Samir Kuntar in his own words

Last week, Israel exchanged Samir Kuntar and four Hezbollah fighers for the bodies of Ehud Goldwasser and Eldad Regev, two reserve soldiers who were abducted after being mortally wounded during a cross-border raid that sparked the Second Lebanon War on July 12, 2006.

Kuntar was convicted in 1979 of dragging 4 year-old Einat Haran and her father, Danny, from their Nahariya apartment to a nearby beach, where he murdered the little girl by smashing in her head with his rifle butt and killed her father by shooting him in the back and drowning him in the Mediterranean. Danny’s wife, Smadar Haran, hid with the couple’s 2 year-old daughter, Yael, in a crawlspace in their apartment. But she accidentally smothered Yael to death while trying to keep her from crying out by placing a hand over her mouth.

You can read Smadar Haran’s first-hand account of that terrible night here. Last week Yedioth Ahronoth published the transcripts of Kuntar’s trial, including the forensic evidence that showed Einat’s brain tissue was found on Kuntar’s rifle. The article was translated into English and can be read here.

Kuntar’s act of terror is commonly considered the worst in Israel’s history. But the fact is that there are many terrorists sitting in Israeli jails who have been convicted of much worse crimes and who are responsible for killing far more civilians. The story of what Kuntar did resonates so strongly here because it involves infanticide, and because it is so nightmarishly reminiscent of the Holocaust. We all grew up with the stories of Jewish mothers who smothered their babies while trying to keep them quiet during Nazi raids of the ghettos during the Holocaust, and of SS men who killed Jewish babies by smashing their heads against walls.

So what a shock it was to see Kuntar greeted as a hero in Lebanon. How could the head of state and the head of government line up alongside Hezbollah leaders and Druze leaders to kiss a child murderer on either cheek?

In our paranoid Middle East insane asylum, a lot of those people who greeted Kuntar with open arms didn’t believe he committed the crimes of which he was convicted in a court of law.  In our paranoid Middle Eastern insane asylum, facts are dismissed as propaganda – or ignored because they distract from political agendas, which are far too often followed blindly, at the expense of ordinary human compassion. And a psychopath is embraced by political leaders who are using him to gain or maintain power. Michael Young explains here why Walid Jumblatt, the Lebanese Druze leader who two months ago was comparing Hassan Nasrallah to Hitler, lined up with the Hezbollah leadership to greet Kuntar as a hero.

Chen Kotes-Barr, an Israeli journalist who works for Maariv newspaper, met and interviewed Kuntar weekly for four years. This past Friday, her feature article was published in Maariv’s weekend supplement. I translated and edited a somewhat abridged version that was further edited and published in the Guardian this past Saturday. You can read the Guardian’s version here.

Below is my longer translation of Ms. Kotes-Barr’s piece. As you will see, it sheds substantial light on Kuntar’s background and dubious motives. Or, as Linda Grant puts it here:

By his own admission, Kuntar came from a wealthy family and was educated at private schools. He is not Palestinian, he is Druze. Despite or perhaps because of his bourgeois background, he became involved in the Marxist-Leninist organizations of that period.

Kuntar fits no model of the impoverished refugee driven to despair by occupation. Nor can he be seen within the context of Iranian-backed Islamism. When he emerged from prison last week it was as a relic of a bygone age: of that era of self-appointed middle-class revolutionaries, like the Weather Underground and Baader-Meinhof Gang.

In my own youth I occasionally met people like Kuntar, their heads addled with Marxism-Leninism. Doris Lessing’s novel The Good Terrorist anatomizes the mindset. But no one ever gave them, as they did Kuntar, a Kalashnikov, or military training, and so they escaped Kuntar’s fate, lacking the opportunity.

Samir Kuntar, home at last

Samir Kuntar, home at last

I, Samir Kuntar

Over a period of four years, correspondent Chen Kotes-Bar of Maariv newspaper met regularly with Samir Kuntar. The PFLP militant, who was convicted of leading the grisly 1978 terror attack in the northern Israeli town of Nahariya, was freed this week in a controversial prisoner exchange. This is the first time his story, as told to a female Israeli journalist, has been published.

Introduction:

For the first year, my conversations with Samir Kuntar were difficult. Our meetings, which began in February 2004, took place in the prison library – just the two of us, unaccompanied. Our conversations were open, and they lasted for hours. Samir spoke to me in Hebrew. He brought tea and biscuits, and he chain-smoked. Over the 29 years he spent in Israeli jails, I was the first and only Jewish Israeli woman he met and spoke with to face-to-face.

“I’m talking to you about reality,” Kuntar said, each time we met. “I am not trying to ingratiate myself with you.” As we slowly built up some kind of trust, we stopped talking about politics and turned to personal subjects – like prison life and his own life. “Don’t go with slogans and clichés,” he implored. “Just write the facts.” He showed me photographs of his family in Lebanon. He prepared a list of Hebrew-language books on the Arab-Israeli conflict for me.

