Death Valley

Israeli Daniel Mountwitten disappeared in India. Help from the embassy has been missing too.

By HILARY LEILA KRIEGER
October 27, 2005 12:21
daniel mountwitten 88

daniel mountwitten 88. (photo credit: )

 
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Several foreigners have gone missing in India's Parvati Valley in recent years - presumed dead but still lost in the lush and dangerous gorges. Three Israelis are among them

One morning in early August, Daniel Mountwitten woke up, put on his sandals, and grabbed his camera, money, and two passports - one Israeli and one Australian. He left his best friend from home, Ori Amitay, sleeping in their room at the Northern Indian guest house they had reached the day before.

He never come back.

Amitay didn't notice at first, since throughout their backpacking trip Mountwitten would often get up and take long walks. But when it grew dark, Amitay became worried. In the morning, he went to the main town of Kasol, a 20-minute walk from Challal where the two 23-year-olds were staying. He asked around, but no one mentioned having seen him. So Amitay went to the mountains and began searching along the rugged trails. Still he found nothing.

The next day, on August 4, Amitay went to the local police. On August 5, he went to the district police and to the Chabad house to round up volunteers to help with the search. And he called Mountwitten's family.

"I didn't really have anything to say. The story's really short: I woke up in the morning and Daniel wasn't in the room," Amitay related from his Jerusalem house, just blocks from Mountwitten's. "I told them what I knew then, which is basically what I know now."

Mountwitten is the third Israeli backpacker to have disappeared in India's Parvati Valley and left only a string of unanswered questions behind him. Unknowns remain in all the cases, including in that of the only one who was found - long after he'd been murdered. One of the few clear conclusions amidst all the murkiness is that there is dissatisfaction with Israel's embassy in New Delhi. Far away from home, the place that should have been most familiar was just as alien, and alienating, as the foreign surroundings.

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Once Mountwitten's family learned of his disappearance, they called the Foreign Ministry's emergency situation room and the embassy in India. It also called Mountwitten's travel insurance company and the Australian Embassy. Three days later, the insurance company, accompanied by Mountwitten's younger sister Dalia, had arrived in Challal and begun an intensive hunt. By the end of the week, an Australian delegate was also on the scene distributing flyers, corralling the media, identifying local contacts, and providing language assistance and cultural guidance.

But the Israelis were nowhere to be seen. At the end of August, Dalia was able to get a meeting with Israel's ambassador to India, David Danieli, but nothing constructive came out of it. A few weeks later, the Israeli and Australian embassies met to coordinate visits to the region; the Australians were already on their second trip and the Israelis had yet to leave New Delhi.

"I can't remember any kind of productive involvement on the Israeli side," remarked Mountwitten's older sister, Ruth Vakshlak, who praised the Australians as "super."

"The Australians are actually doing a lot as opposed to the Israelis," Vakshlak said. "They were involved the whole time. They really helped a lot. The Israelis did absolutely nothing, which is very upsetting."

She and her family aren't the only ones who think so.



The Parvati Valley stretches for 150 kilometers along the southern edge of the Himalayan Mountain range, part of the larger Kulu Valley district. Some 70 to 80 villages, many with populations of only a few hundred people, are nestled among the fir-lined expanses and snowy peaks. Most can only be reached on foot.

Mountwitten and Amitay arrived at Challal, a village of at most 1,500 people bordered by the vicious Parvati River, close to noon on August 1. They hung out, ate, watched TV, and went to sleep around midnight.

"We had plans to see the Parvati valley for two or three weeks. That's the time we had, and then each would go his own way," said Amitay of the friends' plans for wrapping up their multi-month post-army South Asian treks. "It was the end for us both."

It seemed, at first glance, a good finale to their travels: Breathtaking. Remote. Serene.

"Israelis don't know. When they come there, a lot of people think it's a very nice place," said Yochai Lelior, who is the commander of the Harel insurance company's rescue unit. "There is a feeling of shanti [tranquility]. But if you come with the eyes of someone who searches or investigates, like my eyes, it's very dangerous."

"We're talking about maybe the most rugged place in the world. It has peaks like you've never seen. And you've never seen ravines like this either," said A.P. Singh, police superintendent for the Kulu district. "The Parvati Valley has a lot of small villages and they're quite famous with Israeli tourists for various reasons - some like the climate, some like the cannabis."

