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Peace, pain, Sukkot

By P. David Hornik
web posted October 20, 2003

In the weeklong Sukkot (Feast of Tabernacles) holiday, the sense of peace enters your system from outside, from the sheer detachment and composure of nature, and not for any "reason" in the normal sense. Having grown up in the northeastern U.S., I've never gotten used to these autumns that are more like a gentle aftermath of summer, my north-Jerusalem street light-filled and serene. And it's good to be able to feel this pure, constitutional peace, since there's precious little warrant for it in the more concrete realities -- maybe even less than usual.

Another prisoner exchange is afoot, to the tune, apparently, of 400 imprisoned Arab terrorists and criminals for one kidnapped Israeli civilian and the bodies of three kidnapped Israeli soldiers. Only about a week ago I angered someone, was accused of a lack of compassion, by arguing that such an exchange is outrageous and indefensible, exposes us as weak and desperate, and invites further kidnapping and murder. But now I'm not so sure. Since then, news reports say that the Israeli civilian, Ehud Tannenbaum, has been savagely tortured by his Hezbollah captors, all his teeth having been ripped out. Imagine that, having all your teeth pulled without novocaine in torture sessions. Now I find myself unable to oppose the government in pursuing the lopsided deal. Isn't there a strong chance that some of the released terrorists will return to their ways and kill Israelis? Can't argue with that; but can we leave an actual human being in the hands of such monsters if there's a way of extricating him? Can't argue with that either.

Ron Arad
Arad

Another reason for opposing the imminent deal is that it apparently will not include Ron Arad, the Israeli air force navigator taken prisoner in Lebanon back in 1986. Arad has never been confirmed dead and, according to persistent reports, is still being held in a prison in Iran. Even more depressing is that the terrorist leader whom Israel was supposedly holding hostage as collateral for Arad, Mustafa Dirani, will instead be included in the deal (along with the hundreds of others) for Tannenbaum and the three corpses, while Arad will be left out in the cold. Again, what do you do -- hold out for Arad and condemn Tannenbaum to God knows what fate? But if all this wasn't enough, last weekend the daily Yediot Aharonot published an extensive report on Arad's fate over the past sixteen years, based, the paper says, on the testimony of three Iranian exiles. Among other things, the report says Arad is now a paraplegic, having undergone an operation to paralyze his legs after being shot in an escape attempt while he was still being held in Lebanon.

This is the enemy we face, capable of a cruelty that for us, conditioned by thousands of years of Jewish morality and adherence to modern democratic principles, is incomprehensible.

And with the spotlight on prisoners for a moment, Azzam Azzam, too, has returned to the news, the Druze Israeli who was judicially kidnapped in Egypt seven years ago. Compared to Tannenbaum and Arad, Azzam's fate is heavenly -- he can be visited by relatives and Israeli officials, he's not undergoing mutilation and torture. But his fate, too, is horrible enough in itself -- confined for seven years to a three-square-meter cell, sleeping on a mattress, using a plastic pail as a toilet. And while Arad was flying a military mission over Lebanon when he had to bail out and was captured, and Tannenbaum may have been seized in an Arab country where he was involved in shady business or drug deals, Azzam's only real "crime" was to be an Israeli citizen spending time in a country with which Israel is ostensibly, contractually at peace.

Peace . . . the most abused word in the language? Yet I feel it these days, despite all the pain and horror in the news. It is only an effect of nature -- gentle sunlight, the lazy warmth that keeps lingering into the autumn months? In the courtyard below me, my neighbor's sukkah stands silent in the morning, its green walls gleaming. If I look further, I can see others here and there along the street. "Thou shalt observe the feast of tabernacles seven days . . . " Maybe not just nature, but also the fact of endurance and survival: and the thought that we have indeed succeeded in spreading light, the principle of human sanctity, to much of the world, even if other parts remain in darkness.

P. David Hornik's work has appeared in FrontPageMagazine.com, AmericanDaily.com, MichNews.com, the Jerusalem Post, IsraelInsider.com, the Jewish Press, and IsraelNationalNews.com.

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