I told him about my father, who survived Auschwitz, and about my 5 year-old son. Each time I wrap him in a towel after his bath, I told Kuntar, I think of Danny Haran and his daughter Einat. About the terror attack in Nahariya.

The girl’s death was a tragic incident, answered Kuntar. He insisted that he had not killed her. What does it matter, I told him, you shot at them. If you had not landed on the beach at Nahariya in your rubber dinghy, Einat Haran would still be alive. He never expressed any remorse.

I did not try to understand, to resolve or even to interpret. I just wanted to get to know the man. “I met the enemy,” Samir said, when I asked him how he would explain our meetings to his children. “I met the enemy and I saw that he has a face.”

Shortly after the Second Lebanon War, Kuntar understood that he would be released from prison. He became an enthusiastic supporter of Hezbollah, and he became more extreme in his opinions. His expressions of anger, as he once described them, turned into expressions of hatred.

He once said that, if someone had told him 30 years ago he would sit and talk to an Israeli woman, a Jew, he would have said it was impossible. But the years had taught him that “it was possible to listen to every human being in the world.” On another occasion he told me that he saw me as a neutral player in the conflict. “No,” I answered. “You cannot neutralize me.”

****

“My name is Samir Kuntar. I am prisoner number 562885.

I was born in the village of Abiya, on Mt. Lebanon. My father worked in Saudi Arabia as a chef for Albir Avila, the international hotel chain. He was a well-known chef, in high demand. He used to come home once every two months, always laden with gifts like clothes and perfumes. For the last birthday I celebrated at home, I remember that my parents bought me a leather jacket and my father baked me a layer cake.

My mother is a homemaker with a very strong personality. When she decides something, that’s it – you can never change her mind. My family is Druze, secular and well off. We are three brothers and five sisters. We have a beautiful house that overlooks Beirut, with a view of the airport from the balcony.

One winter evening in 1968, around 9 or 10 o’clock, we heard explosions. The whole house trembled. When the noise started, we went outside and saw huge flames rising from the airport, lighting up the sky like flares. I stood and watched, unable to move. I had never seen anything like it. That was the IDF raid that took place in December 1968, after the attacks on El Al planes.

The first time I heard of Israel? I was six-and-a-half.

I was a quiet, introspective kid. I attended a private school, where I did very well. In the afternoons, after school, I’d go with my friends to hunt birds with a slingshot, or swim in the river. In winter, when there was a snowfall, we’d mess about outdoors and take photos of one another.

Occasionally my father took me to Beirut. When I saw the refugee camps on the edge of the city, I asked my father what they were. He explained to me, ‘Son, those are Palestinians. The Israelis drove them out of their country, and they’re not allowed to return.’

We were fans of the Nejmah football team, and of the singer Fayrouz.

I dreamt of being a soldier. I wanted to go to the military academy and become an officer. But then in April 1975 the academy was closed, because of the civil war. So I spent a lot of time at home, hanging out with my friends, talking about teenage stuff. We didn’t talk about politics. I read comic books – I had a subscription, because I really loved comics – and I watched the news. Then I joined the Scouts – the branch that was sponsored by Kamal Jumblatt’s Progressive Socialist party. My parents really admired Jumblatt; they even hung his photo on the living room wall.

We used to have Scout meetings twice a week. Activities were divided by age, and they were for boys only. We did mostly social activities, like picking olives in a nearby village. Or physical activities, like rock climbing, hiking and running.

I wanted to fight. By then there were pictures of Arafat on the streets, and posters about the Palestinian revolution, and Palestinians used to collect donations door-to-door. I said, “Singing and going hiking with teenagers is not for me.” I went to the head of the Socialist party movement and said, “Let me go fight the Phalangists.” He answered, ‘You’re too young.’ I was 13-and-a-half at the time. I loved action and I was idealistic. Representatives of Ahmed Jibril’s Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP) – General Command, were recruiting candidates for military training from my village, so I convinced one of them to let me enlist. Each afternoon at 5 o’clock, a car would collect me and take me to the training camp. That’s where I shot a gun for the first time – a Kalashnikov. It was fantastic.

At first no one suspected a thing at home, but after a few days my father found out. He was a man of peace; war was the last thing you would associate with his character. Seeing that I was completely high on adrenaline, he said, ‘Why don’t you go abroad, to Amsterdam?’ The company he worked for had a branch in Amsterdam. I didn’t want to go. I said, ‘Dad, no. I am not leaving this place.’ But he wouldn’t give up. He showed me photos of Amsterdam; still I wasn’t interested. Pretty soon we were arguing, and everyone at home started to nag me. ‘You’re still young, forget about all this stuff.’ My father said, ‘I will send you anywhere you want to go. Just choose a destination and I’ll take care of everything.’ But he could not say anything to change my mind.”

The training

“The military training course lasted six weeks. It was led by the PFLP, but the participants were unaffiliated with any organization. We slept 60 to a tent and practiced climbing ropes, running and shooting. We were given political lectures and they showed us films about Israel. We lived for the stories about the Yom Kippur War in 1973 – how we succeeded in destroying the myth of the invincible Israeli soldier. We read about the fighters who successfully attacked Israeli towns like Kiryat Shmona and Maalot [in 1974 the DFLP attacked a school in Maalot, killing 21 high school pupils – LG]. We admired them.

