"Everyone will eventually be found," head of the IDF's Unit for Locating Missing Servicemen Lt.-Col. Orly Cohen-Gefen said Wednesday, a day after the top military brass held a ceremony commemorating the 195 soldiers whose burial places were unknown.
The IDF's Unit for Locating Missing Servicemen works around the clock to locate the burial places - and in some cases the bodies - of soldiers who were known to have been killed but have not been found since the War of Independence in 1948 through the present.
"Eventually we will find all of the soldiers and their burial places," Cohen-Gefen told The Jerusalem Post from her office in the Kirya military headquarters in Tel Aviv. "We have investigative teams that are working on all of the cases and while it is like a puzzle, we will eventually put all of the pieces together and locate the missing soldiers."
Working with a cadre of former soldiers, the Unit for Locating Missing Servicemen assigns at least two reservists - some geologists, historians and forensic experts - to try and track down and locate the missing soldiers. The reservists sift through old war documents, hospital records and newspaper clippings that might lead them to the soldier's burial place.
"It is not about looking but about knowing where to look and what to look for," said one reservist who specializes in missing soldiers from 1948. That is exactly what the army has been doing and this past year the unit succeeded in locating the bodies of eight soldiers from 1948, including five who fought in the battle of Latrun. Some of the missing soldiers were found buried in Rosh Pina and the Mount Herzl Military Cemetery in Jerusalem.
The IDF, Cohen-Gefen said, did not spare any resources or funds in trying to locate the missing soldiers. "We owe it to the families but first and foremost to the soldiers themselves," she said. "Even in cases, especially from 1948, where the soldiers don't have any family members left, we still do all we can to locate them since the soldiers themselves deserve to have a proper and respectful burial place."
In addition to their work in trying to locate the burial places of missing soldiers, the unit also coordinates efforts to retrieve the six IDF MIA's - Ron Arad who was shot down over Lebanon in 1986; Zachary Baumel, Zvi Feldman and Yehuda Katz who disappeared during the Sultan Yakoub battle in 1982; Guy Hever, who disappeared in the Golan Heights in 1997; and Majdi Halabi, who went missing in May 2005.