While much of the country is focused on the 40th anniversary of the Six Day War, this week marks another anniversary - 25 years since Operation Peace for Galilee, and 25 years since three soldiers went missing. Do we remember who they are, or has the passage of time dimmed our memory?
For the record, they are Tzvi Feldman, Yehuda Katz and Zachary Baumel. On the fifth day of the war, June 10, 1982, a tank unit was dispatched to the Beirut-Damascus highway to secure the road and block a PLO retreat. Now regarded as one of the biggest blunders of the war, the battle of Sultan Yakoub resulted in the deaths of 21 soldiers and the capture of five - Feldman, Katz, Baumel and Arye Lieberman and Hezi Shai (returned in prisoner exchanges in 1984 and '85 respectively).
Shortly after the battle, some Western journalists reported that three soldiers, strapped to an Israeli tank, had been paraded through Damascus. The assumption, though there is no conclusive proof, is that they were Feldman, Katz and Baumel.
To this day, no one knows what happened to them after their encounter in Sultan Yakoub. It is conceivable that they died in battle or were killed at a later date. But just as one is presumed innocent until proven guilty, so too must we assume that they are alive until proven otherwise. Indeed, government and army attempts to declare the MIAs dead have never gained official sanction.
One wonders why successive governments and the army would posit the possibility that they are dead. Is it that if the soldiers are pronounced dead they will be let off the hook as regards determining their whereabouts? Given the moral corruption of our government leaders and the glaring ineffectiveness of our army, such cynicism seems justified.
TODAY WHEN we speak about missing soldiers, we raise the names of only the newest victims of the army's ineptitude - Ehud Goldwasser, Eldad Regev and Gilad Schalit.
It is virtually impossible to make judgments on how the Goldwasser, Regev and Schalit families should advocate for the return of their loved ones. However, given what fate has handed the families of Tzvi Feldman, Yehuda Katz and Zachary Baumel over these past 25 years - along with the families of Ron Arad and Guy Hever - it would be in the interest of the families of our newest abductees to always acknowledge our older ones.
Indeed, as the Regevs, Goldwassers and Schalits travel the world trying to uncover a morsel of information about their sons and husbands, it is critical that they always mention the MIAs of the first Lebanon fiasco.
Why? Because it is the only guarantee that should, God forbid, Udi, Eldad and Gilad still be missing 25 years from now, the government, army and the general population will not forget them as they have Zachary, Tzvi and Yehuda. More so, if Eldad's, Udi's and Gilad's families do not include the brave threesome who were recklessly sent into battle in the summer of 1982, they can expect the government and army to respond, 25 years hence, with the same apathy to their tragic plight.
WHAT THOUGHTS run through the mind of a family whose child has been missing for 25 years? In addition to living with their own pain, they empathize with anyone whose child may face a similar outcome - years of longing and uncertainty, of dashed hopes and shattered dreams. The hearts of the Feldmans, Baumels and Katzes and of the Regevs, Goldwassers and Schalits must be intimately entwined.
The Regevs, Goldwassers and Schalits can draw strength from the 1982 MIAs' families, especially from the Baumels, who still, after all these years, leave no stone unturned as they comb through every possible shred of evidence to find out what happened to their son. Not only can they tap into all the contacts and potential sources of information that the Baumels have at their fingertips, but more importantly, they can learn from the Baumels not to lose faith - all the while living life to the fullest even with a terrible family void that must plague them constantly.
The Feldmans, Baumels and Katzes feel a sense of abandonment by the government and army. To offset that feeling of neglect, the inclusion of their sons' names whenever the Regevs, Goldwassers and Schalits meet diplomats, give interviews and attend rallies of support in their quest to free their children will enfranchise anew the Feldmans, Baumels and Katzes.
More so, to tell the world that one is fighting not only to find out something about their own sons who have been missing for almost a year, but also to find out something about the sons of families who have been missing for 25 years, exposes the cruel and inhumane face of Islamic extremists. It may just galvanize the international community to apply intense pressure on Hizbullah, Hamas, Islamic Jihad, the Palestinian Authority, Syria and Iran to tell us not only where all our missing soldiers are, but whether they are alive or dead.
Most of all, the unification of all the MIAs' families might light a fire under government and army officials who owe them - indeed, owe every family that sends its child to defend the country - an accounting for their bungling incompetence in not bringing our missing soldiers home.