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Copyright 2003 Haaretz
October 10

HEADLINE: Missing Guy

BYLINE: Aviv Lavie

TIn all the talk about a possible prisoner exchange, one name has been conspicuously absent - that of Guy Hever, a soldier who vanished about six years ago by the Syrian border. His family is convinced he was kidnapped by hostile elements. The army prefers the term `disappeared'

If it weren't so sad, all the moments of high absurdity that Rina Hever has experienced in recent years could be collected to make up a very amusing book. One of those moments occurred more than four years ago, about a year and a half after the disappearance of her son, Guy. One morning, a large, two-line piece of graffiti appeared on a concrete barrier near the Glilot junction on the Ayalon highway. The top line concerned missing navigator Ron Arad. The bottom line read: "The parents of the missing Guy Hever are waiting and worrying. Until when?" Shortly after a family friend who passed the spot told the Hevers about the graffiti, the phone rang. It was the police. "Could this be Guy's handwriting?," the police officer on the line asked. Rina Hever, for what was by now the umpteenth time, felt that this was a little more than she could take. "Sure," she said. "For a year and a half, he's been wandering around at night with a can of spray paint and going back to his hiding place by day." She hung up the phone.

All of the families of the missing soldiers are suffering greatly, but Rina Hever's pain has also included an extra helping of humiliation and frustration. In recent weeks, from her home in Kochav Yair, she has been following the acrimonious dispute between the family of captured air force navigator Ron Arad and the parents of other missing soldiers that has arisen in wake of the prospective deal between Israel and Hezbollah. This dispute is straining the nerves of the families involved to breaking point. Nevertheless, Hever would be glad to trade places with them. She doesn't even have the privilege of taking part in the discussion.

In no media or public forum, nor, as far as is known, in the defense establishment, has Guy Hever been mentioned as someone who should be taken into consideration during negotiations over an exchange of prisoners and information. In the Hever home, there is an official certificate issued by the army saying that Guy Hever is "missing," but the conduct of the army and of the defense establishment implies something else, something that was written on the original certificate that the family received: "Disappeared on August 17, 1989 and whereabouts unknown since then." Rina Hever raised a major fuss when she saw the latter. They tried to reassure her that "disappeared" (ne'elam) and "missing" (ne'edar) were the same thing. "If that's so, then I expect the chief of staff to declare from now on at every opportunity that the IDF is doing all it can to bring the `disappeared' boys home." Eventually, she received the reworded certificate. The wording may have changed, she says, but the army's attitude hasn't.

A journey through time and space

On Saturday, August 16, 1997, Eitan and Rina Hever drove up north to visit their son Guy at his army base. He was 20, a corporal in the artillery corps, serving at the Keren camp near the Beit Hamekhes Ha'elyon junction in the southern Golan Heights. He had just completed two years of his military service, but from all accounts, there wasn't much of a "romance" between him and the IDF. As a child, a teenager and later as a soldier, he was much more interested in the comics that he drew, the computer on which he spent long, engrossed hours, and the science fiction books that he devoured by the pile - just like his father.

After finishing the basic artillery training course, Hever completed the corps' computer course and then declined to continue on to an officers' course as was expected of him. For this refusal, he incurred the system's wrath. He was assigned countless stints of guard duty; he fell asleep during one of them and was sentenced to 21 days of detention at another base. His cynicism only heightened the friction. The evening before he vanished, the soldiers were ordered to attach stickers to some crates. He refused, saying that he "didn't want to mutilate IDF property." His commanders were furious and informed him that on Sunday, at 10 in the morning, he would be standing trial.

Earlier that Saturday, his parents were with him. They went to McDonald's together - Guy wolfed down a double Big Mac for breakfast and gave his father detailed instructions about the new parts he wanted to buy for his computer. When they parted, he seemed in excellent spirits.

