Be clear: dead soldiers don’t ‘come back home’

By David Landau, July 25, 2008

Israelis must stop pretending that bringing back soldiers' bodies is as important as freeing live captives

If words are indeed a window to the soul, then perhaps one can understand - but not justify - the murder of our language that took place last week.

"Udi and Eldad come home." This deliberate butchery of words and the cynical distortion of their meaning is an etymological-psychological symptom of the suicidal tendencies gnawing at Israel's soul, culminating in a swap of the living for the dead.

Of course, a line runs from the infamous Ahmed Jibril prisoner exchange in 1985, when Israel swapped 1,150 prisoners for three soldiers, to the Nasrallah deal, which will be remembered with shame. The line also passes through the deal that led to the release of Elchanan Tennenbaum in 2004.

The picture that emerges is one of a breakdown in the resolve of Israel's leadership and its ability to fend off pressure from the soldiers' families (who are blameless).

There have been zigzags. Israel's tough stance in the Nachshon Wachsman kidnapping was a swing in the right direction, even though it ended badly. In the case of Gilad Shalit, Olmert is trying to stick to some kind of principles.

But Israel's conduct in the Regev and Goldwasser case is not just a continuation of its weakening stance. It is a total break.

Walking straight into Nasrallah's trap, Olmert has blurred the most basic tenets of human ethics and Jewish tradition - the sanctity of human life, which comes before all, and the principles of "respect for the dead" and "Jewish burial", which are on a totally different level of importance.

The moment he agreed to negotiate for the return of Regev and Goldwasser without demanding proof that they were alive, Olmert turned the state into a doormat for terrorists. He has turned the sacrifice of those who died in the Second Lebanon War into a sacrifice in vain.

But Olmert is not the only one guilty of obfuscating the meaning of words with his constant talk of "our boys coming home". Many other policy-makers and shapers of public opinion also knew that "Udi" was not Udi any more, and the same for Eldad. They knew that "coming home" no longer applied.

So why keep pumping out this deceitful terminology? To suppress any genuine public debate? To deter anyone who sought to avoid being swept up in the populist waves of necrophilia that dictated newspaper headlines?

A primitive death cult, sanctifying death and the dead, is polluting our culture. Charlatans who spout their perverted ideas of "Jewish tradition" are turning the tools used in the truly sacred task of scraping down burnt-out buses to collect remnants of human flesh into a spade for digging into the dark corners of our national psyche.

A few courageous individuals dared to warn of the sickness when soldiers were sent out, at risk of death, to sift through the sand along the Philadephi route in Gaza, in search of the remains of their comrades.

All this from a nation that lost six million, whose burial sites are not only unknown, but also do not even exist. The fathers of this country swore: Never again. That is the essence of Zionism, which meant - or once meant - that Jews would never again be hapless murder victims with no one to defend them. Now it seems the oath has been revised: Never again will Jews be killed without doing everything to ensure that their remains are buried in sacred soil.

In a sad coincidence, just as I was scanning the newspaper headlines last Wednesday, I was informed that an old colleague had died. I could not help but reflect that my friend would not be "coming home". He would be taken from the funeral parlour to a place of dust, worms and maggots. The same is true for our two soldiers, whom a resolute, ethical leader would never have agreed to call "abducted" from day one, when he already knew with almost total certainty that they were dead.

But Nasrallah not only snatched two corpses. He kidnapped straight talk and common sense.

David Landau is the former editor of Ha'aretz, where this article, translated from the Hebrew, originally appeared


Last updated: 1:40pm, July 24 2008



Wed, 07/30/2008 - 15:36

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Excellent article. Official Israel - and Israelis - have gone astray. This was also evident during the Lebanon War two years ago, when soldiers' lives seemed to be more important than those of the civlians they were supposed to be protecting.