At the end of the course we were allowed to apply for membership in the PFLP. The welcoming committee was composed of five men in uniform, but without any ranks because the PFLP was Marxist. We were forbidden to salute, for the same reason. They asked me annoying questions, like ‘Are you completely convinced of the suffering of the Palestinian people?’ and ‘Why do you want to join the organization?’ Everyone had to choose a nom de guerre, so I chose Nabil Ahmed Kassam. I was given a new uniform and an ID card with the PFLP logo. It showed my blood type and my rank: ’combat soldier. ’

When the PFLP split in 1976, I stayed with the Palestine Liberation Front (PLF) that was led by Abu Abbas and I went to officers’ training. I studied tactics, topography, weapons, engineering and communications. There were also courses in ideology. I finished seventh in my class. I was 15 years old.”

The commander of the Nahariya operation

When he was 16 years old, having spent 11 months in a Jordanian prison following a failed terror operation, Samir Kuntar was given leadership of a cell and assigned to attack Nahariya, an Israeli coastal town located about 10 kilometers south of Lebanon.

During that notoriously brutal attack, Kuntar dragged 32 year-old Danny Haran and his 4 year-old daughter, Einat, from their apartment to the nearby beach. He killed Haran by shooting him in the back and then drowning him, while Einat watched. According to forensic evidence and eyewitness court testimony, Kuntar then killed the 4 year-old girl by smashing her skull against the rocks with the butt of his rifle. Her mother, Smadar, hid in a crawlspace with 2 year-old Yael, but accidentally smothered her to death while trying to silence the toddler’s cries. The Nahariya attack is considered the most brutal in Israel’s history. It is seared on the collective Israeli consciousness.

“I chose three comrades for the mission: Abdel Majed Aslan, Mhana Salim Al-Muayed, and Ahmed Al-Abras. I was the commander. We were given special training in weapons and in sea operations – swimming at night with full gear, navigating a rubber dinghy, and so on. The training was very extensive, because several previous attempts to infiltrate Israel by sea had failed.”

The mission: to kill civilians

“During our training, we recorded our wills. Everyone wrote his own will, and the political leader corrected the technical errors. I wrote, ‘To my comrades in the organization, to all my comrades in all the Palestinian organizations, today I sacrifice myself for Palestine…We are proponents of peace and this is the way to obtain the peace in which we believe. I do this in the name of the all the Palestinian mothers, for their happiness and their future. I do this for all the Palestinian fathers, and I hope that, with my acts, I will contribute to their future return to their birthplace, so that every Palestinian family will be permitted to raise its children in harmony. Peace to everyone.’

Two weeks before Kuntar and his comrades set out on their mission, Abu Abbas informed the cell leader that his destination was Nahariya. In a meeting that took place in the organization’s Beirut ‘war room,’ Abu Abbas showed Kuntar a map of the Israeli town and gave him a detailed operational briefing.

“Abu Abbas told us there was a 99 percent probability that we would not return. It was clear that we were going to kill civilians. We defined the operation as ‘Wounding Israelis.’ We said that every Israeli civilian is in fact a soldier.

I went back to my village to visit my parents for the last time. After dinner, I kissed my parents and my sisters and brothers goodbye, and I went to Beirut.”

Nahariya

“We called the mission ‘Al Nasser,’ for the former president of Egypt. This was after Sadat visited Israel. We set out on the rubber dinghy at 10 p.m. on April 21, 1979. The sea was stormy and it was cold. The journey to Nahariya took about four hours, because we traveled slowly to avoid making noise.”

Upon landing on the beach in Nahariya, Kuntar and his comrades followed the instructions they had been given in Beirut – which included finding a police officer and killing him. So they knocked on the door of a private house and called out in Arabic via the intercom, frightening the inhabitants into calling the police. They killed Officer Eliyahu Shachar in a hail of bullets – Kuntar boasts that he alone shot 30 bullets – and, just to make sure they had achieved their goal, they lobbed an RPG at the police vehicle.

The four terrorists continued to a nearby multi-story apartment building on Jabotinsky Street, about two blocks from the beach. They planned, said Kuntar, to abduct two or three people and take them back to Lebanon.

“We walked up some stairs and I kicked open the door of an apartment,” recounted Kuntar. I told Majed to take the right, while I took the left. Majed opened the bedroom door and someone inside – I guess he heard the noise – shot him twice in the forehead. He managed to say, ‘They shot me,’ before he fell.

I doubled back, entered the bedroom and saw the man who shot Majed. He was an older guy, with a long nose. I pulled the trigger on my pistol that was equipped with a silencer, but nothing happened. I tried again, but still nothing. I tried using my Kalashnikov, but it was jammed. That guy was lucky.