Very early Sunday morning, he ascended the guard tower. One of the soldiers at the base testified that Guy seemed upset during his shift, and he attributed this to the upcoming trial. When the shift ended at 9:15 A.M., he climbed down from the tower, leaving behind the science fiction book he'd been reading - C. J. Henderson's "Quantum Leap," about journeys through time and space and identity switches. He went to his room, placed his belt on the floor and went out again, wearing the same uniform that he was wearing during his guard duty. He was carrying his personal weapon - a Galil rifle - and the key-ring that he always kept hooked to his pants. His dogtags hung around his neck and in his pocket was the pinkas hashevi (ID card to be used in case of captivity) that he carried in accordance with procedures during guard duty. Left behind in his room was his wallet, containing his military ID card, his ATM card and bus tickets, and his other personal effects. When he left the room, he went first to the vending machine at the base and got a can of cola. Then he disappeared.

Guy Hever's disappearance is one of the biggest mysteries in the history of the IDF. A soldier in uniform, but not in a combat situation, has never gone missing for such a long time. The most solid fact in the entire case is that he wasn't even seen leaving the gates of the army camp. Consequently, at a certain stage of the search, a decision was made to thoroughly search the base itself. But the effort proved totally fruitless. "He simply evaporated," a senior officer once remarked about the case. Until proven otherwise, even those who believe in abductions by UFOs can come up with plenty of theories to explain this mystery.

The defense establishment's response to Guy's disappearance was slow and indifferent. His commanders were certain that he just wanted to evade his trial and was making his way home, or just roaming around until the storm passed. That it was an unexceptional case of absenteeism. On Sunday afternoon, the phone rang at the Hever household. It was the base calling to see if Guy was there. Rina's heart froze. She thought it was some kind of practical joke. A few minutes later, they called again to ask if she'd found him yet.

In the first days, the commanders were convinced that Guy's parents were collaborating with him and helping him hide. They were questioned for many hours and interrogated as to the meaning of the five telephone conversations that Guy had with them on the Friday prior to his disappearance. "I explained them that in the first call, he asked us to bring him some Q-tips for his ears; in the second, he asked for some soap, and afterwards he was just explaining to us how to get to the base because we're both terrible with directions," she says, reliving those surreal conversations with the investigating military police, still just as hurt after six years. The relationship between the army and the family started off right away on the wrong foot. At the time, neither side imagined that it would go on for so long.

A serious search operation did not get underway for several days. To the west of the base, steep cliffs overlook the Jordan River. They tried to check if Guy had jumped, or slipped into one of the crevices. Broad swathes of the Golan were combed, but this is an area that is not easy to search, given the preponderance of steep cliffs and minefields, and the dense vegetation. As time passed, the possibility that he committed suicide - the theory favored by many in the IDF in the early stages - seemed less and less likely. A person who commits suicide cannot bury himself. Something would have surfaced - even if wolves or other creatures preyed upon the body, the shoes and weapon should have been discovered. But this didn't happen.

Approximately a year and a half after Guy Hever's disappearance, his story was presented on the television program "Shidur Hoker" (similar to the American program "Unsolved Mysteries"). Following the broadcast, more than fifty tips were received from people who claimed to have seen Guy in various places around the country. Most were found to be not credible, but two were deemed especially significant: Ilana Waltsch, a psychologist from Moshav Eliad in the southern Golan Heights, reported having seen Guy standing alone at a hitchhiking post at the Katzabiya junction on the Golan around noon on the day of his disappearance. She supplied a detailed description of him, including the observation that his glasses did not match those that were shown in the pictures. But that day, Guy was in fact wearing his reserve pair. She said that she didn't stop for Guy because his appearance put her off (He was perspiring and seemed agitated) - a decision that tormented her later. According to her testimony, Guy was standing at the hitchhiking post in the direction leading to the eastern and northern parts of the Golan Heights.

The second testimony came from Nigel Cort, a Zimbabwean married to an Israeli woman who lives in the Golan. Cort, a bird-watcher, reported that on that Sunday afternoon, he saw a soldier wandering around in the area of Tel Faris, very close to the Syrian border. The combination of these two pieces of testimony reinforces what has come to be known as "the Syrian option": That Hever went far away from the base in order to be alone, to get some air, to escape the trial; in the course of his wanderings, he came very close to the border, perhaps even crossed it - there are places in the fence where this is not especially difficult - and was kidnapped or captured by Syrians, who continue to hold him.

