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Copyright 2004 Jerusalem Post
February 3

HEADLINE: Forgotten in captivity


The IDF prides itself on never abandoning a soldier in battle. No matter what the danger, soldiers know that comrades will do all that is humanly possible to rescue them. No matter how much time passes a soldier can be confident that, ultimately, redemption will come.

Israel is no longer engaged in wars with other nations, but rather with terrorists and paramilitary groups. It is no longer feasible to conduct lightning raids to liberate hostages, prisoners or fallen soldiers. Instead we negotiate to redeem our soldiers.

While virtually all prisoner exchanges have been lopsided, Israel has not let anything deter it.

This doctrine is what prompted intensive negotiations between Israel and Hizbullah and resulted in the return of the bodies of Benny Avraham, Adi Avitan and Omar Sawayid, kidnapped and killed near Mount Dov, and the return of kidnapped businessman Elhanan Tannenbaum.

Apparently, the deal is only the first part of an overall prisoner exchange. Sheikh Hassan Nasrallah announced that information about missing air force navigator Ron Arad would be forthcoming very soon. And then another dramatic prisoner exchange will take place.

Once this is done, the case of our last missing soldiers will have been closed.

Not so fast. What about Zachary Baumel, Zvi Feldman and Yehuda Katz?

Remember them, the three soldiers captured in the Lebanon War during the battle of Sultan Yakoub in June 1982?

Does the passage of almost 22 years disqualify them for consideration as part of any deal with Hizbullah?

ONE WOULD think that - if anything - Baumel, Feldman and Katz would receive priority treatment. After all, Prime Minister Ariel Sharon sanctioned negotiations with Nasrallah and Co. and said that, as difficult as this exchange was, it was the morally right thing to do. And he was defense minister at the time of the Lebanon War.

Indeed, he was responsible for sending Baumel, Feldman and Katz into battle. Does Sharon not feel the same moral and personal commitment that justified the present prisoner exchange to those who waged his war in Lebanon?

These three faithful warriors, caught in an ambush in the initial stages of the war, have never been declared dead by any official forum. Further, Baumel was last seen alive, allegedly strapped to a Syrian tank and driven through the streets of Damascus. It is impossible to believe that Nasrallah, who has close ties with the Syrian and Iranian regimes, knows nothing of the whereabouts of the MIAs from the Lebanon War.

What difference does it make that all this occurred more than two decades ago? For the families of the missing it is as if it happened yesterday. Can it be that we operate on short-term memory only?

I always thought that as one ages, one's long-term memory becomes more acute. So what is Sharon's excuse? While Sharon might want to forget that war, the Baumels, Feldmans and Katzes cannot.

"To perish by the sword is worse than a natural death, to die by hunger, worse still; and captivity, worst of all" (Baba Batra 8b). The longer one is in captivity the greater the suffering, for the captive and the captive's family in equal measure.

It seems that the IDF principle of never abandoning a soldier has become time-constrained. Without belittling the return of Avraham, Avitan, Suwayid and Tennenbaum, the fact that the names of Baumel, Feldman and Katz were not cited even once during the entire prisoner exchange - neither during the very public negotiations leading up to the exchange nor after its completion - is a sad commentary. It is a blatant violation of the IDF's code of honor.

The writer is the spokesman for Rabbis for Human Rights.

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