I yelled downstairs, ‘Someone get up here.’ Ali came up the stairs. I told him, ‘Toss a grenade in there, I’ve gotta fix my weapon.’ The explosion made everything go black. The guy in the bedroom disappeared. I was pretty sure he was dead, but I fired a few more shots just to make sure. Then we went downstairs. The stairwell was dark, but there was light under the door of one of the apartments. We broke in. That was the Haran family’s apartment.”

Murder. Why we did not commit suicide.

“Dan Haran was standing there, looking at us. The little girl was with him. When we arrived, he was sitting on the bed, as if he were waiting for someone. But as soon as we entered the bedroom, he stood up. He started talking to me in English. I didn’t understand much; just a few words. He was trying to explain that I should not hurt him. I told my comrade in Arabic, ‘Don’t shoot.’

I tried to calm him down with gestures. I said to him, ‘Come.’ He started speaking to me in a mixture of Hebrew and English. He held his daughter tightly. The little girl did not make a sound. She was wearing pyjamas. I tried to tell him to leave her there, but he did not understand. I tried telling him ‘Come.” But he did not want to come with me. I understood that he was trying to give the police time to arrive. He was afraid.

My comrade, Muhammad Ali, did not understand why we were waiting. I tried explaining to Haran again, using Arabic and hand gestures. He understood, but he was completely unwilling to come with me. I tried to separate him from the little girl. Then I heard shots outside. It was 2.45 a.m. I said, ‘He is delaying us.’

I grabbed him in a hurry, with the girl still in his arms. I said to him, ‘Yalla, imshi [‘Let’s go, move it’]. We left the building surrounding Haran, who was holding his daughter in his arms, and went down to the beach. Haran kept halting and talking, trying to delay us. But we had to get to the boat. They were waiting for us in Lebanon.

As we approached the rubber dinghy, we heard a lot of voices. Then shots were fired in our direction.

We approached the boat from the rocks, and Ali took Danny on board. That’s when they started to shoot at us really hard. I returned fire, but it wasn’t enough. Ali and Danny got off the boat. I ordered everyone to take a position on the rocks and return fire. Danny was behind us. His daughter was near him. Haran waved at the soldiers and called out to them in Hebrew. They alerted the area and continued to fire heavily. I ducked down to put a fresh magazine into my rifle. Haran waved again, while they were still firing, and he was wounded.

The little girl screamed. That was the first time we heard her. That’s it. I don’t remember anything else.

The battle continued until around 5.30 a.m. Ahmed was wounded in the forehead. Ali was killed. I took five bullets and lost a lot of blood. I was not focused.

Before the operation, I had instructed everyone to prepare explosive suicide belts. Ali prepared his belt and asked me, ‘So, should we blow ourselves up?’ I told him, ‘Not yet. Wait for the soldiers to get closer. I don’t want us to die alone.’ I knew that if Ahmed detonated his belt, we would all blow up. The soldiers got closer, but Ahmed didn’t detonate the belt. To this day, I do not know why.

What happened to the girl? During the interrogation they told me, ‘You must admit that you wounded the girl with your rifle.’ I told them, ‘Write whatever you want.’ I did not see anything and I did not hear anything. It was total chaos there. I was focused on the goal. I don’t mind admitting to things that I did. I don’t want to admit to things that I did not do.”

* * *

It should be emphasized that Samir Kuntar’s version of the events of April 22, which have been articulated here in his voice for the first time, is different from that of the security service personnel and Israeli civilians who were present.

According to the Israeli security services’ reconstruction of the incident, Officer Eliyahu Shachar was killed after he exited his vehicle and fired two warning shots into the air. Kuntar’s cell responded with a massive burst of shots. A teenager who was sitting in the car, together with two more police officers, was wounded in the leg and ran to hide behind some bushes. According to the eyewitnesses, the RPG was fired at a nearby wall – not at the police vehicle, which was damaged by flying shrapnel.

Also contradicting Kuntar’s testimony is that of Smadar Haran, Danny Haran’s widow, who hid with the couple’s 2 year-old daughter Yael in a tiny crawlspace above the bedroom. She has no recollection of hearing Kuntar trying to convince Danny to leave little Einat behind. “It was a terrible and chaotic night, but I find it very difficult to believe that any such conversation took place,” said Smadar.

Brigadier General (reserve army) Yossi Schur, a resident of Nahariya whose home was near the site of the attack, heard the shots and was one of the first to find the police officer, 24 year-old Eliyahu Shachar. After checking his pulse to confirm he was dead, Schur radioed for help and continued in the direction of the beach, where the firefight was ongoing. “…suddenly I heard the blood-chilling scream of a young girl. Just as I yelled, ‘Halt!’ Samir Kuntar stood up and began shooting at me from a distance of 5 meters. Three bullets hit me in the chest, and I fell. During his interrogation by the Shin Bet, Kuntar said that he twisted the little girl’s leg in order to make her scream, so that we would stop the assault. And we did, indeed, cease firing after she screamed. After I fell, the firefight continued.”