The possibility that a person could be held in Syria for many years without the world knowing about it is not inconceivable. If it happens in Israel, then why not with our neighbors, who don't have any democracy to boast of. At any rate, this is the possibility that Rina Hever steadfastly believes in, and why she has focused most of her efforts in the past years on the diplomatic arena. She has met with, among others, EU special envoy to the Middle East peace process Miguel Moratinos, U.S. ambassador to Israel Dan Kurtzer and German Foreign Minister Joschka Fischer. She asked all of them to use their ties in Syria to try to find out if Guy is being held there. So far, the Syrians have consistently answered no to that question.

Other possible scenarios: Hever was abducted within Israel by hostile criminal or nationalistic elements - perhaps by someone who wanted his weapon - and then killed and buried in an unmarked grave. If that's what happened, then the perpetrators managed to carry out the perfect crime. In most cases, abducted or murdered soldiers are discovered after a while. The longest it ever took such a case to be solved was in the case of soldier Sharon Edri. Nine months after he was seen for the last time at a hitchhiking post, it was learned that he'd been kidnapped and killed by a Hamas cell.

Another possibility: Hever started a new life under a false identity. The military investigating police have searched for him in yeshivas, in cults, any place where he could assimilate relatively easily. His mother dismisses this possibility and says that there's no way Guy would have cut off all contact with his family, or committed suicide. Officially, the system says "all options are open." In the family's view, the open options are those that derive from the fact that he was in uniform and carrying a weapon - either abduction inside Israel or captivity in Syria. Therefore, the family maintains, the army should treat Guy as an equal of its other missing and captive men, even though, unlike Ron Arad, the three soldiers missing since the Sultan Yaqub battle in 1982 and the three soldiers abducted at Har Dov, Guy did not go missing while in combat or on an active mission. "Formally speaking, he is essentially a deserter," says one official who has been following the case. "Ostensibly, he could be hanging out right now in some ashram in India under a false identity. But in fact, if you examine all the possibilities, there's a very high likelihood that his disappearance is connected to the fact that he was in uniform and carrying a weapon, and that's how the army should relate to it."

Ehud Barak has a question

Rina Hever, 53, grew up in Givatayim. After her military service, she studied textile engineering at the Shenkar School of Engineering and Design in Ramat Gan. She worked in that profession for a while, but after she met and married Dr. Eitan Hever, a geriatric psychiatrist, she began working as his administrative assistant in his north Tel Aviv clinic. Since Guy's disappearance, she has done all her work from home. She gets up at 5:30 every morning and combs the newspapers and the Internet in search of any new information - any lead or idea, any news about relevant figures. Six years after her son's disappearance, she is still keeping the promise she made to herself and to Guy: "Never to give up, never to just sit and wait."

Besides Guy, who would have celebrated his 26th birthday in May, the Hevers also have 18-year-old twins, Or and Shir. Or recently enlisted - by chance, on the anniversary of Guy's disappearance, August 17. Shir is currently a senior in high school. The twins zealously guard their privacy. They have never been interviewed or photographed for the media. "I'm not even sure that the people around Or in the army know about his connection to Guy," says Rina. A few months ago, an IDF representative came to Shir's class to talk with the students. He told about the missing and captive soldiers and listed their names. Guy Hever was not on the list. Shir left the classroom crying bitterly.

The friction between the Hevers and the defense establishment started from almost the very first moment. Rina says the family has been treated with insensitivity and neglect from senior officers right down to the lowest clerks. The fact that the system has actually invested tremendous resources in searching for her son barely earns it a few points in her eyes. Her wariness of the establishment remains just as strong: "I've learned not to talk with people from the defense establishment privately, one on one," she says. "Because afterwards they say, `I didn't say that, I don't remember, I don't know.' I've accepted the fact that the system is against us. I know that they despise me. A very senior office told me that I have to be nice, because when it comes down to it, if the people doing the searches feel emotionally connected to the case, they'll do a better job of it. But it's hard for me to be nice, especially when I feel that as far as the defense establishment is concerned, this wagon may just as well stay stuck in the mud."