Singh's voice is coming through a scratchy Indian phone line, but it's clear he hasn't batted an eye.

"This location allegedly produces the finest cannabis in the world, or so people believe."

The intoxicating combination of Himalayas and hashish draws 30,000 foreign tourists each year, according to Singh. Some of them never leave.

"This area is a very problematic area. It's a mixture of mountains, rivers, and drugs - and tourists, mostly Israelis," said Lelior.

Singh counts 16 foreign nationals who have gone missing in the last 20 years. Others say the number is much greater.

Whatever the total, it's high enough that backpacker bibles like the Lonely Planet travel guide have flagged the Himachal Pradesh state, which contains the Parvati Valley, as having "a reputation for foreign tourists going missing and drug-related violence."

Australia, from which Mountwitten's father Robert made aliya, is among the countries to have posted travel warnings on the area: "Several foreign citizens who were hiking alone or in small groups have been attacked or have disappeared while visiting the Kulu/Manali district in Himachal Pradesh, particularly on some of the more remote trekking routes."

So does the United States, including the following on its consular sheet on India rather than its list of travel warnings: cautioning that "crime and violence have also increased in the popular hiking and rafting destination of Kulu/Manali."

According to Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Tamar Samash, Israel "usually has the same warnings as the [US] State Department." But in this case, the only advisory Israel has for India concerns the strife-ridden Kashmir region.

The Mountwitten family and others have called for Israel to post its own warning.

Israel apparently now agrees, though it has yet to take action.

"We want to put much more on our Web site because in the last years there's been a lot of trouble in this region," noted Consul Rachel Yosefov, head of the consular section at Israel's embassy in New Delhi.

Yosefov said that the process for posting a warning is a lengthy and sensitive one.

"We must be very careful not to hurt the local authorities," Yosefov explained, adding that Israel needs to put any warning "in a proper and official way" which must be coordinated with the Foreign Ministry's legal advisor.

"But nobody will listen," she said. "We have a warning about Kashmir but no one listens - you see the problem." It's one that isn't limited to India. One year ago, for instance, the government warned of impending terror attacks in Sinai, but 12 Israelis were still caught in the Taba blasts.

Still, Yosefov said, the Kulu region warning will be posted "in the coming days."

Whenever it does appear, it will be too late for Mountwitten.

"He definitely wouldn't have traveled alone if he knew it was a dangerous area," Vakshlak contended.

But he didn't know.



Mountwitten had a difficult time during his infantry service in Nablus, Ramallah, and anywhere else there was trouble during the height of the second intifada. The thought of embarking last December on his trip east, first to work in Australia, then to backpack around India and Nepal, got him through.

"It was the thing that really held him during the three years he spent in the army. It was the thing he was really looking forward to," Vakshlak said. "I can really imagine him all those nights guarding or whatever he did, thinking about it. It really helped him hold on."

His reaction upon arriving in India: "overjoyed," according to Vakshlak. His mother, Malka, and younger sister Dalia got to see his enthusiasm first-hand when they met up with him in India.

Just weeks later, on July 31, two days before he disappeared, he wrote his last e-mail to his family. He explained that he was going to the Parvati Valley where he wouldn't be able to contact them as regularly as usual because "phones and computers are as easy to find as dodo birds in the West Bank," referring to the extinct fowl. "But I will do my best."

Earlier in the e-mail, he wrote that Meital, a friend like Amitay from Israel and India, "left yesterday and supplied me with the most sad parting I've had so far (except you, my wonderful family)."

Amitay extolled Mountwitten's humor, loyalty, and intelligence, and described him as "always happy, always shining."

"I think everyone who met him considered him his best friend," he said. "When he laughed, everyone laughed with him."

That was really true at first, he explained, because Mountwitten's laugh was so boisterous "you couldn't take it." But then, he continued, "you just fell in love with him."



Mountwitten's love was the outdoors.

"He was a nature lover," Amitay said, alternating between past and present tense. A "really built guy," he also appreciated the nature of the human body: "He saw the human body as an amazing machine," Amitay said, recalling Mountwitten splaying his fingers and saying, "Look at me move my fingers - and I'm unplugged!"

"He didn't really like cities. He would rather go for a walk than sit in a Tel Aviv pub," said Amitay, who therefore wasn't initially concerned when he woke to find that Mountwitten had gone for what he presumed was a stroll.

