Signs advertising a $10 million reward for information about the disappearance of IDF soldier Majdi Halabi still hung at traffic circles in the Druse villages of Usfiya and Daliat-al Carmel on Friday, as hundreds of mourners made their way to the Usfiya military cemetery to pay their last respects to Halabi, whose remains were found last month after he vanished without a trace over seven years ago.

On Wednesday, IDF officers told Halabi’s family that DNA from remains found by a forestry worker from Daliat-al Carmel little over a kilometer from his family home last month matched that of their son, bringing a bitter end to years of uncertainty and false hope.

After a group of Druse elders prayed over Halabi's coffin, draped with an Israeli flag in a plaza at the Usfiya military cemetery, Labor Party MK Amir Peretz told mourners that Majdi “gave me the opportunity to meet this family of such grace.”

Peretz, who during his time as Defense Minister met on many occasions with the Halabi family, called on mourners to stand in solidarity with “a family of a sort of grace that is hard to quantify. For seven and a half years everyone who came to meet you left encouraged, hopeful. We salute you with all our strength, and you must know that you are embraced not only by all those who are here today, but also all of the people of Israel.”

Deputy Minister for Development of the Negev and Galilee Ayoub Kara (Likud), a native of Usfiya, spoke of the years spent leading the search for Halabi, and the shock and pain of hearing on Thursday that it was all in vain.



“I have no words in my lexicon to describe the disappointment and sorrow from the terrible news we received yesterday. I lived this case from the first day. We looked for Majdi in Israel and across the world and followed up every bit of information that we found about him. But in my worst dreams I never believed that while I’m trying and speaking to officials from all over the world, including the Arab world, that Majdi Halabi was so close to home.”

Kara also called on the government to solve the mystery surrounding Halabi’s death, and invest more resources in finding missing IDF soldiers.

Peretz and Kara were also joined by Science and Technology Minister Daniel Herschkowitz and opposition leader Shaul Mofaz, both of whom framed their remarks as a paean not only to the Halabi family, but to the Druse community of Israel as a whole, which with the exception of Golan Heights Druse, serve in the army.

Halabi disappeared in May 2005 while traveling from his home to his base in Tirat Carmel south of Haifa.

He was last seen at a bus station in his hometown of Daliat al-Carmel, located on the slopes of Mount Carmel and southeast of Haifa.

"The IDF and the Israel Police have said that it is still unclear what led to Halibi's death, or if he was murdered or committed suicide. It has also not been reported if he died at the site where he was found or was moved there after his death."

After the pallbearers shoveled dirt on Halabi’s coffin and the military honor guard fired off a 21-gun salute, well-wishers stood in a single file line to give condolences to Halabi’s father and other elder male members of his family. One man who lingered till the end was Tzvi Regev, father of the late IDF soldier Eldad Regev, who died following a cross border raid by Hezbollah in July 2006 that sparked the Second Lebanon War. Along with fellow soldier Ehud Goldwasser, Regev was taken to southern Lebanon by Hezbollah guerrillas, who held his body captive until he was returned in a prisoner exchange with Israel in July 2008.

Regev said Thursday that after his son was taken, the Halabi family extended a helping hand, and offered support during the days of uncertainty. Now, after they received the same heartbreaking news that Regev’s family was told in 2008, he said the time had come for him to return the favor.

“They were here for the two years that Eldad was gone and now I’m here to do the little I can for them.”

Regev said that like the Halabi family, he held out hope until the very end, no matter how unlikely the chances that his son would come home.

“Until I saw the coffins, I still had hope. I still thought you never know, something could happen,” Regev said.

When asked if the Halabi family should expect to have some sort of feeling of ease now that the affair is over, he said “it’s not relief, it’s something, but I just can’t explain it.”

“We went through it for two years, the constant uncertainty and worrying, I have no idea how they did this for seven years.”