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Copyright 2003 Jerusalem Post
Febuary, 21

HEADLINE: Families of Hostages Call on US for Help


Families of Israelis still missing in Lebanon and Syria, including four known to be held by Hizbullah, are urging the US not to overlook them in the event of war against Iraq.

An impassioned plea to this effect was made by Ori Tannenbaum, son of Israeli businessman and reserve colonel Elhanan Tannenbaum, at a meeting of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations on Thursday night in Jerusalem.

'As you all know, Israelis are preparing themselves for all eventualities - sealed rooms are being prepared and the government is providing gas masks and other equipment in case of bio-chemical attacks,' said Ori Tannenbaum.

'In an odd sort of a way, the sealed-room scenario is very much a family experience. Family units will go through this together and those members not at home in the event of an attack will be tracked down in the aftermath.

'For those of us who have a family member in captivity, the experience will be quite different. There is absolutely nothing we can do to protect our loved ones who are being held by terrorist groups or regimes that are capable of punishing and abusing Israeli captives in retribution for the incursion into Iraq.'

Tannenbaum's father was abducted by Hizbullah while on a trip abroad shortly after the kidnapping in the Mount Dov region in October 2000 of three IDF soldiers, St.-Sgts. Benny Avraham, Omar Suwayeed, and Adi Avitan.

The IDF has pronounced the three soldiers dead and their place of burial unknown. Hizbullah leader Sheikh Hassan Nasrallah, however, stated publicly a few months ago that Tannenbaum is alive.

Ori Tannenbaum, who spoke after Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, said the concern of the families of all the Israeli missing is to ensure their speedy return to Israel.

He spoke on behalf of all those missing: the three soldiers from the 1982 Sultan Yakub battle - Zvi Feldman, Yehuda Katz, and Zacharia Baumel; IAF navigator Ron Arad, missing since October 1986; soldier Guy Hever, who disappeared outside his army base on the Golan in 1997; as well as his father and Avraham, Suwayeed, and Avitan.

'While I fully appreciate America's promise to eliminate the threat of Iraqi Scud missiles, the US must not forget that Hizbullah and other groups have direct and unrestricted access to Israeli prisoners who are at their mercy,' said Tannenbaum.

'It is imperative that the US use its influence in this region in the advance of any attack to do whatever it can to ensure that Syria, Iran, and Lebanon remain fully accountable for the welfare of those Israelis under their control.

'We have been told that the chance of an Iraqi strike against Israel is low, but I cannot help but fear that the chances of our family members suffering in the wake of these events might be very high,' he said.

Meanwhile, Prime Minister Ariel Sharon categorically ruled out any comprise on the issue of Jerusalem or the Palestinian 'right of return.'

Also speaking to the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations, Sharon, who reiterated that he is willing to make 'painful compromises' for peace, made clear that this willingness does not extend to Jerusalem.

'I would like to emphasize that I don't think anyone has the right to make any compromise when it comes to Jerusalem,' he said.

He also urged the group to raise its voice in support of Jerusalem, even while there is no current no diplomatic struggle over the capital.

'It is your responsibility no less than ours, and you don't have to wait until the last minute, when this issue will be raised one day,' Sharon said. 'You must express your position loudly on Jerusalem - there will be no compromise on Jerusalem, because it is the heart of the Jewish people.'

Turning to the Palestinian 'right of return,' Sharon said 'Israel will never allow that danger to occur. Never. We understand the problem, we understand even the tragedy, but to open the gates of Israel to families of refugees of 1948 means the destruction of Israel as an independent, Jewish, democratic state.'

The bulk of Sharon's address, however, dealt more with issues affecting the Jewish world than with diplomacy. Breaking with other Israeli leaders, who tend to skirt the issue of aliya at such conferences, Sharon issued a full- throated call for immigration, calling on this group of American Jewish organization leaders to send their children to Israel, if they can't come live here themselves.

'Aliya is vital for the existence, growth, and development of Israel and the Jewish people,' he said. 'I call upon every Jew to make aliya.'

Sharon said aliya is 'the most important thing,' and that a major effort must be made to brings Jews from 'all over the world, including your part of the world.'

Telling the conference that the absorption basket for Jews from North America is now the same as those from France and the former USSR, he said, 'Send your children here - to study here, learn here, visit here, to birthright.'

He also said Israel expects that the Diaspora community will wage a determined battle against the rise in global anti-Semitism. 'Every Jewish organization must fight anti-Semitism and join our hasbara [information] campaign,' he said.

He said that as part of that information effort, there will be a major celebration in Washington this year to mark the 55th Yom Ha'atzmaut. He said this celebration is important to show 'the determination' and 'solidarity' of the Jewish people in backing Israel.

Sharon also said that a major effort must made to provide Jewish and non-Jewish college students with information about Israel. He called for efforts to establish chairs in Land of Israel Studies on American campuses to make students aware of the country's history and 'the non-stop Jewish life here for thousands of years.'

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