"When I woke up, Daniel wasn't in the room. That was not unusual. It happened all the time," Amitay said. "It made sense that he would just leave and walk around and go climb a mountain somewhere."

But this time Mountwitten didn't return.

"The following morning I started to feel that something really bad had happened and it was time to do something."

So he started to search. He was soon joined by scores of Israelis, many of whom didn't know Mountwitten but were traveling in the area. Later, old friends from home whom he had traveled with in India and new friends he had made along the way flooded the area to join the efforts.

By August 8, Dalia and Lelior had arrived with a professional team. They hired a group of professional mountain climbers from a nearby school and expert rafters to canvass the river; there was a tracker dog, even a helicopter.

On some days, Lelior said, as many as 100 people would scour the mountainside, "combing" the area by standing in lines of people five meters apart. They checked cliffy overlooks, forest thickets, the river's major dam, and riverside banks eddy-to-eddy. "Eddies," Lelior explained matter-of-factly, "are places a body could get stuck."

"They were a very strong group of people that were very dedicated. They did an amazing job."

He estimated that they searched 90 percent of the surrounding area.

"In this particular incident, everything could have happened. We didn't know if it was the river, or if it was the mountains."

He continued, "Every lead we had we went and tried to find him as if it was the only lead."

The result: "We didn't find Daniel."

Amitay also went to the local police. "I didn't really feel good about it. They were mainly not that interested, not professional, not really policemen, just people who take bribes," Amitay said. "I really felt they wouldn't help and whatever would happen would happen because of us."

The next day he went to the district police, headed by Singh, who "looked like more serious people."

He added, "They tried to give me a feeling that stuff was happening, but that was it, it doesn't mean anything."

"All we could do was form search teams - a lot of them - and look for him. We looked really hard for him," Singh said. "Anything could have happened."



The one thing most parties agree on is that Mountwitten probably ended up in the river, though they disagree on whether he fell in or was thrown in.

"There is a strong chance we would have found him" if he had gotten lost in the mountains, Lelior said. "We searched top and bottom, off the trails, [even with] a machete."

"We found dead cows. We found a dead Indian [who had] a heart attack," Amitay declared. "We found anything there was to be found."

"The only thing that could have happened if we didn't find the body is that he fell in the river," according to Singh.

In the river it's not unheard of for people to disappear without a trace.

Some time ago, a bus with 45 passengers fell in. Only six bodies were ever recovered.

And a person who goes into the river, many say, has about zero chance of survival.

So given Mountwitten's penchant for the outdoors and solitary walks, Singh is of the firm opinion that the backpacker had an accident which ended up costing him his life.

While possible scenarios range from his being attacked by a bear or getting lost in the snow several kilometers higher up, the lack of a body leads Singh to prefer the explanation that Mountwitten slipped and fell into the river.

One option that seemed unlikely to Singh was foul play, specifically a mugging.

"The profile's not right," according to Singh: Mountwitten wasn't a "loaded tourist" brimming with cash and "fancy gadgets"; he was a fit, well-built, 20-year-old male, rather than the usual female or elderly victims; and he went out in broad daylight around 8 a.m.

"People don't go mugging one another at 8 a.m. in the morning. I've never heard about such a thing, not in these parts."

And getting rid of a body, Singh said, would be harder than the murder itself, minimizing the likelihood of a criminal motive on the part of a thief, or a drug lord peeved about Mountwitten seeing something he shouldn't have.

Besides, Singh pointed out, his officers and the rescue team had searched everywhere thoroughly and had asked the locals again and again if they had any information.

Just in case they had missed anything, he added, he left undercover cops in place.

"If somebody had done anything to Daniel, it would have been found out if there there was even one witness," Singh asserted.

Anyway, according to Singh, there wouldn't have been a lot of witnesses so early in the morning: "At 8 a.m., not a lot of people are awake."

That point is just one of many in which Singh becomes self-contradictory, 8 a.m. being on the one hand a desolate time of day when no bystanders were around, and on the other bustling mid-morning when one would be stupid to stage a mugging. Either way, Lelior notes that while he was there he heard of an attempted rape of a German tourist - in the middle of the day.

The idea that the cops would have ferreted out any damning details is also somewhat suspect.

