For almost 30 years the Samir Kuntar file has sat in the district courthouse archives in Haifa. Its contents were never authorized for publication. Until yesterday. Right before his expected release in two days' time, the court acceded to Yediot Aharonot's request and allowed Kuntar's testimony, copies of the copious evidence and other testimonies in the file, the indictment and the judges' verdict, to be perused...
Besides the Pardons Department, no one has ever read the file - which was considered top secret by court administrators. On the few occasions that it was removed from the archives, it was accompanied by an armed security officer. Being a classified security file, the contents of File No. 578/79 had never been released for publication. Due to the obvious public interest, Justice Ron Shapira has permitted publication of everything in the file except one person's testimony. The judge also asked not to publish the pathological reports or any other detail that could harm the memory of the victims.
"I saw no reason to restrict access to the indictment and the sentence [as demanded by the prosecutors' office - N.G.]," explained the judge. "No one disputes that the matter of Kuntar's release and therefore the circumstances of his detention are subjects of public interest. I'm certain that the newspaper's request is justified."
Kuntar, a Lebanese Druze, was 17 when he commanded the terrorist cell of the Popular Front for the National Liberation of Palestine. He has never expressed remorse for killing Einat (age 4) and Danny (age 32) Haran and the police officer Eliyahu Shahar (age 24). He and the other surviving cell member, Ahmed Assad Abras, were sentenced to five life terms and another 47 years of imprisonment. In the Nahariya terror attack on April 22, 1979, Yael Haran (age 2) was also killed while hiding from the terrorists with her mother Smadar Haran.
"I Did Not Kill"
Kuntar was supposed to rot in jail until his dying day, but barring further delays in the deal with Hizbullah, on Wednesday morning he will say goodbye to his cellmates in Cell 33, Wing 3, in Hadarim Prison, be transported to the Rosh Hanikra border crossing, and celebrate his 46th birthday at home in the village of Aabey near the Beirut airport.
On the night of April 22, 1979, Kuntar and his accomplices sailed from Lebanon in a rubber dinghy and landed on the Nahariya beach. They shot at a police car, killing officer Eliyahu Shahar. Moving on, they broke into the nearby Haran family apartment at 61 Jabotinsky Street, and dragged Danny and four-year-old Einat to the beach. Smadar and two-year-old Yael hid in the attic, where Yael suffocated to death as her mother tried to keep her quiet - so the terrorists would not find them.
Rubber dinghy used by Kuntar and his accomplices
(Photo courtesy Doron Golan)
On the beach, during an exchange of fire with security forces, Kuntar shot Danny in the back at close range and murdered Einat as well. Two of his fellow terror cell members were killed; Kuntar and Abras survived and were put on trial.
Immediately following his capture, when his remand was extended, Kuntar confessed that he had bludgeoned Einat to death with the butt of his rifle. Later, however, when testifying in court, Kuntar denied the charges. "I reached Nahariya beach at 2:30 in the morning," he testified on January 6, 1980. "We tied our boat to a rock. We had instructions to avoid opening fire, to take hostages and bring them to Lebanon. I was commander of the cell. I planned to knock on the door at one of the houses. Majeed and I walked towards the building. I told him to ring the bell but not to speak, because I planned to speak English with the people living there. When we went in, Majeed buzzed one of the apartments, and Majeed spoke to the woman in Arabic and she answered him in Hebrew. He made a mistake and she didn't open the door.
Evidence from the pathologist's report showing Einat Haran's brain tissue
on the butt of Kuntar's rifle - Click to enlarge
(Photo courtesy Doron Golan)
"I then heard the sound of a car driving up and stopping... I opened fire, then we went up to one of the apartments, where we pulled out a man and a girl so we could take them with us. I decided we should take the girl with us to ensure we'd stay alive, and then return her from Lebanon to Israel via the Red Cross.
"While we were with them, shots were fired at us... I shot some rounds at those people with my Kalashnikov rifle and hit one of them; he went down. When I saw the boat had been hit... we tried to retreat by land and escape the gunfire coming our way... Tthe army began an assault on us... I wanted to find a way to tell them to stop shooting at us, because our whole objective was to take hostages to Lebanon. But I didn't have a megaphone... I was hit by five bullets. Then [Danny] Haran got to his feet and signaled to the army forces with his hand to stop them from firing. He was hit by the bullets being shot at him by the soldiers. The five bullets that hit me struck sensitive places, so I lost a lot of blood and passed out. I didn't know what else was happening with me until I woke up in the morning and found myself in the military's hands. I didn't hurt the girl at all and I didn't see how she met her death."
However, in court, prosecution witness no. 4 testified that he saw Danny Haran stand up and shout, "Cease your fire, don't shoot. My little girl is here." Immediately thereafter he saw Danny shot by Kuntar. Testimony was also given in court by a doctor who ruled that Einat's death had been caused by a direct blow with a blunt instrument, something like a stick or a rifle butt.
Danny, Einat and Yael Haran - among Samir Kuntar's victims
(Photo courtesy Doron Golan)
The court sessions were unbearable for Smadar Haran. In one of them, Kuntar's defense attorney claimed that he had been beaten in the detention center. Smadar, who could not stand it any longer, muttered something at the murderers - causing the head judge to demand that she apologize. Smadar elected to exit the courtroom quietly, but refused to give an apology.
Slain officer Eliyahu Shahar's mother did not attend the reading of the sentence in January 1980. Her heart had given out four days earlier. All those present in the courtroom, accustomed to seeing her there every session, felt her absence. Smadar Haran sat with her head downcast, bowed over in pain. Kuntar, according to the report in Yediot Aharonot at the time, actually looked amused.
"Kuntar went over to Einat Haran and hit her head twice with the butt of his rifle, with the intent of killing her," wrote the judges in their verdict. "The other defendant also struck her head forcefully. As a result of the blows, Einat suffered skull fractures and fatal brain damage, causing her death. They murdered the hostages - a helpless father and daughter, in cold blood." They wrote in the sentence, "By these acts the defendants reached an all-time moral low... an unparalleled satanic act... the punishments we are about to impose on the defendants cannot begin to match the brutality of their actions..."
Kuntar, who managed to complete a bachelor's degree in social studies and humanities while in Israeli prison, was categorized by the Israeli government as a bargaining chip in the Ron Arad affair. That was four years ago, during the deal to return Elhanan Tannenbaum and the bodies of three IDF soldiers who had been kidnapped from Mt. Dov in 2000. Israel agreed to release Kuntar only in exchange for information on Ron. No information was received, and Kuntar remained in jail.
Two weeks ago, Smadar Haran held a press conference, and made it clear that she is reconciled to the deal being made with Hezbullah. Eldad Regev and Ehud Goldwasser will be returned to Israel in exchange for Kuntar's release. "Kuntar is not my personal prisoner," she explained. In two days, apparently, her family's murderer will be liberated, and Israel still will not have any reliable information on the fate of the captured navigator.
Lior El-Hai and Meir Turgeman contributed to this report.