Samir Kuntar and Ahmed Al-Abras were wounded and captured at 5.30 a.m. Mhanna Salim Al-Muayed was killed during the exchange of fire.

During his trial Kuntar denied responsibility for the murder of the Haran family, despite the evidence of the pathologist, which proved that Einat Haran was killed by the force of a blunt instrument – most likely a rifle butt. The pathologist’s report also showed that Einat’s brain tissue was found on Kuntar’s rifle.

Torture and the wish to die, quickly

Samir Kuntar describes the physical torture he underwent during his interrogation. “On the second day of my interrogation, they started to talk about the girl. They asked how she was killed, who shot her.’ Only later did they start telling me that she had died from the blow of a rifle butt. I stuck with my story, but they insisted I had killed her. They took me outside and shackled me. Here, I still have the scars on my wrists. For five days they kept me shackled to an iron bar, with my arms up. I was in a standing position, so when I got tired or fainted all the pressure was on my wrists. Every so often, a soldier would beat me with a rubber hose. They practiced karate on my body. I was blindfolded and they would not allow me to sit or lie down. After they had finished beating me, they immediately returned me to the interrogation room.

My interrogator, Abu Zaken, kept insisting that I would write out a full confession. I hated him; he was a monster. He asked me where I had trained, for how long, and so on. But I did not tell. The little bit I did tell was just old wives’ tales. During those five days, I just wanted to die. I couldn’t take it anymore – the beatings, the humiliations, the curses. And the megaphones they put on my ears, with the noise of sirens at full volume. That made me faint.

I was kept in a tiny, windowless cell that was painted red. Bread, water and carrots were passed through a slit in the door three times a day. Sometimes a little cheese. I was kept in shackles and there was not enough room to lie down. Every few weeks a soldier would empty the slops bucket. After a while, the interrogations were less frequent.”

Five months later, Kuntar was transferred to a prison for political prisoners. His cellmate was Kozo Okomoto, the Japanese Red Army militant who perpetrated the Lod Airport Massacre in 1972.

The trial

In November the trial of Samir Kuntar began at the Haifa District Courts. It lasted for three months. “I thought it was a circus,” said Kuntar. “There were 52 witnesses. I testified for 90 minutes, in Arabic. The sentence was handed down on January 29, 1980. I got five life sentences plus 48 years inside. At the trial I heard for the first time the names of Eliyahu Shachar, Einat, Danny Haran and Smadar Haran, who survived.”

“Smadar took me on as her personal project. She just could not understand that it wasn’t personal. I didn’t come from Lebanon with a note that said, ‘Haran family.’ I came as part of a conflict in which I was convinced I had to participate. I did what I did for my people, for my country. I did not steal, I did not break into a car.

Even if I sit in jail for a hundred years, I will never change my opinions. This is what I believe. You are all banging your heads against the wall. You are playing a zero sum game, and both sides are losing. The solution is for the stronger side to compromise. You are the stronger side. You are the occupiers. If you don’t compromise, things will not work out. Those are my opinions. I, in my eyes, am a Palestinian. It is as if you were to ask an IDF soldier if he regretted having fired shots. You don’t ask soldiers that question.

You say I am a terrorist with ‘blood on his hands.’ That is a cynical phrase. You have blood on your hands, too. Every Israeli citizen who pays taxes to the state has blood on his hands. All of you.

People who commit acts of terror, like me, are not bloodthirsty. You cannot say that I woke up one morning, without knowing anything about the Palestinian nation, without having grown up in the conflict, and decided to commit an act of terror. No, of course not. It was a process, and it was connected with my political and ideological roots. It is also not a question of age, of how old I was. Young people are more motivated, it’s true. So age was a factor, but not a deciding one. I was not unusually attracted to Palestinians. I always believed, even when I was young, that we cannot enjoy our lives while letting the next generation be consumed by the conflict. I wanted to fight for the Palestinian nation. I believe that, by sacrificing my life for the people to whom I am connected, I committed a moral and humane act. I was not a mercenary soldier.”

Prison. Zionism in Hebrew

In prison, Kuntar taught himself Hebrew and went on to earn an undergraduate degree in the humanities from the Open University of Israel. “I took a course on the Holocaust. I received a mark of 90 percent for a course on strategies of the Second World War. I learned about Pearl Harbour and Operation Barbarossa. I started studying for my Master’s degree, but they would not allow me to complete it.

I read a lot. I hardly slept at night. I don’t like to sleep. I like to experience every minute of life, even in jail. I ordered books via the canteen. I made an effort to read every new book about the army, security, wars that happened here, Zionism. I am anti-Zionist, not anti-Jewish. I am against the politics of Zionism. I think the establishment of the State of Israel was a mistake, but I do not hate Jews. I sent some of my books to Lebanon, so I will have them at home when I return. You have to know the people you are fighting against. I listen to Israeli music, and I read Israeli novels, too.”

The deal. Nasrallah made it happen.

