Winners and Losers

21 07 2008

Its almost a week on now since the unevenly handed prisoner swap that made the headlines in Lebanon, Israel and the rest of the world.

The papers and analysts took great satisfaction in painting the winners and the losers in this trade-off and in doing so, managed not to paint the heroes and the villains in this scenario.

The winners, and this I think is unanymous, were Hezbollah and the Lebanese, there en-masse to welcome home their hero Samir Kuntar (or Qantar). The losers were the Israeli government who fell short this time of being able to claim even the moral victory on this occasion, as their critics were so vocal that it pretty muched drowned out the significance of the sacrifice.

The choice to enter the 2006 Lebanese conflict was a direct result of the kidnapping of two Israeli soldiers Ehud Goldwasser and Elad Regev, a conflict that the Israeli public is still smarting from. The conflict itself was handled badly, the soldiers ill-prepared, faced an enemy that were far better equipped and a far cry from the unorganised guerilla militia that they experienced in the first Lebanese conflict.

At the time the winners, both in the battle of public relations and human conflict were Hezbollah. It strengthened their claim to mainstream Lebanese conflict and painted the Israelis to be less than competent, and perhaps in the most skilled slight of hand, showed Israel to be unfair agressors. Evevryone remembers the Israelis having to explain their bombing of seemingly civilian centers during the war. Hezbollah had quite ruthlessly used civilian shields for their rocket launching sites and knew well that the casualties were a cheap price to pay for the PR victory they would claim over the Israelis.

The winners and the losers. It is pathetic, but we have the need to categorise, the incessant need to point the finger of blame. The real winners? Hezbollah have achieved their short term aims, but those with foresight predict that the worst is yet to come with Nasrallah readying to use this as a platform to launch yet another offensive that will catch Israel off-balance. All they have to do is find another staged incident that will act as a trigger, similar to the kidnappings.The real losers? Once again, the families of the kidnapped soldiers as well as their comrades who gave their lives in the futile conflict to return them home safely.

It was most likely that the two soldiers were either dead or badly injured and dying by the time they were dragged accross the border in Lebanon. By all accounts they were ambushed at point blank range, which didnt leave them much of a chance. Finally, when the coffins were delivered last week the Goldwasser and Regev families could bring some closure to this tragic chapter in their lives, but the overriding feeling was futility as the many more families counted the human cost of trying to recover two corpses. The moral victory was lost of them. Politically, this is yet another vote of no-confidence in the Israeli political system, which is run like an old-boy’s club of ex-soldiers who really have no place leading a country. Corruption might be grabbing the headlines, but incompetence has been a far more serious and recurring theme for as long as I care to remember.

On the otherside of the border, the talk was of unity, victory and freedom as terrorist and murderer Samir Kuntar was welcomed home. The headline prisoner in the exchange, Kuntar is famous for being the longest held detainee in an Israeli prison(, or so his website says

As I read the marginalised articles that covered the return of the Israeli coffins and the funerals that followed, the stories about Kuntar’s heroic homecoming grabbed all the headlines, online and in the English press. I guess the BBC reckon it makes better news, or a more interesting read or perhaps it just fits in better with their philosophy of supporting the underdog and general media bias.

The Guardian lead with an interesting double page spread, in which they featured Chen Kotes-Bar’s interview of Kuntar in an Israeli Jail over the past few years ( ). As usual, the article attempts to humanise the monster, whilst also keeping the audience captive in the circus horror sort of way. From looking at the accompanying pictures of Kuntar, I cant help but judge him as a crazed fanatical killer merely from his photograph.

Paula Bronstein/Getty Images

Lets face it, the photo of him hugging these two kids doenst fool anyone. You’d rather leave your kids unsupervised with Joseph Fritzl, than with this boggle eyed James Bond henchman.

Freed Lebanese prisoner Samir Qantar hugs his nephews at the family home. Photograph: Paula Bronstein/Getty Images

Kotes-Bar, who is significantly introduced as a Journalist and daugher of an Auschwitz survivor, asks the usual questions regarding the incidents that took place the night that lead to the deaths of Israeli Danny Haran and his two daughters, amongst others. In his defence, and perhaps quite genuinely, Kuntar recollection of the exact events of that night is quite hazy. There was a lot of confusion that night and ultimaely “The girl’s death was a tragic incident, answered Qantar. He insisted that he had not killed her.” But Kotes-Bar quite rightly states that no matter whether it was intended “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.”

There are certain things about his account that are very unsettling. Its hard to believe that Kuntar was just 16 at the time he set out in his dinghy to attack innocent Israeli civilians, but just as all murderers often try to find some sort of pre-destined justification for their attacks he describes finding Haran and his daughter as if they had been waiting for him to come and ruin their lives: “Dan Haran was standing there, looking at us. The little girl was with him. When we arrived, he was sitting on the bed, as if he were waiting for someone.” I dont know why this observation is significant other than a fatalistic remembrance of the event that somehow eases his guilt. Other than the Dan Haran being shot in the back and his daughter Einat having her skull crushed by the butt of his rifle, Kuntar indirectly caused the death of Haran’s other daughter who was most tragically smothered to death by her own mother, whilst she was trying to stifle her cries so that they were not discovered hiding.

This is Hezbollah’s hero. This makes the headlines.

Who is the ultimate winner? Perhaps only the grim reaper.