Tomorrow’s planned prisoner exchange is very bittersweet. Almost everyone has an opinion and all sides have some element of legitimacy. On one hand, the price is so very high; on the other hand, we have a responsibility to bring our soldiers home, dead or alive. A soldier, entering battle, must know that anything and everything will be done to bring him home, be it to his family, or to ‘kever Yisrael’ – to a Jewish grave. Yet, perhaps the swap will serve as motivation to capture more soldiers, and exchange them for other terrorist killers. But, who can forget the unbelievable ‘mesirut nefesh’ – total dedication, of Rabbi Shlomo Goren, then Chief Rabbi of the IDF, to wade through enemy mine fields to recover bodies of Israeli soldiers killed in action.
It’s something of a catch 22 – whatever you do is right, and whatever you do is wrong. I know that I’ve asked myself countless times, ‘what would I do if, (G-d forbid), it was one of my sons.’ In truth, I don’t know. Of course, with the release of two Israeli soldiers, either dead or alive, a huge dark cloud shadows their return: where is Ron Arad, whose fate is still unknown? Is he dead or alive? Is he in Lebanon or Iran? According to Israeli intelligence sources, having studied the newly-released photos of Arad, taken about 20 years ago, the pictures were taken not in Lebanon, rather in Iran. Perhaps Ron Arad is still alive, wasting away in an Iranian dungeon?
However, with enigma surrounding Ron Arad and the as of yet unknown condition of Regev and Goldwasser, at least people know their names, show some concern for them and their families. Unfortunately, it’s not that way with all Israeli MIAs, POWS. There are those, who, for one reason or another, have been forgotten, despite that fact that they wore the same uniform as the others, fought for the same country as the others, and whose fate is just as unknown as the others.
Ron Arad was captured in October, 1986. Four years earlier, in June, 1882, during the battle of Sultan Ya’akub, Israel lost three of its finest. During the battle, commanded by Ehud Barak, three tank warriors, Tzvi Feldman, born in 1956, Yehuda Katz, born in 1959, and Zacharia Baumel, born in 1960, disappeared. They may have been killed during the brutal fighting. However, there were accounts of people who saw them displayed during a parade in Syria. Their families have gathered accounts over the years, which, at the very least, raise a reasonable doubt as to their fate. Perhaps they are long gone. But perhaps not. And, if we use the Regev-Goldwasser measuring stick, what difference does it make? Why have the IDF and the Israeli government totally forgotten about these three men? Why aren’t they household names, as is Ron Arad? Why didn’t Israel demand a full report from Hizballah concerning the fate and location of these three men just as they did concerning Ron Arad? Why doesn’t the Israeli media exert pressure on the government and IDF concerning then, as they did concerning Regev, Goldwasser, Arad and Gilad Shalit? Why does Gilad Shalit’s name continue to make headlines, while most Israelis, 22 years later, have no idea who Katz, Feldman and Baumel are?
I have an answer, but don’t really like it. As a matter of fact, I despise what I think. It really stinks. It’s even worse than that. But I can’t think of any other viable reason.
These three men came from the wrong side of Israeli society. They all had Kippas on their heads. They belonged to religious tank units. Their families were not left-wing supporters of ‘peace,’ Labor, and Arabs. The men weren’t media lovelies. Rather, they were young idealistic patriots, who fought for their country, their people and their belief. Their belief hasn’t betrayed them, but their country and their people have.
But that’s not all.
It’s clear that serious negotiations for the release of Gilad Shalit will continue between Israel and Hamas. Clearly, Israel should demand information and release of the three above-discussed men. But in my opinion, that’s not enough.
Hamas terrorists are not stupid. If, as is expected, Israel receives two bodies for killer Kuntar, Hamas is going to demand an even higher price for a ‘live’ Israeli. That price will almost undoubtedly include Marwan Barghuti, a convicted murderer and leader of the ‘2nd intidada’ which claimed thousands of Israeli lives, dead, maimed and wounded. The present Israeli government will almost assuredly OK the deal. However, Israel must demand more than the release of POW Gilad Shalit. After all, Barghuti will only be one of the hundreds of terrorists freed by Israel. Israel must look towards its best friend and ally, put its foot down, and tell the United States: look at what we are being forced into in order to release one Israeli soldier. What is the price of one man? Is there a price? Yet, the price is too high. We must bring home more than one POW. When we release Barghuti and Hamas releases Shalit, you must free Jonathan Pollard. If we can do it, so can you.
At every Jewish wedding, the happiest day in a person’s life, we repeat the words, ‘If I forget thee Jerusalem….’
I add :
If we forget thee, Tzvi… If we forget thee Yehuda… If we forget thee Zacharia… If we forget thee Jonathan…
If we forget all of you, who are we, what are we, why are we?