It would be hard to say that the defense establishment hasn't tried - in its clumsy way, perhaps - to get the wagon moving. In early 2000, Rina Hever was given the okay to offer a reward of NIS 500,000 for information on Guy. The ads were published in all the Arabic-language newspapers and announcements were distributed in the Druze villages in the Golan Heights - to no avail. For its part, the IDF is taking the criticism quietly. No good can come from a confrontation with the family of a missing soldier. In response to things said in this article, the IDF Spokesman's office stated: "The disappearance of Corporal Guy Hever is an unsolved mystery. Since his disappearance, the defense establishment and the IDF have been continuing to follow every possible avenue of investigation with the objective of discovering what happened to him. The IDF is working day and night to bring home all the captive and missing soldiers."

Rina Hever vividly remembers her first meeting with Guy's company commander, who came to their house in Kochav Yair a day after Guy went missing and did not hesitate to tell them that Guy was "a nervy and annoying soldier." When she asked him where Guy could be, he replied, "He's probably eating steak by the Kinneret." A few days later, when the defense establishment was still asking the family to keep the story out of the media, because "Guy is probably hiding because of the trial," Rina asked the Personnel Directorate representative what she thought Guy was eating in order to survive. "He's probably eating wild berries," was the answer. "To this day, I can't bear to hear the words, `wild berries,'" Hever says.

When Gil Regev steps down as head of the Personnel Directorate, the Hever family will make the acquaintance of the fourth officer to take the post since Guy disappeared. Regev came by the Hevers' house last week to wish them a good New Year, and was greeted with a barrage of harsh words. It's not something against you personally, Rina Hever explained, it's the system under you. Several months ago, she told him, an exhibit on the topic of the missing soldiers was held at an IDF base. All of them were mentioned, except for Guy. When she called the officer who organized the exhibition, the woman openly admitted that she'd never heard of Guy, and also told her that "the names presented in the exhibition are just a statistical sample of all the missing."

"Seven out of eight names is not a statistical sample. It just means that you forgot one," Hever retorted.

She has met with all the prime ministers of the last several years, and says the meeting with Ehud Barak was particularly memorable: "Unlike Netanyahu, who sat with us in a corner of his office and talked to us face to face, Barak sat surrounded by a battery of functionaries and officers and spoke to me from the opposite end of the table. The first thing he asked was, `Are you sure he's not wandering around somewhere?' I felt like I was going to lose it. I said to him, `Listen, Mr. Barak, it never occurred to your predecessor to ask such a stupid question. If we thought that Guy was wandering around, we wouldn't be here."

A tzaddik called Shimon Mizrahi

At a very early stage, Rina Hever found herself facing the media and the army on her own. Her husband cut off contact - first with the army. After an acrimonious exchange with one of the general staff, Eitan Hever declared that he would no longer meet with any IDF representatives. Then he cut off contact with the press. He told the reporters who crowded around his home in the first days of the case that he didn't want to be interviewed and, according to his wife, was informed by the journalists that they would write whatever they wanted. Since then, he has not given any interviews. "We didn't know how to use the media," says Rina Hever. Since then, "We decided that it would be better if I took the media exposure part of it on myself. Eitan is the one who comes up with most of the ideas, and I, like a worker ant hoping to reach the target in the end, am responsible for the execution."

Their lack of understanding of the media cost the Hever family dearly. Guy Hever is a unique case, but the public-media discourse needs clear definitions, neat files into which it can sort various missing soldier cases. The fact that Guy Hever is not etched in the public or media consciousness as being held by the enemy, or as possibly being held by the enemy, has much to do with why he is not currently included in Ilan Biran's plans.

