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In Israel, a nation mourns with the families of slain soldiers

Two soldiers whose remains were part of a prisoner swap with Hezbollah were eulogized Thursday amid ongoing unease over the exchange and questions about balancing family interests with those of the state.

By Ilene R. PrusherStaff writer of The Christian Science Monitor / July 18, 2008

Kamit Goldwasser: The widow of soldier Ehud Goldwasser launched an international campaign to keep his capture from fading from the headlines.

Ronen Zvulun/Reuters


Nahariya, Israel

For Israelis, their Second Lebanon War, fought in summer 2006, came to a close only on Thursday, when the two soldiers whose capture became the cause for launching the conflict were laid to rest before their families and the eyes of a solemn nation.

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But even in their return – which transpired a day earlier as part of a swap with Hezbollah, who traded the men's bodies for the remains of some 200 Lebanese plus five Lebanese prisoners – there is still unease about the lopsided trade-off and questions about balancing the interests of affected families against those of the state.

Under a sweltering July sky at the Nahariya military cemetery, which overlooks the same Mediterranean that hugs the Beirut coastline where Hezbollah continued victory celebrations Thursday, many family members and friends who eulogized "Udi" – Ehud Goldwasser – seemed to want to shift the sentiment that Israel had somehow lost to Hezbollah.

"I stand at attention before you with my eyes lifted toward my people with the request: Stand tall, lift your heads in national pride," mother Miki Goldwasser said at her son's graveside.

"They say because of you, a war broke out. I hope we can see this war as a victory. Through this, we have discovered that we are a strong people. We have discovered bereaved families with an undefeatable, powerful spirit. We have discovered kindness."

The most powerful words to the gathering of a few thousand came from widow Karnit Goldwasser, who has been the spokeswoman of an international campaign to release her husband and Eldad Regev, then believed to be alive.

"They say time heals all wounds," she said. "But is this really so? Two years have passed since that debilitating moment that cut through our life's thread, the moment in which the worst scenario became a threatening reality that forced us to dive into a dark and convoluted world. I believed and hoped that the moment would come where I would wake up and say it was all just a bad dream."

But Israelis have been waking up to find that many of their goals have gone unrealized. The prisoner exchange has Israel feeling like it was "played." Some wondered why Israel agreed to the swap, if Hezbollah wasn't straight with Israel about whether the two were alive and whether they had information about Ron Arad, who was captured in Lebanon in 1986 and is considered missing in action.

Groundswell of public pressure

Part of the answer, analysts say, is that the families succeeded in creating a groundswell of public pressure to bring their sons home, dead or alive, even at the cost of releasing Lebanon's Samir Kuntar, convicted of killing four Israelis in a 1979 raid here.

"What we witnessed in the last two years and more is that the families of those soldiers and the involvement of the Israeli media and public opinion is very strong in affecting the decisionmakers," says Yitzhak Reiter, a professor of political science and Middle Eastern Studies at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem.