(photo credit: Channel 10)
The family of Beersheba man Gavriel Daweet - whose body was returned to Israel as part of a prisoner exchange with Hizbullah on October 15 - said Wednesday that they plan to sue the government in an effort to obtain more information on the fate of their son.
The family was speaking to the Knesset's Aliya, Absorption and Diaspora Affairs Committee, which convened to investigate why information on the 27-year-old veteran Ethiopian immigrant, who went missing three years ago off the Nahariya coast, had not been passed on to the family.
While initial reports said Daweet drowned near Nahariya and that his body washed up on Lebanon, the family has expressed doubts, mainly because his recently recovered identity card shows no sign of having been in water for a extended period.
The family also believes the government found out that Daweet's body was in Lebanon not long after he disappeared on January 20, 2005.
"It [the committee meeting] was a big disappointment and we certainly did not get any of the answers we needed," Daweet's nephew Hanan Kasay told The Jerusalem Post following the hearing. "We will sue the state for the answers."
Kasay said the panel, which is chaired by MK Michael Nudelman (Kadima), invited the family for an emergency hearing but that they left there with more questions than answers.
"From what I could see, no one except for Vered Swede [Prime Minister Minister Ehud Olmert's adviser on social affairs] turned up to answer the questions," Kasay said. "I don't know why no one is talking. It seems like everyone is just scared that they will lose their jobs or something."
During the hearing, MK Colette Avital (Labor) accused the various government bodies of trying to hide information and of not taking the committee seriously.
Kasay told the lawmakers the family had been searching for Daweet for years, "when all along the government knew where he was.
"Is it right that we had to see his body on television before we could see it for ourselves? Is it right that we were kept in the dark about everything until today?" he asked.
Swede, who represented the government at the meeting, said authorities had decided to wait for the head of the Forensic Medicine Institute at Abu Kabir to identify the body before informing the family.
Other government officials, including representatives of the Israel Police, also said they only knew of the plan to get Daweet's body in the weeks prior to its return, and that they were also told to wait for a formal identification before informing the family.
Most of the questions posed by the Daweet family and the committee members, such as why the police had not sufficiently publicized the details of the case, were left largely unanswered as officials from the Prime Minister's Office, Defense Ministry, and police pointed fingers at one another over who should have informed the family about Daweet's remains.
"Even if they weren't sure, the government could have done much more to keep the family informed of what was being discussed," said Avital.
She and MK Zehava Gal-On (Meretz) submitted a formal letter to the Prime Minister's Office demanding that it reveal details of the negotiations surrounding the return of the body, and explain the decision not to inform the family earlier.
"The truth is that we don't know. Maybe there was a good reason here. Maybe the Lebanese demanded that the talks be kept secret. Or maybe the government did not want to make this public because they feared it would play into the hands of the Hizbullah leadership and allow them to demand a higher price. The truth is we don't know the government's motivations. Until they explain themselves it will continue to not look good. It will continue to look like racism," said MK Zvi Hendel (National Union-National Religious Party).
The secrecy surrounding the operation has led the family members and leading representatives of the Ethiopian community to accuse the government of discrimination.
"Did they not trust us with the information or did they just not care to tell us?" Kasay asked the committee, pointing out to the Post that the families of the kidnapped soldiers - Gilad Schalit, Ehud Goldwasser and Eldad Regev - receive constant updates from the Prime Minister's Office.
"I have no idea why the government is keeping information from us," said Kasay, "They are trying to keep it all secret but we will continue to look for the answers so that this does not happen to other families."