According to the insurance report Lelior submitted, the police sent one under-cover police officer, and "it was clear to all that he was a policeman."

The town, at any rate, is tiny and close-knit. And in terms of the difficulty of disposing of a body, it couldn't be easier in a village with a roaring river running along its edge.

Lelior said there was a chance that Daniel's body was in the mountainside and not the water - but only one reason for that would be likely: "If he is [there], somebody didn't want us to find him."

Mountwitten's profile is exactly the same as the one Israeli whose fate is known: 27-year-old Nadav Mintzer, an IDF pilot who went missing in 1997. It took 18 months before dedicated friends discovered that he had been murdered by one of the area's many Nepalese workers who owed money to a local drug lord. The amount the killer made off with: a few hundred dollars.

Relatively small sums of money - like the 600 Australian dollars Mountwitten had on him, not to mention his two passports - are actually small fortunes to Himalayan villagers and Nepalese foreign workers; in other words, they are clearly amounts some people feel are worth killing for.

Also, Singh implied that the likelihood of a criminally motivated incident was small. He said that only four of the 16 cases of missing foreigners can definitely be attributed to attacks over belongings, while at least six or seven were due to accidents and getting lost. He pointed to the case of Israeli Guy Duady as fitting in the latter category.

While it's believed that Duady did break his leg while hiking on an isolated mountain path, he was with a friend who left him safe and sound in the forest while she walked the two hours back to civilization to get help. When she came back, he was gone.

Singh suggested that at some point he got up and tried to make it back on his own, but his injury caused him to stumble and fall off the side of the precarious mountain edge. At least as likely, though, is that while he was alone and vulnerable, he made an easy target for bandits.



Like Singh, Mountwitten's family at first assumed that the backpacker had had an accident. But they noticed the question marks in the case and came up with different answers.

For one thing, Mountwitten didn't take any of the things he would have needed for a hike of any distance, such as his hiking boots or day pack. Additionally, no likely route would have taken him by the river - or, at least, not to the dangerous spots where one might fall in.

"This river is not tempting. It's a river that when you sit on the banks, it's very scary. You will be cautious," noted Lelior.

The family was also troubled by the lack of witnesses.

"Eight a.m. is midday there," said Vakshlak. "There are always people around and nobody said that they saw him. It's impossible that nobody saw him leaving the guest house, that nobody saw him walking around. That triggered the thought that it was a criminal act."

The family decided to employ a private investigation company from New Delhi which had solved the murder of a female tourist there several years ago.

They found some problems with the two eyewitnesses interviewed by the police.

For starters, they both were identified by the guest house owner. It turned out they also both had personal ties to him.

One was a woman who told the told the police she saw Mountwitten walking out of the village in the morning. When she was questioned again later on, she couldn't recognize him. It turned out that she is part of the same clan as the guest house owner. According to Vakshlak, "Even the local police person that was there said she wasn't credible."

The other witness, a Nepalese worker, had a direct connection to the owner: he was the guest house cook.

The insurance report, which draws on the PI's report, concludes that Mountwitten might never have left the guest house.

The report alleges that the guest house owner "is a known criminal figure, who is being currently questioned about his involvement in another murder case." That questioning meant that there were some problems reaching him when Mountwitten's disappearance first became known, and the family continues to claim that he was never properly interrogated.

"If [the owner] is not directly involved in the case, he surely has information about it since he is a head figure in the area," the report claims. "There are people like [the guest house owner] and other powerful people in the area whom the police would never consider as suspects due to their influence in the area. The local population is frightened of the police and is afraid to cooperate in fear of the police's involvement."

The private investigation agency, the insurance company, and the family now are all of the same opinion: while it is within the realm of possibility that Mountwitten died in an accident, it is highly unlikely. In short, they suspect foul play.

V.T. Chadha, the private investigator, said "there's no other explanation." He based his assessment in part on the history of the place.

"These things happen there," he said.

"The presence of police is not very strong," he continued. Mountwitten "was in an area where people with drugs operate and when they see someone who might expose [them], it's easier to do away with him."

"The local police is completely corrupt," charged Vakshlak, who didn't rate the district police much better. "The police know there's a drug cartel there and when they're asked why they don't do anything, they say, 'We're planning a big raid at the end of November.' If I know it, they know it too. By November there won't be anything left. They'll have shipped and harvested it by then."

