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Copyright 1993 The Jerusalem Post
The Jerusalem Post

September 14, 1993

HEADLINE: Long lost sons


EVERY citizen called upon to serve in the IDF, or who sends a son or daughter to serve, dreads the thought of himself or his loved ones falling into enemy hands.

Individually and collectively, Israelis sympathize with families who have lost members to war and terrorism. Especially, they empathize with the families of the missing. Their deep emotion can be recognized by their singular looks of horror and by the words frozen in their throats.

Six missing soldiers are being held by Arab countries or entities. Israel is currently negotiating with three of them: Syria, Lebanon and the PLO. Two of the missing are allegedly dead. They are Yossi Fink and Rahamim Alshikh, held by the Lebanese Hizbullah, a group with close ties to Syria and Iran, a country adamantly hostile to Israel and refusing any negotiation with it.

The whereabouts of navigator Ron Arad are uncertain, but the IDF says he may be in Iran. Three soldiers are missing from the battle of Sultan Yakub: Zachary Baumel, Zvi Feldman and Yehuda Katz. They are presumed alive. Accountability for them is kicked around like a soccer ball between Syria, the PLO and Lebanon.

On June 11, 1982, the day this trio went missing, Syria paraded Israeli soldiers in Damascus. Only after all the other prisoners were repatriated did it became clear that they could only have been these three. An eyewitness recently reaffirmed having seen Israeli captives in Daascus on that day, adding that a British diplomat was also present. Syria continuously denes knowing anything about them.

In 1984, Princess Dina, whose husband, a high-ranking PLO official, was then being held prisoner in Israel, showed a wax impression of Zachary Baumel's ID tag to an Israeli reporter as a sop for privileged treatment of her husband. Her source was the PLO. The PLO denies knowing anything about the Israeli soldiers, but no one has related to the contradictory evidence of the tag.

Over the years, there have been numerous reports about sightings of these prisoners in Syrian-controlled Lebanon. Jordanian Hebrew-language TV actor Haroun Mechamid testified before American consular officials that he had seen Zachary Baumel and "one or two other Israeli prisoners" held by a then-pro-Tunis PLO group in Lebanon's Beka'a Valley.

According to international law, responsibility for a prisoner of war rests with a country and not with any group or person, no matter who captured him.

This is why the three concerned families have held Syria responsible all along. It is now obvious that Syria, Lebanon and the PLO all bear a collective responsibility for the Sultan Yakub soldiers.

THE government should have learned a practical lesson from the lopsided prisoner exchange Ahmed Jibril in 1985. They allowed a prsoner exchange with Syria in 1984, knowing full well that other Israelis were being held by Syrian-based Palestinian groups in Syria. The price for these few Israelis held by Jibril was the highest in Israel's history, and was duly noted by all later hostage negotiators.

The Palestinians are calling for the release of thousands from Israeli prisons as a precondition to peace, while there is a deafening silence from Israel about the MiAs. And when the 189 deportees were repatriated recently no public voice was raised on behalf of our missing, aside from the pained cries of the parents.

Plausibly, now that terms are being set for Arafat's government, this is the time to negotiate for the Israeli captives' release prior to freeing any more Palesninian prisoners.

Learning from past experience, it has become standard practice to arrange simultaneous prisoner exchanges before any political settlement is implemented. Sad to say, not a single minister or MK has mentioned the missing soldiers in any context.

This government prides itself on its pragmatism. It is pragmatic to know when to use the cards you hold. For our long-absent sons, the time is now.

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