It was a real privilege to hear former hostage Terry Waite speak last night at the LJCC. In conversation with Rabbi Jonathan Wittenberg he also read some of his poetry, admitting that it was the first time they had been heard in public. Largely about his time in captivity – most of which was spent in solitary – his poems managed to be remarkably vivid, yet disturbing.
Considering the immense volume of column inches devoted to Homeland, the US thriller/drama series which began just over a month ago on Channel 4 about a former captive soldier who returns home after being held hostage for 8 years in Iraq, the evening felt rather timely. From May, Hatufim (meaning Abducted in Hebrew, re-titled as Prisoners of War) an Israeli TV series, which is actually the inspiration behind Homeland, will be aired on Sky Arts 1. There are obvious parallels between the two series, such as the soldiers’ battle with psychological trauma. However in Hatufim, the early emphasis is strongly on the domestic: how the two former captives reintegrate into family life, as well as within Israeli society. According to series creator, Gideon Raff, ‘everybody thinks that [the homecoming] is the happy ending. In fact, that’s the beginning of their journey.’
This resonated with what Terry Waite said in response to a question about his return. He was acutely aware that both he and his family needed time to adapt; he had been away, held captive for 5 years in Lebanon. Waite found work in Cambridge which meant that he lived away from the family Mon-Fris, only returning home at the weekends. He explained that friends and family had initially commented on the decision, thinking that the marriage would dissolve. But it saved it. He needed the solitude and time to process his experiences and his family needed the opportunity to adapt slowly to his return.
There are times in Hatufim, when reality merges with fiction, for which Raff has been criticised. I wanted to ask Terry Waite what he felt about the popularity of such programmes. Does he feel they sensationalise the experience of captivity or can they be used as a means to educate, to make people aware of the consequences of hostage taking; the psychological, emotional and physical damage, both for captives and captees. Unfortunately time ran out.
I also wondered what his response was when he saw the image of former hostage Gilad Shalit flashed around the world. Does the trauma revisit? Even after 20 years? Perhaps the answer will lie in Waite’s soon-to-be-published poetry. Until then I can only surmise.