A Mother's Anguish Renewed

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Twenty seven years ago, Smadar Haran suffocated her two-year-old daughter. She was trying to quiet the whimpering child as the two of them hid in the family's attic while PLO terrorists searched for them in their apartment in the coastal Israeli town of Nahariya. The terrorists didn't find them but took Smadar's husband and their four-year-old daughter hostage. When the cell, retreating as security forces pursued them, found the rubber boat they'd arrived in disabled by gunfire, one of the members shot Smadar's husband Danny in the back and drowned him in the sea to ensure he was dead. Next, he smashed little Einat's head on beach rocks and crushed her skull with the butt of his rifle.

It is this man, Samir Kuntar, the sole surviving member of the cell, that Hizballah leader Hasan Nasrallah promised to liberate this year from an Israeli prison by kidnapping Israeli soldiers to hold as a bargaining chip, an act Hizballah pulled off two weeks ago, precipitating the current fighting across the Israel-Lebanon border. Smadar Haran, meanwhile, has found herself again directly affected by the conflict, albeit in a much milder way. Nahariya is just five miles from the border with Lebanon and was the target of many of the rockets Hizballah has fired into Israeli towns since Israel launched its bombardment of Lebanon to retaliate for the seizure of two of its soldiers. After enduring a few days living in the windowless, reinforced room in their house — a requirement for any new residence in Israel — Haran and her second family (she's remarried and has two daughters, now 18 and 25) relocated to the home of relatives in Herzliyya, a tony town near Tel Aviv.

Haran supports the government's offensive. She thinks it's necessary to show Hizballah that Israel is strong in order to deter further aggression from the group. As to whether Israel should consider exchanging Kuntar for the kidnapped Israeli soldiers, Haran says she won't share her views with anyone but her closest friends. She adds, " I'm not going to be part of Nasrallah's game. He would like to see us turn family against family, pain against pain. But I won't comment on what the government should do. It's a national question. I'm just a civilian."

Hara, 54, longs to return to her seaside home in Nahariya. Meanwhile, she tries to enjoy the Herzliyya beach and the mall nearby. But when she came across customers haggling over jewelry the other day, she couldn't stomach it. "Imagine, thinking about buying jewelry with everything that's going on. I don't want things to be normal." A visitor reminds her that she has just spoken of how much she longs for normalcy, for herself, for the state of Israel. "Thank you for reminding me," she says, and smiles.

Haran is a kind of local hero of normalcy. Hers was an unbearable story, but she bore it. She never sought media attention, but she didn't scurry from it either. Today, she relates the events of April, 22, 1979, with a strong voice, in a beat as steady as a metronome. She skirts over the details only when describing how two-year-old Yael died. She says there was never any question that she'd start a new family. "I knew nobody could call me Mom anymore, but I was still Mom in my heart," she says. "I felt someone should get the tenderness I had to give."

She never embraced the idea of avenging her loss. " I don't believe in feeling happy when innocent Arabs are being killed. And I don't understand people who support suicide bombers because they say they are avenging their brother's death, or something. From my situation, I know there are other possibilities: to rebuild life, to understand that life is sacred, that each one of us, Jews and Arabs, should try to find a way to have a good life." After her family was murdered, Haran, who had been an art teacher, pursued a master's degree in social work and is now a psychotherapist working in a clinic with Jewish and Arab children with special needs.

She came out publicly in support of the 1993 Oslo peace accord between Israel and Yasser Arafat's PLO, though Samir Kuntar's cell was part of the organization. "I really believed the Palestinians were ready to live in peace with us,"she says. Israeli prime minister Yitzhak Rabin invited her to attend the Washington signing ceremony with him, but at the last minute she pulled out, unable to face the idea of meeting Arafat. After seeing Rabin off at the airport, she returned to Nahariya and placed olive branches on the graves of her daughters and husband. Rabin, in his memoirs, said that as he stood in the Rose Garden during the signing ceremony, he was thinking of her.

Today, Haran thinks she was nave about Oslo and the Palestinians' intentions. "It's an ongoing war and this was just an intermission," she says. It was the outbreak of the second intifadeh in the fall of 2000 that changed her mind, in particular the images that October of ecstatic Palestinians, many with bloody hands, celebrating the lynching of an Israeli soldier. "I thought my daughters were going to live in peace," she says. "I don't think so anymore. Maybe the next generation."