It's no wonder Rina Hever recalls her meeting with Biran, who is conducting the negotiations for the government on the potential prisoner swap, as traumatic: "It was about a year and a half ago. He looked at me and said that he thinks Guy committed suicide. I yelled, I was furious, I said, `God, come down already and make some order in this idiotic system.' Luckily, I always have someone with me who calms me down. Shimon was with me at the meeting, and he calmed me down and then he said to Biran, `Ilan, do you hear what you're saying?' After four and a half years, does it make sense to you to say something like that? Did he kill himself and bury himself, too?'"

Shimon is none other than Shimon Mizrahi, known to the public mostly as the long-time chairman of the Maccabi Tel Aviv basketball team. Besides being a devoted basketball executive and a lawyer, Mizrahi also wears a third hat: He serves as a colonel in the reserves, as commander of the central special investigations unit in the military investigating police. Thus, he became familiar with the Hever case from the very beginning, but only got more deeply involved later on. This happened after then chief of staff Shaul Mofaz realized there was practically no communication between the defense establishment and the family. He asked Mizrahi to intervene and to be a liaison.

Hever says they have a wonderful relationship. "He really became a friend," she says. "Once he told me that apart from his family, there are three things in his life - basketball, work and Guy. And that he dreams about Guy at night."

When Hever talks about Mizrahi, she describes a warm and dedicated person - quite the opposite of the cool customer that Mizrahi cultivated over the years while zealously protecting the interests of Maccabi Tel Aviv. He accompanies Hever to meetings with senior defense officials, politicians and diplomats. He makes phone calls, opens doors, ties up loose ends. A few weeks ago, says Hever, Shimon saw to it that Knesset Speaker Reuven Rivlin added Guy's name to his speech on the day that the plenum devoted a special hearing to the matter of the missing and captive soldiers.

This week, Mizrahi was with the basketball team at its training camp in Bormeo, Italy. "From my experience," he says over the phone, "I've learned that when a person goes missing with a weapon and isn't found, it's not a willful disappearance. Look at the story of Oleg Shaichat - only there, they found his body. There are terrorist cells and they have `entrance exams.' A kid goes to get a can of cola from the vending machine and disappears. It's simply unbearable. I've become attached to the family. I try to help as much as I can. I listen to Rina, and whatever she thinks the system can do, or fix, I pass on."

In your opinion, are Rina Hever's complaints about the defense establishment justified?

"I think there were times when Rina's complaints had justification - for as long as they didn't treat Guy as missing. Today, I think the attitude has changed."

Mizrahi is just one of a circle of friends who has tried to help Hever in her struggle these past few years. Every few months, a small group of experts from different fields gathers in her house for a brainstorming session. One regular participant is Dr. Motti Keidar, an expert on Syria from the Arabic Studies department of Bar-Ilan University. Keidar has become the Hever family's liaison to the Arab world. He follows all the Arab media, translates relevant excerpts, writes letters for Rina and puts her in touch with Arab journalists.

Do you believe there is still a chance of finding Guy Hever alive?

Keidar: "The chance isn't high, but it's about the same as that of finding Ron Arad alive. Does that mean we should give up?"

Keidar believes the Syrian option is definitely a possibility: "In Syria, there's a special situation, in which very many organizations and militias can hold people without others knowing about it. In some cases, even the central government won't know about it, including the president. The official security forces are composed of militias, all of whom are formally subordinate to the government, but are essentially autonomous. Who's to say that Guy hasn't been flung into some cellar in some border town, where they throw him some stale bread once a day?"

What interest would his captors have in continuing to hold him this way?

"The question is - why not? As long as it's not known that he's there, there is no pressure to release him. If they ever have to pay for something, then he's worth more than a little. And if they don't need to, he could sit there for the rest of his life."

Another member of the circle is H., who at the time of Guy Hever's disappearance still served as head of the investigations branch in the Shin Bet. After his retirement, he phoned Rina Hever and offered his help in investigating the case. "She reacted warily. She was sure that I was another charlatan who wanted to take her money," he says. "She spent a few weeks making sure that I wasn't an impostor before she agreed to meet with me."

