Samir Kuntar is the Lebanese who infiltrated Israel twenty-nine years ago in order to kill. Entering a family house, he murdered the father in front of that man’s four-year-old daughter, and then beat the little girl’s head in with his rifle butt. Meanwhile the mother, trying to hide with a two year old daughter, accidentally smothered her to death trying to stop her screaming. Israel does not have the death penalty (though it made an exception in the case of Adolf Eichmann). Those who object to the death penalty will have very little grounds for their argument in Kuntar’s case. What he did was as inhuman as any crime in the sad annals of mankind.
Many, perhaps most, countries would have found a way to take Kuntar’s life, if only in a shoot-out during his capture following the murders. In Israel. there was never any question of that. In a court of law, Kuntar was sentenced to life imprisonment.
Hezbollah, the Iranian proxy now in the process of taking over Lebanon, has long hoped to have Kuntar released. To that end, Hezbollah two years ago once more infiltrated Israel, killed some soldiers and kidnapped two more, by name Ehud Goldwasser and Eldad Regev. Hezbollah then refused to say in what condition these two were, did not allow Red Cross visits, ignoring every international convention about the treatment of prisoners.
For reasons of its own, which may be wise or unwise, moral or immoral, Israel agreed to exchange Kuntar for the corpses of its two soldiers. Those who opened their coffins have been too appalled to speak openly of the mutilations they observed. In contrast to the treatment Kuntar had received in his captivity, the two had evidently been tortured to death. And that is all anyone needs to know about Hezbollah.
Now every human being is responsive to the inborn taboo against killing. To overcome that taboo is difficult, and requires at the minimum the kind of primitive hate that societies usually make their best efforts to overcome. Hate, prejudice, and ignorance are necessary, and even quite simple levels of civilization keep these irrational sentiments under some sort of control.
There must be Arabs who feel the normal human revulsion at what Kuntar did, and there may well be some with the courage to speak out against his infamy (though none that I know of have done so). But the very opposite happened. A reception committee of the high and mighty of his native Lebanon greeted Kuntar on his release. Dressed in military fatigues, he boasted to the world that he would do his crimes all over again. On behalf of the Palestinians, Mahmoud Abbas sent his blessings, and his spokesman could talk about the return of “the heroes and Martyrs headed by the great Samir Kuntar.” In a rare public speech in Beirut, Sheikh Nasrallah of Hezbollah had similar praise for Kuntar.
Rationalizations or excuses of course can be found to cover this glorification of murder. Arabs feel shame at their impotence and failure, for instance, so pretend that their defeats are victories. Or these Lebanese and Palestinian dignitaries know that they have to whip up hate in order to stay in power. Or that lack of education makes it possible to mobilize Muslims to believe they have a duty to kill those of other faiths.
All of that is specious. The Nazi S.S. killed Jewish children with a brutality similar to Kuntar’s, but they did not then appear on public platforms to boast to the world of what they had done; on the contrary they kept their crimes as secret as they could, thereby acknowledging the survival somewhere in them of a guilty conscience. But here are important and supposedly responsible men who find it in themselves to embrace, encourage, and hold up as a model a man as vile as any, as though there was no such thing as conscience, and never has been. By every human standard, this is degradation, this is depravity.