Tears In Israel

In an impressive military-state ceremony, the State of Israel last night welcomed home the bodies of Staff-Sergeant Benny Avraham, Staff-Sergeant Adi Avitan and Staff-Sergeant Omar Suaed.

, | updated: 1:19 PM

In an impressive military-state ceremony, the State of Israel last night welcomed home the bodies of Staff-Sergeant Benny Avraham, Staff-Sergeant Adi Avitan and Staff-Sergeant Omar Suaed.

Shortly after 7:00pm Thursday, three caskets draped in the national flag were brought into a hangar on a military base in Lod that had been converted into a hall for an official ceremony marking the end of a 1,207 day ordeal. In addition to the families of the fallen soldiers, among those in attendance were President Moshe Katzav, Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, Defense Minister Sha'ul Mofaz, IDF Chief of Staff Moshe Yaalon, IDF Chief Rabbi Brigadier-General Yisrael Weiss, intelligence chiefs, and other ministers and Knesset members.

President Katzav, Prime Minister Sharon, Defense Minister Mofaz and Chief of Staff Yaalon addressed the ceremony, with Chief Rabbi Brig.-Gen. Weiss read a quotation from the Bible in honor of the soldiers and their families.

During the ceremony, the fathers of the Jewish soldiers, Adi Avitan and Benny Avraham, recited the Kaddish prayer said in honor of the dead; and an imam recited Al-Fatcha, a Muslim prayer in honor of the dead, alongside the father of Omar Suaed.

Prime Minister Sharon, who called the decision to go ahead with the exchange with the Hizbullah that led to the return of the bodies "a Jewish decision", addressed the ceremony saying, "The reality of our lives sometimes forces us into a terrible mix of sadness with sadness. It appears that is the price a society that values life must pay."

"We are here with a heavy heart before these three caskets draped in the national flag. We considered with great seriousness all of the data, and we placed on the scale one decisive factor: Jewish sensitivity. We have paid a great debt today," Sharon continued, "a debt of honor due our soldiers, and due their tortured families."

Regarding the issue of the confrontation with the Hizbullah, the prime minister said, "The State of Israel will not allow the terrorist organizations to turn kidnapping into a system." He issued a warning to Lebanese terrorist elements that Israel has harsh tools at its disposal to combat kidnapping that it has not yet employed - but would, should it become necessary.

President Katzav addressed the families of the soldiers, saying, "For more than three years, you were suspended between heaven and earth, until it became clear that the void that had been made in your lives would never be filled."

"The conscience of the world was not bothered as for more than three years the terrorist organizations cruelly refused to provide the families with any sign [of their loved ones' fates]," the president said. "We will continue to fight, united in determination, because we know that we are fighting for righteous and elevated values."

DM Mofaz echoed the president, saying that the return of the bodies of Avitan, Avraham and Suaed was incomplete: "It is incomplete, because Ron Arad is not here. The commitment to the family of Ron Arad is as strong as ever. It is incomplete because the missing [soldiers] from [the battle of] Sultan Yaakub are not with us and there is no new information on their whereabouts. It is incomplete because in an Egyptian jail the Israeli citizen Azzam Azzam sits, innocent of any crime."

The family of Elchanan Tenenbaum was not able to attend the ceremony, as they were involved in greeting their father and husband for the first time in more than three years. According to the family members who later addressed the press, Tenenbaum burst out in tears. He was, they said, visibly shaking, but pleased to be home. Tenenbaum saw pictures of his first grandchild, born during his captivity, while on the plane from Germany, the family said, but they did not bring the child to him, fearing it would be too much for the first meeting.

When asked if he is concerned at facing the questions of Israeli investigators and military intelligence debriefings, Tenenbaum's daughter patiently explained that after three years in Hizbullah hands, he is happy to know that he is being questioned by Israelis. The family refused to discuss any information related to Tenenbaum's interview broadcast on Hizbullah television, during which he praised the "humanitarian nature" of the Hizbullah. Any extra comments, they said, could compromise their father's debriefing and the intelligence gathering efforts of the security services. However, Tenenbaum's daughter said, "You can imagine what the situation was like."