“I don’t know when I became a symbol. It was a process. I think it started with the hijacking of the Achille Lauro, in 1985. I was told the hijackers mentioned my name, and some of the prison guards told me I should be ready to be released. I stayed in jail, though. Over the years they released prisoners who committed much worse acts than I. They freed Al-Abras in the Jibril deal.

I became the longest-serving political prisoner in Israel. I became a spokesman and a representative of the political prisoners. I have participated in every single hunger strike and protest that took place over the last 28 years. Starting from 1984, I led the hunger strikes. Every single thing we were granted – a bed, clock, civilian clothes, television, radio – everything was the result of a strike. They gave us rights and then they took them away.

And then you made me into your bargaining chip. That was in 2004, when I was in Nafha Prison. There were hundreds of smuggled mobile phones at Nafha. I spoke with Kassam, Nasrallah’s deputy, around the time when Israel was planning to trade hundreds of prisoners for Elchanan Tennenbaum and the three [dead – LG] soldiers.

I had never heard of Hezbollah before I was captured. I learned about them in jail. Today I love Hassan Nasrallah very much. Very much. He always keeps his promises. If it weren’t for him they would never release me, and I would end my days in jail.”

Release from jail

“When the war began, I felt pride. Our people have finally begun to value human life, as you did once. I hoped the abducted soldiers were alive. I knew they were more valuable alive, and I wanted the price to be high. I heard the parents of the abducted soldiers speaking. Things like that lower the barriers. I knew that if they had released me in 2004, your soldiers would not have been abducted. There would not have been a war at all. You are responsible. You behaved with stupidity and arrogance. After the 2004 prisoner swap I told one of the guards at Nafha, ‘Listen, there is going to be a war over me. Remember that.’ I knew that there would be a deal and I would be released. That it was just a matter of time.”

“What am I going to do now, after my release? I really don’t know. I feel as if I am going to another world. I need to sit and digest my new situation. If I had been imprisoned at an older age, it wouldn’t be so difficult. But I came to jail as a teenager. This is the first time I will experience life on the outside as an adult. I need to learn how to drive, to go to the bank, to buy things at the shops. I have never held money in my hand.

The thing I need most now is privacy. In 2004, when I was supposed to be freed, I bought a house, 40 meters from the beach, in Beirut. The house is waiting. I want to be alone. I want to have my own key, so that I can come and go whenever I please, to drink coffee on the balcony, to smoke a cigarette, to go down and swim in the sea and go jet skiing.

Addendum to the Maariv article:

“My place will always be on the front lines”

by Arik Weiss

In interviews with the Israeli media, Samir Kuntar has presented himself as a moderate pragmatist. But his statements in other contexts have revealed a slightly different picture

In the few interviews that Samir Kuntar granted the Israeli media over the 29 years he was in jail, he presented himself as a moderate who no longer believed in terrorism against civilians. He even sent a letter of condolence to Shimon Peres after the assassination of Yitzhak Rabin in 1995. “With pain and with sorrow I have just received the shocking news of the murder of the leader of peace, Yitzhak Rabin. May his memory be blessed,” wrote Kuntar. “We have all lost a great leader, who planted in our hearts the value of loving humankind and who wished to stop the cycle of bloody violence.”

But in letters that were smuggled to the Arab press over the years, a slightly different picture emerges. In 2003 the Lebanese magazine Al Safir published an interview with Kuntar in which he said, “I am a guarantor for the release of the prisoners. I am a weapon in the hands of Hezbollah. Our release is not a preparation for the disarming of the Resistance, but rather proof that our method is the correct one. The weapons of the Intifada must remain in order to strengthen the standing of the Palestinians.”

Over recent years Bassam Kuntar, Samir’s younger brother, established a website calling for his release [samirkuntar.org, but it’s been disabled since his release. – LG]. The site was translated into Hebrew, English and Arabic, but the texts in the different languages do not match. According to one of the articles on the site, “On the day I left the beach of Tyre I was sad, but at the same time I was bursting with happiness because I knew that I was going to fulfill my obligation: to kill Jews. I no longer had any patience. I knew that I had to sacrifice myself.”

In a letter he sent to Hassan Nasrallah that was published on the website, Kuntar wrote, “I bless my brothers in the Hezbollah and call upon them to return to the battlefield against the Zionist occupiers. I strongly recommend the participation of more young men and women from all over Lebanon and the Arab world in the armed struggle.”

In another letter he sent to Nasrallah after the assassination of Imad Mugniyah, Kuntar promised that “[my] place has always been on the front lines of the battle…which is soaked with the blood of the dearest people. I will continue in my path until the final, complete victory.”

At an elaborate ceremony welcoming him back to Lebanon this past Wednesday, Kuntar, dressed in a Hezbollah army uniform, said, “I swear by Allah that I will continue in the path upon which I started.”

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25 responses to “Samir Kuntar in his own words

  1. “I knew that if they had released me in 2004, your soldiers would not have been abducted. There would not have been a war at all. You are responsible. ”

    And if your grandma had a penis, she’d be your grandpa. I suppose Israel is responsible for that too?

