Saturday 15 August 2009

Why So Little About Guy?

Zach Baumel - Zvi Feldman - Yehuda Katz - Ron Arad

Guy Hever - Majdy Halabi - Gilad Shalit

Israeli soldiers who go missing in action usually generate a great deal of media coverage and attention from the Israeli public. Examples of this include the cases of missing flight navigator Ron Arad, Gilad Shalit currently being held in Gaza by Hamas as well as Eldad Regev and Ehud Goldwasser whose bodies were returned to Israel by Hezbollah last summer after they were taken immediately prior to the second Lebanon War.

The names of Zachary Baumel, Zvi Feldman and Yehuda Katz are slightly less well-known. These are three soldiers missing since June 1982. They went missing in the battle of Sultan Yakoub in the first Lebanon War. In the course of that battle, 21 Israelis were killed with many more injured. In addition, the above 3 soldiers went missing without trace. It is claimed that the three soldiers and their tank were paraded in Damascus, alive and well, on the day of their capture. So what happened after that? And why have we not seen the same intensive efforts to find out what happened to them despite the best efforts of their parents?

Another case is the one of Guy Hever. Guy went missing in August 1997 after he was reported to have left his base in the Golan Heights on his way home, carrying only his military weapon and his house key. It is claimed that he was seen a short time later waiting at the Katzabiya junction for a lift to the central part of the country, and home. This was the last sighting of Guy Hever to date. The junction at which he was last seen is only 1 km from the Syrian border. Prior to his disappearance, Guy was sentenced to a period in military confinement for falling asleep during his guard duty. This led military officials to claim that he may have deserted his post or even that he may have committed suicide following his punishment. They also claimed that he may have fallen and been killed on his way home. Extensive searches for Guy yielded no clues as to his whereabouts.

It took 3 years of huge efforts on the part of Guy's family to convince the IDF to declare Guy missing in action, and then to seriously explore the possibility that he may have been captured by the Syrians. The family still feels aggrieved by the fact that they believe important information has been withheld by the IDF which is significant to the case. Following the declaration that Guy was missing in action, the government tried on a number of occasions to obtain information about Guy from the Syrians and also via the International Committee of the Red Cross and the UN. Unfortunately this has all been to no avail. Two years ago, a Syrian group claiming to hold Guy requested a prisoner swap with Syrian prisoners held by Israel. Investigations into this request by security officials yielded no positive results.

The family has succeeded again recently in raising the profile of Guy's disappearance with the government. Contacts between Foreign Minister Lieberman and his Russian counterpart over the past few weeks created the opportunity for the Russians to pass a message to Syrian President Assad requesting information. Guy's mother Rina is convinced that her son was captured by the Syrians. She claims that the foreign ministry is also convinced of this fact. Now the Israeli government is seeking information about Guy from the Syrian government on "humanitarian grounds".

But I feel that the public has a right to know why Guy's case has received so little publicity? Why did it take so long to declare Guy missing in action? The IDF has a responsibility to account to each and every parent as to what has happened to his son or daughter when he or she is not returned home safely after his or her compulsory military training. This is true even if the soldier has been injured or killed as a consequence of his own actions. The soldier is in the care of the IDF, and the IDF has an obligation to every parent. In the case of Guy Hever, there is a case to be answered by the IDF as to why more was not done, and why it was not done sooner.

A case similar to Guy Hever is the one of Majdy Halabi, a Druze soldier who went missing in May 2005 when hitch-hiking back to his base from his home village of Daliyet-el-Karmel. His disappearance attracted little media coverage despite his family's efforts to raise its profile. No trace has been found of him, and his family claims that he was abducted by an Islamic terror organisation. Majdy was declared missing in action by the IDF in June 2005.

I am a parent who will deliver his son to the IDF in little more than a year for his compulsory military training. I will do this willingly, and with pride. The Jewish homeland needs Jewish soldiers to defend Israel and the Jewish people, and my son is eager to do his duty. When I hand him over to the care of the IDF and the Israeli government, I expect them to treat him like he is their son. I expect them to take exceptional care of him, and I expect them to take every action to deliver him home safely to us when his job is done. I expect them to do the same to every parent in the country who has willingly given their son or daughter for national service. And, in the event that the child cannot be returned home safely, I expect them to provide every piece of information available and to answer each and every unanswered question.

The kidnap of Gilad Shalit near Gaza more than 3 years ago has certainly raised the profile of the use of kidnapping of Israeli soldiers as a tactic to extract value from Israel by her enemies. The problem is that whilst Israel holds her captives in humane conditions, provides details of the prisoner's situation and allows visits by the Red Cross and even members of the prisoner's family, Israeli prisoners are denied all of the above and are often tortured, injured and killed during the course of their captivity. The name of Gilad Shalit remains on all our lips as we eagerly await the outcome of the current round of negotiations for his release. Let us not forget the Hevers, the Arads, the Baumels, the Katzes and the Feldmans who are also owed answers.

Now is the time for more information to be released concerning the cases of all soldiers missing in action. I hope to hear more about each of their cases in the near future, and we all look forward to redoubled efforts to return each of them to their homeland, dead or alive. This will generate renewed confidence in the IDF by both parents and soldiers who will serve their country in the future with greater enthusiasm and pride.

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