ehud goldwasser .
(photo credit: Channel 10)
Yair Goldwasser's last contacts with his brother Ehud were so normal it seems bizarre in retrospect. He ate dinner with Ehud and his wife, Karnit, in their Haifa apartment. Then there was an ordinary phone conversation a few days before Ehud left for the final leg of his reserve duty on the northern border.
His family has not seen him since, because on July 12, Hizbullah gunmen kidnapped him and fellow reservist Eldad Regev, 26. The word normal has become a stranger for Yair and his family.
For more than five weeks they have subsisted on a diet of hope and anxiety, with no word on the fate of the tall environmental engineering student. Their belief that he was wounded only makes matters worse. While fellow Nahariya residents are breathing in relief at the cessation of the Hizbullah rocket fire, the war is not over for Yair Goldwasser, 26, and his younger brother Gadi, 23.
"This is where our battle begins," said Gadi as he sat with Yair in their childhood home. On wooden shelves behind them were clay pieces sculpted by their mother. The guitar that Ehud - known in the family as "Udi" - loved to play lay on a dining room chair.
The warning sirens have fallen silent and the rockets have stopped since Monday's cease-fire. But the two young men, who have been pleading with officials from around the world for some word about their older brother, are hardly at peace. They believe he is alive, but they would like to bolster that faith with concrete evidence.
Yair Goldwasser dismissed encouraging words from Vice Premier Shimon Peres, who said Wednesday that Ehud was alive. There isn't sufficient evidence behind those words, he said. Gadi and Yair told The Jerusalem Post this week they feared that as people returned to their normal routines they would forget about "Udi" and Regev.
"We know this. We are not blind," said Gadi. He and the family are doing everything in their power to keep the two men's fate on the top of the national agenda.
"We do not just sit at home with our fingers crossed and wait for Udi to come home. We are shouting. We are putting pressure on those who need to be pressured. We are going to keep on doing that until Udi returns," Gadi said.
They hope to meet soon with United Nations Secretary-General Kofi Annan, but said that no date had been set.
The family's request to him and to everyone else is simple: help return their life to where it was on July 12, when they were a family of three brothers.
"It's something that no one can prepare you for. It just happened that on one simple, beautiful day your whole life twists around and from the top of the world you fall into a pit," said Gadi.
Yair was home in Nahariya watching television when his world was turned upside down. Gadi was traveling in India with his girlfriend and a friend. Their parents were in South Africa, where the family has lived on and off since 1987 due to father Shlomo's work as a cargo ship skipper.
Yair said he been about to start working on his car when he suddenly had a premonition telling him to stay put.
"Four minutes later officers knocked on my door and gave me the news that my brother was missing in action," Yair said.
He was the first in the family to know that Ehud was gone. He e-mailed brother Gadi and sent a text message asking father Shlomo to break the news to their mother.
The IDF officer stopped Yair from calling Ehud's wife, Karnit, suggesting it was better handled by a professional team.
Gadi received Yair's e-mail when he came upon an Indian village with Internet access, shortly after the kidnapping.
"The first thing I did was to phone home," he said. But getting back was a complicated process that took four days. "I lost four kilos. I didn't sleep for even one hour," he said.
Unlike many of their neighbors who fled Nahariya during the war, the Goldwassers stayed put.
"We don't believe in leaving our home. It's ridiculous to even think about it," said Yair.
The rockets falling around them paled in comparison to the pain caused by the sudden absence of their big brother.
They didn't head to a protected room or a bomb shelter. Yair said he was more likely to head to the roof to see where the rockets had hit.
Two rockets exploded at a nearby elementary school, one landed 50 meters down the road and another dropped 100 meters further away, he said.
"I was numb to it," said Gadi.
From the start of the military operation in Lebanon, Prime Minister Ehud Olmert said that one of its objectives was the return of the kidnapped soldiers. Gadi said he believed the kidnapping was simply the trigger and not the cause for the war.
"For six years they [Hizbullah] sat on the border preparing for war, and sadly my brother was caught in the middle. It could have been anyone," Gadi said, adding, "sadly, it was my brother."
Because of their brother's kidnapping, Gadi and Yair were not called to reserve service. Gadi said he would have fought in the war but bristled when asked if he supported it.
"We do not enjoy reading in the newspapers and seeing on television people dying, neither civilians in Lebanon nor our own soldiers. We do not enjoy hearing the bombs in our own town, seeing my best friend's home directly hit by a missile, smashing his whole life to pieces," said Gadi.
Yair said he understood from the start that they were in for a long haul. "We have to be patient, strong and have a lot of hope," he said. "We are not in grief. We are not in mourning. He [Ehud] is not dead. We can feel that. By standing strong we help him and send him all of our strength."
The brothers said they were neither diplomats nor government officials. They were simply two young men who wanted their brother back, they said. "I would turn the world upside down to do that," Gadi said.