On Wednesday, July 16, coffins containing the remains of Ehud Goldwasser and Eldad Regev – abducted by Hizbullah on July 12, 2006 – were returned to Israel.

 The return of Israel's abducted soldiers: Statements by Israeli leaders


IDF Chief of Staff Lt.-Gen. Gaby Ashkenazi salutes the coffins as family members mourn(Photo: IDF Spokesperson)

Shlomo Goldwasser, Ehud’s father: "If Nasrallah’s great achievement was to conceal the fate of our sons, then I pity him and the Lebanese people. If Hizbullah’s great achievement is the release of Kuntar, who is nothing but a repulsive murderer, then I pity them."

Excerpts from Prime Minister Ehud Olmert’s remarks at the start of the weekly Cabinet meeting, 20 July 2008:

"Last Thursday, 17 July 2008, the late Eldad Regev and Ehud Goldwasser were laid to rest. On behalf of the Government of Israel, I would like to offer condolences to the Regev and Goldwasser families over the loss of the two brave soldiers, who – praise God – received a Jewish burial last Thursday, here, at home.

As you all know, and we did not avoid telling the families themselves and even during the discussions we held on the matter, at a very early stage after the conclusion of fighting in the Second Lebanon War, we indeed assessed that this was the fate of the two soldiers, but it was our supreme moral obligation to do everything in order to act to bring them home and we had no way to act  except on the basis of the assumption that there was a good chance that they were alive because there was no unequivocal knowledge, decisive and absolute proof, that they were not alive. We thought that if we did not know for certain, our obligation was to act on the basis of the assumption that they were alive and to do everything in order to bring about their return home.

We had discussions here, and in other forums and I know that the issue was, naturally, the subject of public debate, and there are complex and difficult issues connected to such decisions regarding – in the end – the price that the country should pay in such circumstances as we are dealing with. I think, as I said at the Cabinet meeting that dealt with the issue, that there is a moment when all components and moral factors are considered, as well as the deep commitment that we have to the fate of the soldiers that we send to the battlefield, and our system of values, which is completely different from that of our enemies.

In the end, this system of values, which some might see as weak, is the basis of the moral strength and the deep internal solidarity of Israeli society and it is decisive, even if, sometimes, some might portray this as weakness. This weakness is the basis of the moral strength of the State of Israel. I am proud of it. I think that the entire nation is proud of it. Even in the deepest moments of sorrow that accompany the funerals of two brave soldiers in the State of Israel, we are entitled to be proud of the fact that we pay heavy prices so that every soldier in the State of Israel and every family in the State of Israel may know that our obligations will never stop, not just so we can have the moral force to give the order to go to battle but also in order to be capable of dealing with the need to bring our soldiers home even if this means to a military cemetery.

Last Wednesday night, after Defense Minister Ehud Barak, IDF Chief-of-Staff Lt.-Gen. Gaby Ashkenazi and I paid our respects to the soldiers and their families, I telephoned the Shalit family and promised, on behalf of all of us, that we would do everything in order to bring Gilad Shalit back home, alive, healthy and whole, with all possible speed. I do not need to tell you that it will not be simple, and it will not be easy. As we worked non-stop for two years in order to bring back Udi and Eldad, so we are working for Gilad Shalit. I believe that Gilad Shalit will return home healthy and whole. We will not rest, and we will not be silent, until we bring him back home."

Address to the Nation by President Shimon Peres:

"I am following the events on both sides.

Lebanon is celebrating ‘victory’. Heads of state and the leadership of Hizbullah are welcoming the return of Samir Kuntar, a murderer who smashed the skull of a four-year-old girl, Einat, with his bare hands and the butt of his rifle and then shot her father in cold blood and never expressed regret.

In Israel, a whole nation is in tears. A nation that becomes a family – Goldwasser and Regev.

Israel paid a high price to bring back two fallen soldiers, Udi and Eldad. We wanted these brothers-in-arms to rest at home, with us, embraced by an entire nation.

Ostensibly, the media shows where agony and happiness lie. Where does the moral call reside? With those who welcome a terrible murderer? With a nation lighting memorial candles for two of its bravest soldiers, who fell defending their home?

The answer is clear. Justice stands on the side of Israel. Justice is the true form of human triumph.

May murderers rejoice no more. May the spirit of defenders in a just war remain proud.

Lebanon will yet be ashamed; a shame, which will be necessary for it to exist properly. We will bow our heads in memory of the valiant who fell and we will maintain our uprightness in accordance with that of a nation which has morality as its guiding principle.”

Prime Minister Ehud Olmert:

"Today, the entire people of Israel embraces the Regev and Goldwasser families in their grief. The eyes brim with tears and the heart goes out to the family members who struggled without any signs and who never lost hope until the last minute.

This is a day for removing doubts; certainly regarding the fates of Udi and Eldad, may their memories be blessed, but also for the moral and ethical strength of the Israeli people.

By virtue of that strength, we decided to bring the boys home even at the heavy price of releasing a reprehensible murderer. A foreigner will not understand what every Israeli knows full well: Mutual responsibility, the concern for the fate of every one of our soldiers is the glue that joins us together as a society and enables us to survive surrounded by enemies and terrorist organizations. Happy is the people that has these values. Woe to the people that now celebrates the release of a human animal that smashed the skull of a four-year-old girl.

