Human Spirit: Sisera's Mother
October 21, 2011
Sofer , THE JERUSALEM POST
How does a mother react when children she has burped and diapered, at
whose funny faces she has smiled, whose tears she has wiped, turn out
to be mass murderers?
I saw her on TV – a brief interview amid the flood of
reactions to the deal for Gilad Schalit.
An older woman draped in a head-and-shoulder scarf, she was shouting a
protest. Not for the expected reasons. Her son was not included among
the 1,000 evil men and 27 evil women traded for our kidnapped Israeli
She is the mother of Hassan Salameh, convicted of initiating twin simultaneous
attacks in an Ashkelon bus station, and two attacks – one week apart –
on Jerusalem bus No. 18. Salameh is serving 38 life sentences. His mother
had been on TV the day of the announcement of a deal, already celebrating
the anticipated return of her son, incarcerated in 1996.
When I saw her I thought of a recent conversation with my son-in-law’s
grandmother from Libya. Whoever was left of her decimated family after
the grassroots pogroms in which 25 family members were murdered made aliya
in the 1950s, she told me. The pogrom preceded Muammar Gaddafi’s rule.
Indeed, she knew Gaddafi’s mother, a reputed convert to Islam.
Imagine being the mother of Salameh or
Gaddafi, or the latest poster-woman for motherhood for the Palestinian
people – Latifa Abu Hmeid.
According to Al-Ayyam’s on-line newspaper edition, last month,
the “Palestine – the 194th State” National Campaign was inaugurated with
a procession from the Ramallah Cultural Auditorium to the UN office in
Ramallah. Abu Hmeid personally handed over the letter addressed to UN
Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon’s representative. She had been elected because
she was the mother of lifers Muhammad, Nasr, Nasser and Sharif – 18 lifetimes
total – as well as sons Basel, Islam and Jihad.
How does a mother react when the children she has burped and diapered,
at whose funny faces she has smiled and whose tears she has wiped, turn
out to be mass murderers? You have to wonder if there’s no shame hidden
somewhere for the callous destruction of life. How different it would
be if these limelight mothers made even a token statement of regret. “I
love my son Hassan and miss him, but I deplore the deaths of 45 men, women
and children riding to work and school on the Jerusalem buses.”
SEVERAL YEARS ago, when a different prisoner exchange seemed likely, I
made what might seem like an odd request to the Prisons Service to interview
Hassan Salameh. I was turned down. I have subsequently requested this
of higher-ups in government and security, but no one has come through.
Salameh was not on the buses he decided to blow up. He was apprehended,
wounded in the firefight. My friend Hadassah surgeon Prof. Avi Rivkind
was called out of bed on a Friday night to operate on him.
Rivkind, the son of Holocaust survivors, has often spoken of it. On CBS’s
60 Minutes he told Bob Simon, “I want to prove [to] him that when you
come to an Israeli Jewish doctor, you receive the best treatment in the
world. To show them we are human beings.”
It’s a message he says he hopes Salameh’s followers have digested: “They
know that Hassan Salameh the hero, severely wounded by Israeli soldiers
during his capture, was saved by an Israeli doctor.”
The surgeon who has treated so many terror victims can’t be accused of
being naïve. What he, and I, would have been hoping to hear was the
tiniest expression of gratitude for Salameh’s being saved, and regret
for the heinous crimes he has confessed. Maybe just a hint of awareness
of evildoing, a bit of soul-searching. Even for all of us who prayed daily
for Schalit’s return, the price of freeing the prisoners is loathsome.
Even a moderate dose of remorse would go a long way toward helping us
live with this.
IT CERTAINLY hasn’t come from the women prisoners, who were notoriously
unrepentant during their stay in Neveh Tirza. The wholesale freeing of
the women – no matter how heavy their crimes – is the most galling. I
can’t understand how it is justified in a country that has passed anti-gender-discrimination
Years ago, during a breakfast meeting with lawyer Alan Dershowitz, someone
used the term “women and children.” He stopped them.
“Why would you group those two together?” he asked. “Women are adults
who can make life choices. Children are not.”
I hope we are not being sensitive to the needs of the young terrorists
to become mothers.
Ahlam Tamimi, 31, a student and newscaster from Ramallah, planned the
terror attack at the family pizzeria named Sbarro. She accompanied the
terrorists to Jerusalem, then went back to report on it. Fifteen persons
were murdered, 130 grievously wounded. Interviewed in prison, she made
clear that she didn’t regret her deeds, including the slaughter of eight
children. No wincing. Just a smile.
What a mom she will make.
WE BEGAN the holiday season, which ended this week, with the blowing of
100 shofar blasts on each day of Rosh Hashana. Jewish tradition links
those with the cries of the mother of Sisera, the Canaanite general who
afflicted the Jewish people for two decades. In the Book of Judges – and
rather sympathetically in the modern musical rendition Judge, presented
by women of Gush Etzion – Sisera’s mother waits at the window for her
son, who has not returned from battle. According to tradition, she sobs
Why her tears should be the model for the shofar sounds has long been
a subject of speculation.
She is the nurturer of Sisera’s wicked ways. Biblical commentators have
focused on her gazing out the window. Does she get a glimpse of the future?
According to one talmudic reference, she sees that her offspring will
change their ways and become teachers of Torah. One tradition even links
them to the line from which the great Rabbi Akiva arose. If the family
of Sisera can change, some argue, there is the possibility for anyone.
Hence, her story suits the holiday theme of repentance.
Rabbi Eliyahu Kitov, in The Book of our Heritage, has a different explanation.
“When a mother laments over her son’s anguish, she experiences compassion
for other mothers who likewise weep over their children’s death,” he writes.
“Sisera’s mother, however, is different. She seeks consolation in a strange
hope: ‘Are they not finding, are they not dividing the spoil? A maiden,
two maidens to each man.’ Her son Sisera is presently inflicting death
agonies upon Jewish captives and shattering the limbs of their infants.
Such thoughts seem to assuage her grief. Can there be greater cruelty?
Let the one hundred shofar sounds of compassion nullify every one of those
outcries of brutality, except one. For even the most brutal of mothers
is not devoid of mother’s compassion. This one lament of compassion the
shofar does not seek to nullify.”
Where is the compassion for the dead? Is there one in the 1,000?