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Copyright 1994 Jerusalem Post
Jerusalem Post

December 8, 1994

HEADLINE: Prizes and Prisoners [Op-Ed]

BYLINE: Uri Dan and Dennis Eisenberg

Former Norwegian cabinet minister Kaare Kristiansen didn't pull his punches when he quit the Nobel Peace Prize Committee in October.

He said, "How can you present Yasser Arafat who committed atrocities against innocent women and children in cowardly terrorist attacks, a medal for peace? Its an insult to compare him with a man like Rabin who has a proud record as a war hero in fighting for his country."

In Jerusalem this week Prof. Kristiansen is more convinced than ever of the immorality of parading Arafat on the world stage as a man of peace, alongside Rabin. A precedent has been created, he notes asking; "will Sadam Hussein of Iraq be next?"

The case for denying Arafat the Nobel peace prize was made all the stronger, Kristiansen says by the way the PLO leader broke his promise to reveal information about missing Israeli prisoners of war Zachary Baumel, Zvi Feldman and Yehuda Katz captured by Syrian troops in Lebanon in 1982. Despite persistent reports that the soldiers are alive, their families still don't know one way or the other. Says American born Yona Baumel, father of Zachary, "Syria is responsible for our sons. We want to know whether they are dead or alive."

When Arafat produced half of Zachary's dog-tag last December, he vowed to disclose details of the men's fate within a short space of time. He never kept his word. "How can you give a peace prize to a man who does not keep his word?" asks Kristainsen.

The distinguished Norwegian isn't alone in distrusting the PLO leader. Said Rabin in Moscow last April, "Arafat has not been forthcoming, apparently fearing that it would complicate his relations with Syria."

On Saturday night at the same time as the ceremony for Arafat, Rabin and Peres takes place in Oslo, Kristainsen will be receiving token awards in Jerusalem for the center for Jewish leadership and the international coalition for the missing Israeli soldiers in acknowledgement of his moral stand. When warren Christopher accompanied president Clinton to Damascus just over a month ago, he showed Hafez Assad a full page advertisement from the Jerusalem post proclaiming the after Baumel, Feldman, and Katz had been taken prisoner, American journalist Dean Brelis witnessed 3 Israeli soldiers being paraded on a flat truck in Damascus central square.

Assad replied that he knew nothing of the matter.

The soldiers' parents are hoping that Christopher on his current visit to the Middle East is pressing Assad for an answer on what he knows is a matter of great concern to Israel. The secretary of state is aware that a recent Shilav poll demonstrated that 84% of Israelis believe that Rabin should halt the release of all Palestinian prisoners until the missing soldiers are allowed to come home.

The issue of our missing men may even be a consideration in how successful the Americans are in jumpstarting the peace talks between Israel and Syria. Yona Baumel asked visiting German president Roman Herzog, who has expressed sympathy with the plight of the soldiers' families, to use his influence with Assad to get some concrete information.

All the parents have tried ceaselessly to determine the fate of their missing sons. They have spoken personally to leading statesmen, politicians and other with contacts in the Arab world. Repeatedly, they have heard that their sons are in captivity either in Lebanon or Syria, believed to be held be Assad as human bargaining chips.

Yona Baumel told us this week: "I recently received news that one or more of our sons are being held in an area under Syrian jurisdiction by a group whose name is not known. I also spoke to dean Brelis, now retired who said: "after seeing the Israeli prisoners with hands and ankles chained, I asked permission to interview them but was refused."

This statement was forwarded together with other information to the international Red Cross, which has now asked the Syrian government for information about the soldiers. There has been no Syrian reaction.

For the past 12 years Baumel and family members of the other soldiers have spoken to scores of presidents and politicians in many countries in a bid to seek help in finding their sons. Baumel has documented evidence of Mustafa Tlas the Syrian minister of defense, and Assad's brother, Rifaat, admitting that the POWs were in Syrian hands.

Madame Mendes, France, wife of the former French premier, has said that the French foreign ministry was certain the soldiers were alive. Yona Baumel believes Israel's government hasn't pressured Arafat or the Americans dealing with Assad sufficiently to determine the fate of their sons. This suspicion was fueled by Meretz Knesset member Avram Poraz.

A senior government advisor on terrorism told us, "when we see Rabin overlooking Arafat's repeated refusals to live up to any of his promises just so he can keep his program alive, it is legitimate to believe that the same process is at work with the missing soldiers. Nothing must be done to upset Assad, not even information about the fate of our 3 POWs."

His comments seem to be borne out by the facts.

Rabin first promised that the families he would link any release of Palestinian security prisoners to the freeing of Israelis. He went back on his word and opened the prison gates for thousands of jailed Palestinians, completely ignoring the fate of the three soldiers.

Even more to the point, despite Rabin's claim that Arafat was holding back information, Shimon Peres declared earlier this year that Arafat had no information about the missing soldiers. Says the terrorism expert, "the bottom line is that Israel has the right to demand to know are they alive or not? If they are dead, we want their bodies. Either way we want them back. There must be no concessions to either Arafat or Assad until we have an answer."

It is an irony that since this years Nobel awards were announced, 30 Jews in Israel have been killed in terrorist attacks. Most of them blown up by the same TNT invented by the man in whose names the prizes are awarded.

Another irony: peace prize winner Yasser Arafat is a man completely dominated by Hamas, to whom peace with Israel is anathema.

The writers are authors of The Mossad: Secrets of the Israeli Secret Service and other books on the Middle East.

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