'They knew it was dangerous but they went anyway'

The story of a Jewish Agency worker who vanished in Algeria in 1958.

disappearing man 88 missing MIA lost  (photo credit: )
disappearing man 88 missing MIA lost
(photo credit: )
Moshe Hassan's father knew the process of aliya inside and out. "My father tried to come here from Tunis in 1946, but was caught by the British and sent to Cyprus," Hassan told The Jerusalem Post by telephone on Sunday. "He was put in a camp there, and that's where he met my mother. They immigrated to Israel in 1948." They settled in Beit Hagadi, a religious moshav next to Netivot, but the elder Hassan would spend little time in his new country. Asked by the Jewish Agency to help bring Moroccan Jews on aliya, Ya'acov Hassan returned to North Africa in the mid-1950s to begin work as an emissary for Israel. "He knew the area well," Moshe said. "By 1956 he was well-established in Morocco, going to far-flung places like the Atlas mountains, and beyond, and helping entire families come here. Sometimes, he was able to get hundreds of people out of Morocco a day." His father would go to a synagogue on Shabbat, give a speech about Israel, and then ask people to sign up with him after Shabbat was over, Moshe said. "Once they signed up, he would also teach them different agricultural techniques to prepare them for their aliya. He had a lot of success in Morocco - the communities there were very connected to the idea of coming to Eretz Yisrael, so many of them were anxious to come, and he assisted in thousands of cases of aliya." But in 1958 - the same year that Moshe was born - King Muhammad V of Morocco joined the Arab League, and the aliya process became much more difficult. Around that time, the Jewish Agency decided to send Ya'acov to Algeria. "You know, one gate was closing, so they looked to another one," Moshe said. "But Algeria posed difficulties as well. The Algerian communities were more rooted; many of them declined to leave, or preferred to go to France, so my father had a more difficult time there." In any case, Ya'acov was made manager of the entire aliya project in Algeria, and along with Rafael Ben-Gera, another agency worker, they continued with the work of bringing Jews to Israel. "But Algeria was also different than Morocco in that it was unsafe," Moshe said. "They knew it was dangerous, but they went anyway." "Then, on February 17- we know this now - "my father and Ben-Gera were kidnapped by members of the FLN [the Algerian National Liberation Front], who, while they were fighting the French occupation of Algeria, were also staunchly anti-Israel. They informed the [Israeli] government of the capture and the government even negotiated with them. At one point they offered to pay a $1 million ransom for them both, but the FLN was hard to deal with, they kept delaying the process until the government just lost contact with them." "We still don't know exactly what my father did," Hassan said. "We know it was probably something more than just aliya work, because he was recognized as a fallen intelligence officer by the army, but his files are closed - they pertain to activities conducted in an enemy country. "We also know that they were murdered. The Red Cross told us that was the likely outcome after the negotiations fell apart, and the FLN later confirmed, in August of 1958, that they had been killed about six weeks earlier." While the Hassan family still knows little about the circumstances surrounding Ya'acov's death - his burial place is unknown - a monument will be dedicated to both Hassan and Ben-Gera during Tuesday's Jewish Agency memorial ceremony for the Jewish victims of terrorism and hate crimes around the world. "I never got to know my father," Hassan said. "He saw me once, but I was just a baby, and I don't remember it. But my brothers remember him, and my mother, may her memory be blessed, would have been happy to know that he is being remembered."