Child Killer or Brave Anti-Israel Fighter? Times Leaves It Open for Debate

Wednesday's front page prominently featured the saddening story of the Haran family of Nahariya, Israel, three of whom were killed in a brutal 1979 attack by Lebanese terrorist Samir Kuntar, a member of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine, an anti-Israel group.

Israel is allowing Kuntar to return to Lebanon (for a heroic welcome) in exchange for the remains of two Israeli army soldiers killed by Hezbollah. Craig Smith's sidebar articleon Kuntar, "Hero's Welcome Expected in Lebanon for Captive of Israel,"not only lacked outrage but took pains to describe the crime in a passive and indirect way, even relaying Kuntar's discredited protestations of innocence.

For starters, that headline gave no hint that this "Captive of Israel" is responsible for the death of five Israelis, including two young girls, aged 2 and 4. The text box also left openthe question of Kuntar's villainy: "A child's killer or a courageous fighter against Israel."

Perhaps Israel's most reviled prisoner, Samir Kuntar, will return to a hero's welcome when he crosses into Lebanon this week, 29 years after he left its shores in a rubber dinghy to kidnap Israelis from the coastal town of Nahariya.

That raid went horribly wrong, leaving five people dead, a community terrorized and a nation traumatized. Two Israeli children and their father were among those killed.

As if it merely kidnapping Israelis wouldn't have been "horribly wrong" in itself. How exactly could the raid have gone "right," in Smith's eyes? Smith also takes as fact Kuntar's courtroom account that he only wanted to kidnap Israelis, not kill them. Check the passivity of the phrasing as well; in Times-land, Israelis are not murdered by Palestinian terrorists, merely "left dead" or "among those killed" by killers who are never identified as terrorists or even anti-Israeli Muslims.

After noting that "much of Lebanon" thinks of him as a "courageous fighter," Smith not only gives Kuntar the benefit of the doubt that the terrorist didn't do exactly what he set out to do - murder a Jewish family - he even forwards Kuntar's protests of innocence, letting him cast doubt over his conviction of killing a 4-year-old by claiming she was actually killed by Israeli soldiers' gunfire.

Israeli news media soon carried graphic reports of Mr. Kuntar shooting the Israeli father, Daniel Haran, in front of his 4-year-old daughter and then smashing the child's skull against a rock with the butt of his rifle.

But at his 1980 trial, Mr. Kuntar said Mr. Haran had been killed by Israeli soldiers' bullets, according to the court transcripts published this week by the Israeli newspaper Yediot Aharonot.

He testified that he had been injured, and that he had passed out and had not seen what happened to the child, the transcripts say.

The transcripts also cite testimony by an unnamed witness who said he had seen Mr. Haran get up and shout, "Don't shoot, my daughter is here." The witness testified that he then saw Mr. Kuntar shoot Mr. Haran.

According to the transcripts, an unnamed doctor testified that Mr. Haran's daughter had died from "a blow from a blunt instrument, like a club or rifle butt."

The judges ruled that Mr. Kuntar had hit the Haran girl twice on the head with the butt of his gun and that an associate, Ahmad al Abrass, had hit her on the head, the blows killing her.

Whatever the truth, the kidnapping of a child clouds Mr. Kuntar's supposed heroism.

"Whatever the truth"? As if the terrorist Kuntar has any kind of credibility. One wonders in vain why the Times feels obliged to tread so carefully around the plain facts about a mass murderer.