Horribly Wrong

Sometimes a word or set of words is just so jarring, so inappropriate or so cruel that it causes actual pain. Jewish religious law forbids such language to Jews as ono’at d’varim pain-causing words. Newspapers don’t likely consider themselves similarly constricted by Jewish law, and a recent report in The New York Times offered a good example of that fact.

Pain was already well in place this past week, when the terrorist militia known as Hezbollah and reviled by civilized people the world over fulfilled its part of a deal with the Israeli government to return two Israeli soldiers it had held since 2006. Cynically refusing to say whether or not the soldiers were alive, the terrorist group seemed to take a perverse pride in “revealing” with a flourish the coffins containing the bodies of the two young men.

In return for that demonstration of grace, Israel handed over the remains of nearly two hundred Palestinian fighters and five all-too-alive terrorists it had captured. One of them, of course, was Samir Kuntar, who in 1979 landed a rubber dinghy on the seashore of the coastal Israeli town of Nahariya on a mission to kidnap Israelis.

According to eyewitnesses, Mr. Kuntar invaded the apartment of an Israeli family, shot the father, Daniel Haran, in front of his four-year-old daughter Einat and then took the little girl outside where he smashed her skull against a rock with the butt of his rifle. A doctor testified that Mr. Haran’s daughter had died from “a blow from a blunt instrument, like a club or rifle butt.”

Mr. Kuntar later claimed to have passed out and not seen what had happened to the child, and later still denied killing her. He has never expressed remorse of any sort for killing her father and kidnapping the little girl, which he admits; and certainly not for what the witnesses and medical evidence say he did to her.

And, as we all know and had expected, he received a hero’s welcome in Beirut, where Lebanon’s President, Prime Minister and Speaker of Parliament all greeted him at the airport. Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas sent him greetings. For his part, Mr. Kuntar has vowed to continue to fight Israel in any way he can.

(The very day of the “prisoner swap” saw an Agudath Israel of America National Leadership Mission to Washington. The scores of participating delegates interacted with many Senators, Congressmen and Administration officials, several of whom remarked on the sadness born of the day’s events. One Administration official, though, took heart at the stark and telling contrast of values between the determination of one side to have fallen soldiers’ remains returned to their families and, on the other, the obscene celebration of murderers and murder.)

But the pain of the actual events was intensified, at least for this reader, by the first phrase of the second paragraph of a New York Times story short that day. After referencing Mr. Kuntar and the then-expected and later realized welcome awaiting him in Beirut, the paper of record duly noted that, 29 years earlier, he had floated ashore in Nahariya “to kidnap Israelis.” But, the report explained, “That raid went horribly wrong.”

The item went on to tell of the witnesses’ accounts and medical report, but it never really got around to explaining what it was exactly that went “horribly wrong.” Did The Times mean to imply that Mr. Kuntar’s intentions were benign? That he somehow accidentally shot a man at point blank and smashed a little girl’s head in? That he is, for some unknown reason, a victim himself of some unidentified circumstances?

A campfire that wasn’t properly tended and caused a forest fire is something that “went horribly wrong.” A car trip that ends in a terrible accident is something that “went horribly wrong.” A fireworks display that misfires and hurts bystanders is something that “went horribly wrong.”

A vicious, murderous attack on innocents, however, is an example not of something gone horribly wrong but of someone horribly evil. And to portray it as some disembodied event without a conscious cause is to rub salt into the emotional wounds of every human being who may ever have shed a tear over Daniel and Einat Haran’s too-short lives and terrible deaths.

If anything went horribly wrong, it was the judgment of some editors in midtown Manhattan.


[Rabbi Shafran is director of public affairs for Agudath Israel of America.]

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12 Responses

  1. Yossi (Joe) Izrael says:

    This “exchange” was long in the making. all Jewish organizations should have united to oppose and protest this. And all share the guilt for it. We’ve got into the habit of apathy and whining after the fact.

    Oppps – Jews? Unite? I forgot, that only happens in fairy tales. Or to dead Jews.

  2. Bob Miller says:

    Let’s review the salient points and questions:

    1. Arab terrorists are butchers generally supported by the will of the Arab people.

    2. The New York Times and others like them condone true atrocities by enemies of America or Israel, while accepting or creating false stories of atrocities by America or Israel.

    3. The organization that should be most active and vocal in fighting terrorists and rebutting apologists for terrorism is the government of Israel. Evidently, that government believes it has some higher priority these days. If that priority is to remove threats coming from Iran, the patron of Hezbollah and Hamas, why does Israel fail to deal appropriately with Hezbollah and Hamas? Does tomorrow’s US support for, or acquiescence in, Israeli actions against Iran somehow depend on today’s Israeli concessions to proxies of Iran? Is the Israeli government indifferent to its responsibility to its citizens? Somebody, please explain all this.

  3. TheOtherView says:

    That the NY Times are a bunch of anti-semites is no chiddush, however, what we as Jews have to realize is that other people have a different view. The land was populated before 1948. Israel was involved in ethnic cleansing. Although most Jews in the holocaust would not have murdered an innocent German (non-Nazi) child, and a Palestinian has no problem, murdering an innocent Jewish child, the rest of the world still thinks “listen, this is one Jewish child, what about the Palestinian children that for decades have been unable to live normally b/c of the Zionist regime”.