Today, my heart is with the Goldwasser and Regev families. May the boys’ memories be blessed."

Vice Prime Minister and Minister of Foreign Affairs Tzipi Livni:

"Today is a difficult day for all of us. It is a difficult day for the families of Eldad and Udi, who returned home today, families which the Ministry of Foreign Affairs accompanied in every place in the world – we hoped, for them and for us, we got angry and we persuaded.

Today, the day on which we wanted to rejoice with the families, has turned into a day of pain.

But the Israeli people – the people that feels the lack of every soldier who doesn’t come back to it – this people, I hope, feels more complete, more at peace because the doubt has been removed; more at peace with the value system that defines us as a society; more at peace knowing that we are different from other peoples.

This knowledge is the strength of Israeli society and it is not dependent on what the other side says; it depends on us alone.

It doesn’t depend on how they are celebrating over there the return of a man whom they call a "hero" because he smashed the skull of a little girl. To me, whatever is said or thought by people whose heroes are skull smashers, who hunt women and children in order to kill them, has no relevance. What is important is our values.

In our eyes, a hero is someone who fights to protect civilians, who fights for existence. Our heroes go to battle equipped, in addition to their weapons, with the willingness to sacrifice, in the reassuring knowledge that they are protecting human beings who share their values and who are also prepared to pay a price in order to realize them.

Today, let there be no mistake – just as Israel is prepared to pay a price for its values, Israel will demand a price, and a high price at that, from its enemies, whenever necessary, in order to protect itself."

Minister of Defense Ehud Barak:

I would like to address the Regev and Goldwasser families – Miki and Shlomo, Zvi, Karnit, Benny, Ofer, Eyal, Yair and Gadi – so dear to us, who are at home immersed in their grief over the deaths of their loved ones.

For you, today marks the end of an agonizing journey of uncertainty. Two years of anxiety and distress, of sleepless nights filled with bad dreams and days in which you got up in the morning and marshaled all your inner strengths in order to fight for the return of your children – those nights and days are over now.

Two years ago, on 12 July 2006, your world was shaken to its foundations and it will never be the same again. An entire nation was with you every moment, sharing your pain, praying with you, in awe of your grace under pressure.

Today this ordeal is over, not the way you prayed for, not the way we all prayed for. As long as the painful certainty was not established fact, the doubts refused to subside; as long as there was a glimmer of hope, the spirit refused to give in.

This journey is over. The uncertainty has turned to mourning, and a new journey is starting that has no end, a journey of grief and longing. The measure of kindness granted to you today – the privilege of mourning for your children – is small comfort.

As deeply as we identify with you, your pain will always be a private, personal thing. We do not pretend to feel its depth. However, at this moment, each one of us is connected to this private pain, the dear faces of Eldad and Udi follow us, many of us are thinking of our own children, and the private pain becomes a collective grief that reminds us of the simple truths of our life here, which sometimes, unfortunately, we tend to forget.

One of these truths is that we are a nation that lives by the sword, although not by choice, constantly clarifying the moral and historical justification for our existence here, with the certain knowledge that the Jewish people has no other country and no other state – a lesson we have learned from ancient and recent history.

We are forced to live by the sword, but we do so while constantly striving for the day in which our swords will be beaten into plow shears and we will live a normal life of work and creativity.

Another truth concerns the strong, inviolable contract between the Israel Defense Forces and Israeli society – the parents, the soldiers.

The Israeli leadership is responsible for actualizing this contract through its decision-making, even when the decisions are difficult and painful, ridden with internal contradictions and exacting a heavy price. I was a combat soldier for decades, I commanded many dangerous missions. As a soldier, as a commander, and as the Minister of Defense, I can state that the IDF will always work to bring its sons home – alive, wounded, or dead. That is the meaning of the contract between the IDF and its soldiers, and Israeli society. This has always been, and will always be, our way – deep, total commitment to return our boys. A soldier is forever a soldier, and we will not stray from this basic value of the IDF and of Israeli society.

We are facing a bitter, despicable and cynical enemy, an enemy who sees human life as a commodity. Against this moral depravity is pitted our view of human life as a supreme value and our deep sorrow over every loss; this is the source of our strength and our vitality.

We have had our fill of war. In the two years that have passed since the last war, much has been said about the lessons that the political leadership should learn. But not enough has been said about the bravery of the young soldiers in that war. About their determination, their dedication; that they didn’t hesitate to risk their lives and, sometimes, to sacrifice them. They understood the meaning of the words friendship, responsibility, willingness to sacrifice, and bravery.

It is that same solidarity, that same mutual responsibility which is the soul of the State of Israel that the regular and reserve soldiers understood so well in that war. In the name of that same solidarity, that contract, we bow our heads and bid farewell to Ehud and Eldad.

We have not forgotten our commitment to Ron Arad and his noble family, or our commitment to the MIAs of Sultan Yaakub – Zachary Baumel, Yehuda Katz and Zvi Feldman – and the missing soldiers Guy Hever and Majdi Halabi.

And to Aviva and Noam Schalit, I tell you that the State of Israel will do everything – everything that is possible and appropriate – in order to bring Gilad home, safe and sound, to you, his mother and father.