Thursday, July 17, 2008

A Fair Exchange?

Yesterday the Israelis made a trade. They released five live Hezbollah fighters who were being held in Israeli prisons and the remains of several dead ones. In exchange they were given the dead bodies of two Israeli soldiers who had been captured a couple of years ago.

The key figure in the swap was Samir Kantar, one of the Arab world’s icons of armed struggle, who’d been imprisoned for nearly 30 years. Kantar had been serving multiple life sentences for killing three Israelis, one a 4-year-old girl, in 1979.

In Beirut, thousands of ecstatic supporters cheered Kantar, welcoming him home as a hero. In Israel they held a couple of funerals.

I wouldn’t have made the deal. Releasing a guy who should have been locked up until he died and in return getting some dust or bones or whatever in a box is not a fair exchange. Wait. I can already hear the screams of dissent for my unfeeling, uncaring point of view. “This gives us closure.” “Now our loved ones can rest in the sacred ground of the country they loved.” “At last my boy is home.” Etc.

Those remains in the boxes aren’t your son, your husband, your father. What is there is simply what’s left of the case he occupied while he was alive. You don’t need the box or a gravesite to remember him. Your loved one lives in your heart and your memory. Closure is not a fact. It is a way of being. It is not dependent on some physical remnant.

I know. I know. I’m in the minority on this one. (So what else is new?) However, it should be noted that there were some dissenting voices in Israel. I noticed that the family of the people Kantar killed thought setting him free was the wrong thing to do. So as usual, what we have to say depends on what we already think.

If Kantar had been swapped for two Israeli captives who were still alive, now that would have been a fair exchange. But alas, that was not to be. Instead they got two black boxes.


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