What spurred you to get involved?

"When I was still in the Shin Bet, I followed the case as a civilian, and it really piqued my curiosity. For someone who deals in investigations, it's hard to accept a situation in which there's an investigation that can't be budged."

Rina Hever recalls their first meeting: "He knocked on the door one Saturday morning, and there was this fellow in shorts and a T-shirt and he said something like, `I'm going to find Guy.' I said, `You won't find Guy because Guy isn't here.' But I was very glad, of course, that he has taken this on. I don't even know about a lot of the things he does. He can't tell me."

H. used his status in the security services to get permission to pore over the case material. He went through the files of the Shin Bet, the police and the IDF, crosschecked testimonies, checked with agents. Then he headed a major search effort in the Golan Heights. He says that the family's complaints about the army, at least in the early stages, have a real basis. "The questioning was amateurish, done more as a formality. They went around to the soldiers and gave them questions taken straight from some forms. The searches weren't methodical enough. There was no one person coordinating the effort and dividing the area into zones and making sure that every inch was combed. The first time the Golan was searched in quadrants under a central supervisory authority was two years after the disappearance, and that's too late. There was a missed opportunity here in the initial investigative stage - the investigation at the scene of the event immediately after its occurrence."

H. persuaded the IDF to search the bottom of the Had Nes reservoir near Guy's base. Various pieces of junk, and even some weapons, were found, but no trace of Guy. The cliffs leading down from the base to the Jordan River were combed again, this time by searchers rappelling six meters apart who checked all the outcroppings and indentations in the cliff faces. If H. has any gut feeling about Guy's fate, he is unwilling to reveal it: "As long as I have no lead, then any lead is possible," he says. "The Syrian option cannot be ruled out, though it's not the only one, and I don't necessarily find it the most appealing."

H. feels the chilly relationship between the family and the defense establishment is unfortunate. "There's a complicated problem here. Ron Arad creates headlines, Benny Avraham creates headlines. The headlines push the government to do something, so they send an emissary and the emissary has an address as to where to present his demands. In Guy Hever's case, there is no address. When Rina sees them doing something about the others, she feels they're neglecting her. She has to constantly remind them that she also has a son who did not return. I'm certain that Ron Arad's name appears on the air force commander's mission board, but I'm not so sure Guy Hever's name appears on the mission board of the Chief Artillery Officer. I've been at several meetings between Rina and army representatives. I don't think that they're hostile to her, but she is very emotional, and on the other hand, they don't always show sufficient patience and sensitivity."

Are you giving up?

"Absolutely not. I have a few more ideas of what can be done. I'm currently working on something new that will take several weeks to develop. I can't promise that it will bring Guy back, but I promise to keep trying."

The agony of uncertainty

In recent weeks, three mysteries involving missing Israelis - all missing for less time than Guy Hever - have been solved. In the United States, the bodies of Ben Werzberger and Adar Ne'eman, whose killing was apparently drug-related, were discovered. The body of missing yeshiva student Eliezer Zussia Klughaft was found in the Meron area, and in the Golan Heights, the body of kibbutznik Ira Gurevich was found - four years after his disappearance.

Rina Hever: "It's possible that this is what will happen in our case, too, but in the meantime, the only fact about Guy is that there are no facts."

Deep down, do you hope for Guy's remains to be discovered soon? It would release you from having to live in the shadow of uncertainty.

"What a question! No one should interpret this to say that I hope that my son is dead, but there is nothing worse than uncertainty. Uncertainty is a fiendish thing. It's physical. It makes it hard to breathe. One second you have hope, and the next second you're depressed. We weren't born with the ability to process uncertainty. It's not in our hard drive. We need certainty, even if it's the worst thing - because at least then we can come up with a strategy for how to deal with it, to start to recover. At the same time, I presume that if he is alive, he's not exactly enjoying himself. Of course, my dream is that he is not suffering, but to be realistic about it - there are no good choices here."

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