  2. Many thanks to Lisa for doing such a swift and apparently effortless translation against a tight deadline.

    And many thanks to Linda for making sure the piece was published, and for all her support. 🙂 Lisa

  3. Hmmm. I now understand why these crimes resonates so loudly in the Israeli subconscience, I was completely missing the whole holocaust connection…

    Don’t get me wrong, but it seems to me that the outrage regarding the hero’s welcome the man received in Lebanon is a little overdone. Not yours in particular, but it seems that everyone’s outrage is feeding into the others’ in a spiralling mass anger movement..

    I am not saying that you should not be outraged. quite on the contrary. I am, and I believe anyone in their right mind is and indeed must be.

    But criminals – especially criminals for a cause – have always received heroes welcomes. Human worms of the Kuntar type have always been put on a pedestal by someone. Hell, look no further than our pretty little region – criminals are made into government officials.

    The president and prime minister should’ve distanced themselves a bit though; but again, I think they were trying to keep Hezbollah from coopting all the media attention/glory for the release of Kuntar, so they believed they needed to be in the family photo as well.

    It’s just politics – in their most sickening version.

  4. FYI – I looked around after your article and found a cached version of the Kuntar website – http://web.archive.org/web/20070817040847/http://www.samirkuntar.org/

  5. Lisa,I don’t understand why Michel Suleiman/ Fuad Siniora and the rest of March 14 were kissing this child-murderer Samir Kuntar at Beirut airport?

  6. He does not deny that he came to Israel to kill civilians.

    Yet he denies killing any civilians.

    That disconnect in his account causes no problem to the Lebanese who welcomed him home. That is why it seems to me like they were celebrating the return to Lebanon of More War.

    Especially in the light of his comments after release ; – “This time yesterday I was in the hands of the enemy but at this moment, I am yearning more than before to confront them and I ask The-God to make it soon … believe me, anyone who thinks the return of the Shebaa Farms or the Lebanese Lands will end this conflict is delusional.”

    That is why civilised people are saddened and are not celebrating.

  7. I note that Kuntar was indoctrinated enough at the age of 13 to become capable at barely 17 of smashing the head of a four year old in after executing the child’s father before her eyes with interest as here in Canada, the cause celebre is Omar Khadr, a Guantanamo detainee charged with killing a US medic in Afghanistan when Khadr was 15. His lawyers are demanding his release on a number of grounds, one being that he was clearly a child soldier.

  8. We can only compare the Khadr story to this because of youth.

    I had never before heard Kuntar story, which from here sounds more like the horrific act of a psychopath rather than a politically motivated terrorist attack.

    Khadr (as loathsome as I find his family’s political convictions) was at least in a battle where guns were being fired around him.

    I need to go for a walk now to get this story out of my head. Why do we have children? It makes all news stories too painful to read.

  9. Thank you Lisa for taking the time to write/translate. Too sad and revolting….

  10. I’m not sure what is the value in presenting this propaganda piece. Obviously Kuntar is being dishonest and disseminating propaganda, so I’d rather focus on two subtler points introducing the interviews:

    “In our paranoid Middle East insane asylum, a lot of those people who greeted Kuntar with open arms didn’t believe he committed the crimes of which he was convicted in a court of law”

    How naive. He was greeted as a hero by Hezbollah supporters precisely because they view such atrocities as heroic. They don’t use the Nazi Salute for naught.

    The other factions, opposed to Hezbollah, were more or less forced to participate in the circus, as a show of Hezbollah’s increasing political power.

    “Kuntar fits no model of the impoverished refugee driven to despair by occupation.”

    This model is a terrible, yet widely believed, propaganda myth. Most terrorists come from the middle-upper classes, and are certainly not “driven to despair by their conditions”. This has been confirmed in numerous studies – I can cite some for readers incapable of finding the information themselves.
    (interestingly, two professions seem to star relatively frequently for the worst of them: doctors and engineers)

    These educated people see the long-term effectiveness of terrorism and how easily they can manage to pressure and manipulate European nations to sacrifice Israel.
    Another, smaller, group is the mentally ill or the recently socially disgraced who are the subject of opportunistic recruitment for suicide bombing.

    Daniel, you have utterly missed Linda Grant’s point: she is not propagating the “myth” of the ragged refugee camp terrorist, but rather using the example of Kuntar to show why it is inaccurate. And you are right that you don’t see the point of Chen Kotes-Bar’s piece; that much you demonstrate when you refer to it as “propaganda.” Lisa

  11. Lisa – with regards to Linda not propagating the myth (why place scare quotes around the word? It is indeed a myth) of the “ragged refugee camp terrorist”, here is the paragraph in question:

    “Kuntar fits no model of the impoverished refugee driven to despair by occupation. Nor can he be seen within the context of Iranian-backed Islamism. When he emerged from prison last week it was as a relic of a bygone age: of that era of self-appointed middle-class revolutionaries, like the Weather Underground and Baader-Meinhof Gang.”

