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Signs of life

I sat across a conference table at the Israeli consulate from KarnitGoldwasser, and she was livid

by Rob Eshman

September 14, 2006 | 8:00 pm

On Sept. 6, the day Israel announced it was lifting its air and sea blockade against Lebanon, I sat across a conference table at the Israeli consulate from Karnit Goldwasser, and she was livid.

"I know Resolution 1701 is starting to be implemented," she said. "That means the last Israeli soldier will leave Lebanon; Israel will stop the blockade; Israel will do whatever the implementation says for it to do."

Goldwasser's voice became a bit more strained, the voice of someone on the verge of screaming or tears. "But the preamble to 1701 says the captured soldiers should be sent back home. And no one is asking: What about them?"
 
Goldwasser was referring to the two Israeli soldiers captured by Hezbollah on a July 12 raid into Israeli territory. Those captured soldiers are Eldad Regev and Ehud Goldwasser, Karnit's husband. Since the afternoon of July 12, when an area commander came to visit her with the news, she has devoted herself to freeing the two, as well as Gilad Shalit, captured by Hamas in Gaza 17 days earlier.
 
She has traveled across Europe and America, met with heads of state and anybody else she thought could help and spoken out on behalf of the captured soldiers. She wants to make sure that they are not forgotten.

To even think that Israel would forget about the three seems ludicrous. After all, Shalit's capture in Gaza led to an ongoing series of Israeli reprisals. Israel caught and imprisoned a quarter of the Hamas-led Palestinian Cabinet in retaliation.

The capture of the soldiers in the north provoked Prime Minister Ehud Olmert to launch a second Lebanon War that led the Mideast to the brink of a regional conflagration. The two reasons for the war: to stop Hezbollah missiles from landing in northern Israel by disarming or removing the terrorist group within southern Lebanon and to force the return of Goldwasser and Regev.

But the international politicking and larger strategic aims of the war could easily overshadow the fate of three lone soldiers, Karnit knows. And as if she needed a reminder that captured Israelis can languish for years in enemy hands, Lebanese TV last week broadcast a video showing captured Israeli airman Ron Arad, taken prisoner by Hezbollah 21 years ago. Today, Arad's whereabouts are still a mystery.

So Karnit refuses to let the world -- including her own government -- forget. "One of the goals of the war was to bring him back," Karnit said, "which means the war hasn't ended. Not for me."

Karnit, 30, and Ehud, 31, grew up in the same northern Israeli town of Nahariya. They attended the same schools, though they didn't get to know each other until nine years ago, just prior to entering university. They have been together ever since. Their first wedding anniversary will take place Oct. 14.
 
Both are pursuing master's degrees in environmental engineering at the Technion. Karnit, who is on a full scholarship, is in her final year -- though she has put her studies on hold. Udi -- Ehud Goldwasser's nickname -- is midway through his course of study.

I asked Karnit to describe her husband's qualities. The hardness disappeared from her voice, and I noticed, suddenly, that she is a beautiful young woman, her brown hair pulled back to reveal strong but delicate features. Picture Justine Henin-Hardenne, the Belgian tennis champion, without the racquet but with just as much, if not more, resolve.

"His qualities?" she said. "How many hours do we have?"
 
She described her husband as a man who loves books, culture and movies, "but good movies," she said. Then she told a story.
 
Several years ago, Udi and Karnit were walking home with friends on Yom Kippur. A heated discussion raged over whether, in the future, they should leave Israel to live elsewhere. Everyone else agreed that they had to stay.
 
"We are educated; we serve in the army," Karnit said. "If we leave, who will stay?"
 
Udi said everyone should leave. Not for good but for a few years to experience and learn from what the world has to offer.
 
"I got so mad at him," Karnit said. "I said, 'Udi, why do you always have to go against the flow?' He said, 'Karnit, someone always has to offer the opposite point of view. Someone should always think differently. This is the way you have a deeper discussion.'"
 
I asked Karnit about her husband's politics. Right? Left?
 
"He didn't want to vote for either," she said, with a smile. "He voted for the Greens. He voted for nature."
 
At the time he was captured, Goldwasser was patrolling a section of road between two community centers near Moshav Zar'it in the Western Galilee.
 
Early on the morning of July 12, Hezbollah sent a barrage of rockets into northern towns as a diversion, then infiltrated across the international border and fired antitank rockets at Goldwasser's unit, killing three soldiers and abducting him and Regev.
 
A tank sent to retrieve the soldiers triggered a large explosive device, and four more soldiers were killed.
 
Karnit was visiting with friends when the regional commander arrived. It was Udi's last day of reserve duty, and she was planning for his arrival. "Usually they come to tell you when someone is dead," she recalled. "I was out of the room. I walked in and saw the look on my friend's face. I told her I will never forget that look."
 
The commander told Karnit that the army didn't know what happened to her husband. But of the seven dead soldiers, one was still unidentified. The army needed a DNA sample to help identify the last body.
 
Karnit drove with her mother and army personnel from the couple's apartment near the Technion back to her home in Nahariya. Ehud had been in the reserves for a month. In preparation for his expected return that day, Karnit had washed all their laundry and even cleaned his toothbrush. As she searched home for any genetic trace of Udi, she felt in her heart it was unnecessary. "I knew he was not dead," she said, " because he is my soul."

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