Wednesday, July 11, 2007

Bring the Captives Home

By Rabbi Reuven Poupko and Rabbi Chaim Steinmetz

July 12 marked the anniversary of last summer’s hostilities between Hezbollah and Israel. The conflict, which started with the kidnapping of two Israeli soldiers, Ehud Goldwasser and Eldad Regev, created enormous hardships on both sides of the Israeli/Lebanese border, and displaced hundreds of thousands of civilians.

Canadians remember how our government intervened quickly to evacuate Canadians from Lebanon. While the plight of the civilians in Lebanon was the focus of much media attention, a like number of Israelis were forced to flee the north of Israel in the face of unrelenting Hezbollah rocket attacks directed at Israeli civilian centers. (The inequality of media attention during the conflict was pointed out in a report by Marvin Kalb of Harvard’s Center on Press, Politics and Public Policy).

We visited Israel during the conflict, and traveled through northern Israel. These cities were turned upside down because of the war. Tiberius was relatively lucky, with Kaytushas blowing through the roofs of a wedding hall and children’s school while both buildings were empty. Safed was a ghost town, with one of the remaining people pointing out where a man, on his way to visit his children, was struck dead in the street by a Katuysha. A short while after entering Haifa the air raid siren went off. We ran out of the car and took cover along with a group of people behind a tree. With us were two young girls who were crying loudly. Their father hugged them tightly, trying to calm them down. To us, the young girls’ panic was the face of war.

After the conflict, the United Nations passed Resolution 1701. Among other things, the Resolution calls for an immediate end to Syrian arms shipments to Hezbollah and an immediate release of the captive Israeli soldiers.

The resolution has been completely ignored by Hezbollah and its’ allies. Arms shipments to Hezbollah have continued unabated (as confirmed by U.N. reports). Even more tragically, Ehud Goldwasser and Eldad Regev, the kidnapped soldiers, remain in captivity, along with another soldier kidnapped from Israel by Hamas, Gilad Shalit.

Shalit, Goldwasser and Regev have been held by Hamas and Hezbollah without any information on their condition or Red Cross visits. Aside from being a flagrant violation International Law, this is profoundly inhumane. Now, the families of these soldiers must endure the torture of not knowing anything about the condition of their loved ones.

It is difficult to imagine the profound pain these kidnappings have caused the captive’s families. Ehud Goldwasser’s wife, Karnit, travels the world, hoping to find a way to bring home her newlywed husband of ten months. The Regev family shows anyone they can a picture album of a loving brother and son they pray will come home soon. Gilad Shalit’s father Noam, meets the press, clutching his son’s elementary school project that shows his son’s love for peace. These scenes cry out to us; they remind us that the world must do everything to bring these soldiers home.

Considering the scale of the Arab-Israeli conflict, it may seem odd to focus so much on three captive soldiers. But these three soldiers in many ways embody the conflict. It is actually in the strategic interests of Hamas and Hezbollah to release these captives. The captives have little military value to Israel, and if Hamas and Hezbollah released them, they would garner a bonanza of positive PR, as well as international goodwill. Yet Hamas and Hezbollah continue to shut out the Red Cross and ignore the U.N., causing untold grief to their families.

Hamas and Hezbollah stubbornly hold on to these soldiers against their own self interest because terrorism is not about strategic gain. Terrorists are far more interested in inflicting pain on others then pursuing their own strategic interests. The goal of Hamas and Hezbollah is to hurt the Shalit, Regev and Goldwasser families. It is critical that people around the world subvert these sadistic goals, and do everything to pressure these terror groups and their patrons to release these unfortunate young men.

We pray that the anniversary of this conflict will remind everyone of the three Israeli families who deserve have their sons come home. We hope that humanitarian voices will call out for their release. And we dream of the day when all people in the region can live together in peace.