The police "burn the fields that are already harvested, which is excellent for the farmers," she added, referring to reports from previous years. "The minute you burn the fields you make it ready for planting."

The police aren't the only ones complicit in the drug cartel's activities, in Vakshlak's opinion. "All the people who live there either belong to or fear the dominant mob families."

According to the report, "Although the police helped with the search as it were, all their actions were done in a passive fashion and according to local standards.

"The 'local standards' means that although the growing and selling of drugs is prohibited in India, both the growing and selling is done in the open and there is an 'understanding' with the local police on the matter."

Lelior referenced "the history of this place" in ascribing Mountwitten's disappearance to murder. "There are a lot of drugs, and a lot - a lot - of corruption. The corruption goes very deep and very high."



The perceived corruption is one of the main reasons Mountwitten's family believes diplomatic intervention is needed. The family wants the Central Bureau of Investigation, India's national police force, to do its own review.

"The idea was that if they investigate, they won't have a connection to the place or the people, so they won't be bribed," Vakshlak explained.

The family had received the contact information for Israel's Far East police attach , based in Bangkok, from the Duady family. He told them that it would be best for one country to handle that line of action, so the Mounwitten's stuck with him.

According to a letter sent to the family from the New Delhi embassy, Israel filed a request to get the CBI involved at the beginning of September.

"The Indians haven't replied yet," according to Vakshlak, meaning nothing has happened.

"They're not pressuring the Indians," Vakshlak said of the Israeli Embassy. "And that's what's necessary for the CBI to get working."

Israeli Consul Rachel Yosefov, however, maintained that the CBI has started working and has even already visited the area.

"There is an investigation of the CBI here. Our police attach in Bangkok is in charge of this investigation and is in contact with the people who are doing this investigation, but still we don't have any news," Yosefov said.

Vakshlak was incredulous at the response, since neither the embassy in Delhi nor the police attach had told her that the CBI had responded. When her husband returns to the region this week, he plans to ask the Australians to take up the issue.

In the meantime, Vakshlak met with an Indian representative in Israel. She said he confirmed that the CBI was not participating as of mid-October. He suggested that she contact the Foreign Ministry's situation room so the officials there could present him with a request to step up action on the matter, which would allow him to try to speed things up.



Precedent isn't on the Mountwittens's side.

In May of 2003, 26-year-old Duady went missing while hiking in the Kulu Valley. To this day, his family has maintained, a proper investigation has not been conducted.

"Almost two-and-half years after Guy's disappearance, no elementary investigation was done by the police, and the Israeli representatives, especially the Foreign Office, could have done much more trying to help my family end its nightmare," said Duady's older sister, Shirly Ben-Yakov.

She said that she has repeatedly sought a proper investigation by bodies including the CBI, but nothing has happened.

"No real investigation was ever done there by the local police or anybody in Israel - I'm sure more can be done by the Israeli authorities," she asserted.

She did recently manage to elicit a letter from Internal Security Minister Gideon Ezra - "after me just pushing over and over again" - asking the Indians to increase their efforts, but nothing has come of it so far.

She did commend Israel's Far East police attach for his efforts to move the investigation along, but she has no words of praise for any other Israeli.

"The embassy was involved for a few days at the beginning" before going back to New Delhi, Ben-Yakov recounted. "From that point until today, their involvement has been very little."

"They said it's our responsibility, not theirs," Ben-Yakov continued, describing herself as angered and saddened by the response.

"For two and a half years I just keep sending letters to everybody. The foreign minister, the prime minister. They just keep giving me the answer that they're sure the relevant people involved are doing their best," she said. "They just use these words - 'the relevant people' - I don't know who they mean."

She criticized the political leaders for not bringing up her brother's case during high-level visits to the region over the past year.

Yosefov, who was also working at the embassy at the time Duady went missing, insisted that the embassy did everything possible to help with his case.

Ben-Yakov countered that, "They have nothing prepared. They don't know how to handle these cases. They say that India is a slow country and we should be patient... But nothing's happened."

Indeed, Yosefov did offer that explanation.

"This is India, not Israel, and things take time," she said in reference to the Mountwitten investigation. Presumably, it's a universal truth.

Ben-Yakov said that she would have been happy to do most of the work herself if she had known how to get started.