    I read this clearly as saying that Kuntar is an unusual case for not fitting the model, as if it is extraordinary for a middle-class person to be a terrorist. Do you have a different interpretation?

    As for the second comment, I refer to Kuntar’s mendacious presentation as propaganda, and indeed, fail to see the point.
    I agree that presenting the viewpoints of one’s enemies is not propaganda, even if the text therein is. It is crucial for understanding one’s situation. But not if they’re being basically dishonest – what insight is there then to be gained?

  12. As the writer, I was referring to the received view of terrrorists in the Western media, not my personal view. It is undeniably the case that many believe this to be the model of the terrorist. That does not make it true. Whether it is true in very few cases or many is not part of my observation, nor am I qualified to make an assessment. But I was interested in Kuntar himself, rather making a case for the background of terrorists in general.

  13. Hi Linda. I appreciate your replying. To me the phrasing does make it appear as if you were promulgating that view, so I’m glad to hear that’s not the case.

    The reason why this issue is important is that it has obvious political implications. Here are a few links presenting publications which refute this persistent, pernicious myth:

    http://www.wilsoncenter.org/index.cfm?essay_id=369335&fuseaction=wq.essay

    http://money.cnn.com/2007/03/13/magazines/fortune/pluggedin_murphy_terror.fortune/index.htm

    http://usinfo.state.gov/journals/itps/0806/ijpe/sageman.htm

    http://www.businessweek.com/magazine/content/02_23/b3786027.htm

    http://www.saliltripathi.com/articles/povertyterrorismmyth.htm

  14. Pingback: Samir Kuntar - die Fakten - Chajms Sicht

  15. Thanks Lisa
    I still don’t understand why the Israelis released this criminal….
    So Israel is to be blamed first… I’m really sad about it.

  16. Daniel — you seem to set at making a point — which has never been under challenge in the first place, but you were keen — THREE times!! — to hammer it in, ultimately providing links to references that no one asked you to.

    Your insistence is clearly that of someone whose agenda is to scream wolf at any middle-class educated Arab. Demonisation at its best. That is simply despicable.

    You are right: the issue does indeed have obvious political implications. Which you are attempting to exploit in the ugliest of ways.

    In any event, everyone knows that besides poverty, multiple reasons make a terrorist – ethnic, religious, tribal conflicts are at least as important.
    The articles you cite themselves oft referenced studies which, if you bother to look at (e.g. Abadie (2004) or Krueger and Laitin (2003), are clearly more subtle than you seem to believe things are. And while a direct correlation between the participation in violent acts/terrorism may be weaker than we first thought it was, only the feeble-minded will discard the link as a ‘myth’. Indirect links, through education, political freedom and host of other variables factor in.

    That poverty is associated with terrorism is undeniable. It’s just a tad more complicated than you first thought – and way more important that you wish to deny.

  17. “demonization”… “despicable”… “ugliest”… “feeble-minded”

    Hysteria and inflationary language isn’t as impressive as you might think.

    The articles mention in particular these two studies, though I made sure that each reference also adds further content (including references to other studies). Your criticism and description of the content is unfounded. I was too cautious in my original objection, though – the myth isn’t merely incorrect, it’s upside-down. There is a link between poverty, education, social status and terrorism: the opposite of what most people suppose.

    All this is just to say that presenting Kuntar as being unusual, not fitting the profile, is wrong (the political implications of that – seems irrelevant in this context). Actually, I went to Norm’s blog with Linda’s article and I see that that paragraph is followed by another which explicitly addresses the issue, so I guess my post was in error in that sense.

    And Lisa: I suppose hearing the effort you put into translating the article is ‘pointless’ can be aggravating – should’ve been more careful with the phrasing.
    I still don’t see what we can learn from the interview, though (and generally, from interviewees who’re obfuscating the truth and misrepresenting their own views).
    The Guardian did not have the important addendum, so the readers are left with a distorted view.

    Daniel: Re. my translation for the Guardian – I work for money, not praise. It’s nice to receive both, of course, but the latter is not essential. I am not at all bothered by criticism from anonymous sources who have demonstrated their inability or unwillingness to understand the article’s content and / or purpose.. Lisa

  18. So you didn’t bother reading my whole piece, just an extract from it?

  19. Linda: I read Lisa’s post here, which omitted the relevant last paragraph, and posted my comment – which I believe is a reasonable course of action generally, but in this case did result in a misunderstanding of what you meant. Later I read the rest and I do retract my comment as far as it relates to your text.

  20. Just look at the man’s eyes and tell me it doesn’t resemble those of a maniac.

  21. You don’t like my choice of adjectives? That’s it?
    Either way – you obviously are one of those people who define truth as being ‘anything coming out of their mouth’…

  22. Lisa,
    That post is just great: factual and informative. Kudos to you and Linda.

  23. Mohamed said:
    Don’t get me wrong, but it seems to me that the outrage regarding the hero’s welcome the man received in Lebanon is a little overdone.

    Does it seem to you? In my book, it is a shame that there was no outrage in Lebanon.

  24. Thanks for the translation.

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