Ya'alon said Monday, referring to tentative prisoner exchange plans with Hizbullah and Hamas.

Ya'alon, speaking in a conference in the Tel Hai College dedicated to leadership in the IDF in the 21st Century, was hinting that there was a limit to what Israel would be willing to do in order to secure the release of kidnapped IDF soldier Gilad Schalit, held captive by Hamas for almost two years, and reservists Elda Regev and Ehud Goldwasser, whose capture by Hizbullah in July 2006 sparked the Second Lebanon War.

And then there's this, from J-Post columnist Judy Montagu:

Getting Kuntar back is of immense propaganda value to Nasrallah, who has promised his followers time and again that the burly Druse will lead the joyous line of released prisoners wending their way back home to the bosom of their families.

And there is no doubt that Kuntar, who continues to glory in his exploits, will go on to inspire, plan and perhaps himself carry out as many acts of mischief against Jewish targets as he can fit into his working day. In February, in a letter to Nasrallah published in the Palestinian Authority newspaper Al-Hayat al-Jadida, he vowed to continue his struggle against the Zionist entity.

"My oath and pledge is that my only place will be on the front lines... soaked in the sweat of your giving and the blood of those who are most dear, and that I will continue down the path until complete victory," he wrote.

To Hizbullah, Kuntar has become an icon of the war against Israel. And this, perhaps, is the most compelling reason why he needs to remain under lock and key.

Not that anyone's going to pay attention. They never do. But Montagu has this exactly right. She's nailed this one to the wall and managed in the process to clarify the poles of another controversy that has been too effectively used as a stalking horse by Israel's enemies (including one of her own /spit!/)

IN THE 1990s, I wrote an op-ed about the unique and powerful nature of a symbol. The context was a very different one, though it also touched upon the killing of Jews. It was the controversial question of whether or not our national orchestra should perform Richard Wagner's music in Israel.

The issue, I ventured, could not be decided on the basis of reason alone.

"That we cheer the works of other composers who in their time were anti-Semites while we ban Wagner is quite true," I wrote. "Mussorgsky, Chopin and Wagner - all were anti-Semites. The difference between them is that Wagner has become a symbol of a demonic era."

And a symbol has extraordinary ability to move and stir, to impassion and unite.

Too true, and too often ignored by those who consider themselves intellectually above such primitive influence. The truth is, of course, that none of us are. Not us, not our enemies, not those who stand on the sidelines watching. The fight for Israel's survival is very much dependent upon symbols and the manipulation thereof. We don't appear to have quite figured that out yet, though. Judy Montagu has.

Among the prisoners slated for release together with Kuntar are, more than likely, those who will return to terrorism of one kind or another, and that is not something to be minimized. The difference between them and Kuntar is that Kuntar has become a symbol. Like the wheelchair-bound Sheikh Yassin in his day, and like Fatah's imprisoned Marwan Barghouti, he has become larger than life, in and of himself a force to be reckoned with.

Imagine the crowds, the songs, the posters and banners, the jubilation as Kuntar reenters his native land after three decades in Zionist captivity. Picture the baby face of his mentor, Nasrallah, glowing with satisfaction at having kept his promise to bring this son of Lebanon home.

Then imagine the youthful and not-so-youthful hearts that will thrill to their hero's words, and the fighters who will ache to emulate his deeds.

That's the power of a symbol. It is why Samir Kuntar must not be given his freedom.

Indeed it is.

One of the parents of one of the kidnapped Israeli soldiers expressed last week the sentiment that failure to capitulate to the demands of the terrorists will only lead to more kidnappings. With utmost respect and sympathy to a woman who is suffering the most horrific kind of emotional pain, she's got it exactly backwards.