"We asked them, 'Tell us how to look, because we don't know how to look,'" she said. But "they don't know anything but what I tell them."

She added, "They are nice people but not professional. They want to help us, but they have no clue [how] to search for anyone."

Duady's relatives are not the only ones upset with the New Delhi embassy for not doing more. In fact, it seems much harder to find fans of the embassy than detractors.

One of the few admirers is Ruth Mintzer, whose son Nadav disappeared in 1997. But she was dealing with a totally different staff, and the critics say that makes all the difference.

"We contacted the consul and the person who was there helped us a lot. We got a lot of help from them," she said.

Still, the main efforts that solved the case - to the extent it's been solved, since many loose ends remain unresolved - came from dedicated friends who traveled around India and asked lots of questions.

First they found that somebody had fraudulently cashed some of his traveler's checks. Much later, they found a local who knew about what had happened and took them to the house of the Nepalese worker who had killed Mintzer; later they were able to recover some of his body parts and personal items. The police took the worker into custody, but two days later he ran away.

"The police is part of this whole thing. They didn't want to help, and they didn't want to do anything," Mintzer said.

She noted that the friends couldn't take her son's backpack with them because the police said they needed it for evidence, even though they never brought a case. When a friend went by the station a year ago, he tried to get the pack, but by then the police said they didn't know where it was.

It was only when Mintzer came across a 2002 Guardian article that she realized her son's death was part of a trend.

"I'm sure that if Nadav would have known, he wouldn't have gone by himself," she said. She noted that when the true nature of the place became clear to the embassy staff, "They were very astonished because they didn't know anything about this scene. Nobody did."

But now at least some people do know, and now there are at least some services in place - like the Harel rescue team - to help families.

Which only makes what happened to the other Israeli families that much more upsetting to them.

"The case with Daniel is very similar - and you see they didn't learn anything from Guy's case: there are the same answers and the same mistakes," Ben-Yakov said. "It's two and a half years later and they're doing the same thing they did with us."

Ben-Yakov felt the embassy staff was unprofessional rather than apathetic.

"I don't think they don't care, because they're very nice and they understand the family's pain." Reflecting on the situation, Ben-Yakov repeated, "I don't think they don't care. They just feel sorry for us and go to sleep."

She added, "I think it's a problem of money. They just don't have a source for that kind of thing."

But those familiar with Mountwitten's case think it's worse than that.

"Everybody did everything they could have done, except for them, who didn't care," Amitay said of the Israeli Embassy staff. "He [Mountwitten] was a combat soldier who just finished giving three years of his life to his country. The least you can do is show interest."

He described the family's meeting with the ambassador as "disgusting," charging, "He pretty much told them face to face, I don't care. Stop bothering me."

"My sister met with him. He made no promise to assist whatsoever," Vakshlak reported. "He was completely cold."

Samash of the Foreign Ministry in Jerusalem defended the embassy staff in India and said that there had been no complaints lodged against any of them.

"If they felt the staff wasn't warm enough, it was their own subjective feeling, because I know our staff are very warm and open," she said, though she observed the family's difficult situation and added, "You cannot judge them. It's how they feel and that's their right."

Vakshlak did note that the situation room in Israel was "very supportive" in terms of expressing their concern over Mountwitten's disappearance and belief that the family would find him. "But I can't remember that they did anything more than that."

In Mountwitten's case, the family has a good basis for comparison. It's also been in touch with the Australian Embassy ever since the disappearance. While the Australians haven't found Mountwitten either, it's obvious to the family that they're helping as much as possible.

Vakshlak pointed to the flyers and advertisements in multiple languages they created and distributed at their own expense. She noted the embassy staff's repeat visits to the site and the warm reception her sister enjoyed when she met with the consul (the ambassador was out of the country at the time).

And she particularly lauded the representative the Australians sent to Challal to assist the search process. "He really went out of his way to do everything he could. He was very, very helpful."

He visited the main sites connected to Mountwitten's disappearance; he met with the police; he spoke with the Israeli search team that was there. While the New Delhi embassy helped garner coverage from the Australian and Indian national media, the representative in Challal was able to contact the local papers that are most read by those who might have seen Mountwitten.

The result has been that the Indian reading public thinks an Australian has gone missing, not an Israeli.

"He's more Israeli than Australian," Amitay bitterly pointed out. "He's Australian because his father's Australian. He's Israeli because he did the army and lived here for 22 and a half years."

