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Good Riddance to Child-Killer Samir Kuntar

The Israelis killed the infamous Lebanese terrorist and child-murderer Samir Kuntar and several other Hezbollah commanders with an air strike in Syria.

They are neither confirming nor denying that they carried out the attack, but it’s obvious that they did. No one else drops bombs from the skies on Hezbollah right now, and Kuntar committed one of the most horrific terrorist attacks in Israeli history.

On April 22, 1979, in the northern town of Nahariya, he killed policeman Eliyahu Shahar, civilian Danny Haran, and Haran's four year old daughter Einat by placing her head on a rock and smashing her skull with the butt of his rifle.

The Israelis convicted him of murder, but they released him in 2008 when Hezbollah agreed to return the bodies of captured Israeli soldiers Ehud Goldwasser and Eldad Regev.

It was a bad trade.

When the bodies of Goldwasser and Regev were returned to Israel, former Chief Rabbi of the IDF Yisrael Weiss said, “If we thought the enemy was cruel to the living and the dead, we were surprised, when we opened the caskets, to discover just how cruel. And I’ll leave it at that.”

Shortly after Kuntar’s release, Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, as one of Hezbollah’s co-patrons, awarded him with the Syrian Order of Merit medal.

Just three months ago, in September of 2015, the United States government declared Kuntar a Specially Designated Global Terrorist under Executive Order 13224.

Perhaps letting Kuntar back into the wild seemed like a reasonable idea to Israelis at the time. Prison seemed to have changed him.

Israeli journalist Chen Kotes-Barr spent more than a year interviewing Kuntar in prison and getting to know him. I imagine she must have felt a little like Clarice Starling when she met Hannibal Lecter in Thomas Harris’ Silence of the Lambs.

Lisa Goldman translated Kotes-Barr’s long story about Kuntar from Hebrew to English and published it on her blog. Here’s the first part:

For the first year, my conversations with Samir Kuntar were difficult. Our meetings, which began in February 2004, took place in the prison library – just the two of us, unaccompanied. Our conversations were open, and they lasted for hours. Samir spoke to me in Hebrew. He brought tea and biscuits, and he chain-smoked. Over the 29 years he spent in Israeli jails, I was the first and only Jewish Israeli woman he met and spoke with to face-to-face.

“I’m talking to you about reality,” Kuntar said, each time we met. “I am not trying to ingratiate myself with you.” As we slowly built up some kind of trust, we stopped talking about politics and turned to personal subjects – like prison life and his own life. “Don’t go with slogans and clichés,” he implored. “Just write the facts.” He showed me photographs of his family in Lebanon. He prepared a list of Hebrew-language books on the Arab-Israeli conflict for me.

I told him about my father, who survived Auschwitz, and about my 5 year-old son. Each time I wrap him in a towel after his bath, I told Kuntar, I think of Danny Haran and his daughter Einat. About the terror attack in Nahariya.

The girl’s death was a tragic incident, answered Kuntar. He insisted that he had not killed her. What does it matter, I told him, you shot at them. If you had not landed on the beach at Nahariya in your rubber dinghy, Einat Haran would still be alive. He never expressed any remorse.

I did not try to understand, to resolve or even to interpret. I just wanted to get to know the man. “I met the enemy,” Samir said, when I asked him how he would explain our meetings to his children. “I met the enemy and I saw that he has a face.”

Samir Kuntar’s Jewish enemy does indeed have a face, which is why Hezbollah and the Assad regime have done everything in their power to ensure that the people of Lebanon and Syria have no contact whatsoever with Israelis. It’s a bit harder to see people as a diabolical “other” after spending quality time with them.

Sending an email to Tel Aviv from Beirut or Damascus can land a person in prison. (I’ve done it hundreds of times myself, but I refuse to obey such a contemptible law, and anyway I’m not Syrian or Lebanese.) Even saying hello to an Israeli tourist on holiday in a third country like Cyprus or Greece is a crime.

Kuntar really did seem to change, and he seemed to change even before Kotes-Barr met him. Perhaps it was all a big put-on—he wouldn’t be the first person to pretend he had seen the errors of his ways in order to get out of prison—but either way he knew exactly how to tell the Israelis what they wanted to hear.

Ha’aretz interviewed him in 1995. “Theology enlists people to hate blindly,” he said, “both on the Israeli and the Arab side.

If instead of talking about the Promised Land you would find a way to introduce into the Palestinian education system – for which you are responsible – the horrors of the Holocaust, the history of Jew-hatred from the days of the Romans until the Nazi era, I have no doubt everything would be different. We never recognized Jewish suffering. We saw an entire people being thrown out, and a prosperous country thriving at its expense.

[…]

You have to accept Israel as a fact, in order to move on and not return to the cycle of losses. The message to the coming generations, especially the Palestinians, is that you have to include presenting the suffering of the Jewish people. Without this, it’s impossible to develop any empathy toward Jews.

He didn’t change, though. Or, if he did, he changed back and signed on with Hezbollah shortly after his release even though he isn’t even a Muslim. (He’s Druze.) Until the Israelis killed him this weekend, he was one of Hezbollah’s most formidable commanders and spokesmen in Syria.

He has been busy fighting Syrians lately rather than Jews. Perhaps one of these days, maybe—just maybe—the Arab world will realize that terrorists who kill Jews will turn right around and kill Arabs and that the Israelis are doing everybody a favor by zotting them from the skies.

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