    Two wrongs do not make a right and Kuntar should have his peace in this world so he can suffer in the next, but we (most Jews) have a difficult time recognizing that there are others who view things differently.

    Any thoughts?

  4. Bob Miller says:

    The main cause for the plight of Palestinian Arab children is the past and present behavior of the Palestinian parents and Arab leaders—including those leaders who told their own people to evacuate in 1948 while the Arab armies invaded Israel.

    The many Jewish children driven out of Arab countries along with their parents from 1948 on did amazingly better because Israel and other host countries did not seek to keep them isolated as permanent victims.

    Relevant facts are shown in the pamphlet “Big Lies: Demolishing the Myths of the Propaganda War Against Israel” by David Meir-Levi, available at http://frontpagemag.com

  5. Garnel Ironheart says:

    Thoughts? Sure. In a few sentences, you have presented a biased, propaganda-based view of history completely unsupported by fact.
    Fact – it was the Arab leadership in Israel that fled following the 1947 UN vote to parition Israel, leaving their followers confused and unable to take advantage of the historic opportunity the UN had just handed them
    Fact – it was the Arab leadership that rejected the partition vote and invaded Israel in order to prevent the plan from being carried out. It was this same leadership that encouraged the local Arab populations to “temporarily” evacuate from Israel so as not to get caught in the crossfire between the Jewish and Arab forces.
    Fact – it was the Arab leadership that made the decision to keep the displaced Arabs (many of whom had moved to Israel within the previous 30 years to take advantage of the growing Jewish community’s need for manual labourers and who had no real roots in Israel) in refugee camps so that they could be used as propaganda weapons against Israel. These numbers were subsequently swelled by other Arabs who found the lure of free food and board, meagre as it was, superior to the lifestyle afforded them by that same Arab leadership.

    Rav Shafran point seems to be quite simple: When an Arab terrorist murders a Jew in cold blood because of a polital-religious agenda, it is present in the news as: Guerilla/freedom fighter kills Israeli citizen but it was probably the Israel’s fault in the first place.

    And that is unacceptable.

  6. Toby Katz says:

    I think when the NY Times said “the raid went horribly wrong” they meant that the terrorist murderer was captured before he could get away. Had the raid gone as planned, he would have made a clean escape and would not have had to spend so many years in an Israeli prison.

  7. lacosta says:

    i agree with all the above. as to our opinion of the exchange right or wrong, i think that ultimately that only those with soldiers on the line really get a say. ie we all have strong opinions on this, but in the end those of us in Chu’l , and those of us in Israel who do not participate in the Tzahal enterprise [ ie 100% of the arabs, 95+% of the charedim, and a smaller % of the dati leumi community] really shouldnt get a vote on the issue….

  8. ClooJew says:

    Words are indeed, lulei demistafina, potent weapons. I was shocked, shocked that several articles mentioning this horrible exchange referred to the “return” of two Israeli “soldiers” without mentioning that they were “dead.” Hashem Yeracheim.


  9. zalman says:

    Yeah, but…
    The first sentence of the very same NYT article refers to Kuntar as “Perhaps Israel’s most reviled prisoner,” and another NYT article (6/30/08 also first sentence) referred to him as “one of the most notorious convicts in its prisons, a Lebanese murderer”.
    “Horribly wrong” may still be horribly wrong but your readers are entitled to more complete information.

  10. SM says:

    I think ‘horribly wrong’ referred to the fact that a kidnap turned into an horrific murder. Kidnapping is plainly wrong, but it is still possible to discriminate between two wrongs without being an anti-semite. I think we need to be careful not to be too sensitive to this. The overall tone of the article simply doesn’t support the reading being given to the one phrase quoted.

  11. Tal Benschar says:

    Putting aside the bias of the NY Times, one wonders after the Samir Kuntar incident if anyone still believes in making peace with the Arab nations — peace in the sense that one believes the end result will be Arab acceptance of Israel as a normal neighbor. Here is a man who should be reviled — after shooting the father, he bashed in the head of a 4 year old girl with a rifle butt. Yet the Arab world views him as a hero. Anyone can believe there will be peace with such people needs to explain this episode.

    (Of course there are other reasons one might engage in a “peace process” — strategic considerations, mollifying the U.S., etc. I am simply addressing those who believe that the Arab world, with just a few more concessions, will accept Israel the way, say, the U.S. and Canada accept each other.)

  12. L Oberstein says:

    Moment Magazine’s most recent issue had a symposium on prospects for peace and nobody thought it was on the horizon. Even most leftists see that there is no partner on the other side with the desire and the ability to make a deal for a two state solution that will be the dawn of a new day. Now what? If Meir Kahane was correct, as so many think in their innermost hearts, is that a policy that is even possible? I think the solution is to find alternative energy sources and for Israel to develope solar power and get fresh water from salt water. Then the whole Arab world will become much less of a threat to all of civilization.As long as the USA buys most of its fuel from Arabs and Iran can develope to its heart’s content an atom bomb, Israel is in trouble. Solve the enery and water problems and we will have a new Middle East. Until then, we have to deal with our neighbors and both sides are stuck. It isn’t the greatest situation but it is a lot better than 1939.

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