Israeli consul Yosefov explained that because Mountwitten has dual citizenship, the two countries decided to take turns with the visits every month or two, "just to keep the momentum," and otherwise divvy up duties.

She made her first trip this past weekend, and Vakshlak said that, "with everything they do we're very happy."

Yosefov said that at first, "We did not come to the area because the insurance company was there, because we did not think we had to go there because we had to do work from here [in Delhi]."

To that, however, Vakshlak expressed some dismay.

"It would have been nice and helpful" if someone from the Israeli Embassy had gone, she said. "The whole idea of having an embassy abroad is that you help Israelis in this situation."

She noted that when her cousin became ill in Thailand, where the Israeli Embassy generally gets higher marks, an Israeli representative visited her in the hospital to make sure she was okay - even though she hadn't contacted the embassy.

Yosefov stressed that the embassy has been in touch with the family and taken all possible measures to deal with the situation, most of which is out of its control.

Additionally, Samash noted that there are only seven Israelis at the embassy in a country with difficult working conditions. "They have a limited number of [staff] in New Delhi and they can't go looking for every Israeli in the region." For this reason, she said, when a case such as this is reported, the embassy immediately contacts the local authorities.

"Lots of times these are young people who took a risk without thinking of the consequences and the family expects the embassy and the consulate to do everything to find them. It's difficult. We can't always be in the place to find them," said Samash, who pointed out the consular staff have gone out of their way to help families, including once checking the identity of a corpse and hosting a family searching for information.

She added, "When people are in distress, they expect the whole world to help them, and we are doing our best. It's never enough."

In comparison there are about 30 staffers at the Australian embassy.

But there are little things that Israel could do, Vakshlak argued. For instance, last week, ahead of her husband's current trip to the region to continue searching, she requested that the embassy copy additional flyers with her brother's picture - to be paid for by the family - in time for her husband's arrival.

"Yeah, maybe," was the Israeli response, according to Vakshlak. When nothing had happened and the departure was imminent, she called the Australians to ask if they could once again make the flyers. Not only did they make them immediately, but they wanted no money to defray the costs.

"It couldn't be a lot of money," Vakshlak acknowledged, "but it's the principle. They've been so helpful and they've wanted nothing in return."

Rhetorically, at least, the Israelis have sounded concerned. "I cannot say I am satisfied," Yosefov said of the investigation. "Until we get any information, I will not be satisfied."

She continued, "We want it to go much more quickly, but it's not in our hands, so we have to wait."

But Amitay claimed that they can do much more.

"They can pressure the government [of India]. It's the Foreign Ministry. They're not kids - though every single [volunteer] who went there to help could have done a better job," he charged. "I can't see why the Israeli Foreign Ministry would treat the entire case in such a way. It's disgraceful."



In the meantime, with or without the embassy's help, Mountwitten's family continues to do whatever it can to glean any additional information about what happened.

In Jerusalem, so many friends and relatives have been stopping by the family's Ramot home that Vakshlak had to limit visiting hours to two days a week.

"It's like a shiva - a very long one," remarked Vakshlak. "You have to tell the same stories over and over again. 'Don't you know anything? Isn't there anyone you can ask?'" The reply: "No."

At the very least, Vakshlak wants be able to answer those questions.

"There's always hope," she said. "The primary hope is that he's still alive. The secondary hope is if he's not alive, that we could at least bring him to Israel to bury him here and to know what happened to him."

Daniel Mountwitten Date of birth: 20.6.1982 Israel ID#: 064976624 Israeli passport#: 10257291 Australian passport#: M1815100 Height: 1.78 m. Hair color: Brown Eyes: Green-Brown Distinguishing marks: Pierced left nipple Black and yellow band on left wrist Birthmark on left shoulder Scar on eyebrow; scars on both hands between the thumb and index fingers Mole between the eyes Appearance on the day he went missing: Short hair White t-shirt Gray hooded sweatshirt with "NEW YORK" written on the front Short blue pants with white stripes on the sides Sandals Blue side bag with "eyes" embroided on it; presumed contents: Passports (Israeli and Australian) About A$600 (he had received A$900 a month before) + credit card Digital camera (Canon) Sony mini-disc Blue Jansport wallet with velcro Orange fleece with gray liner

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