Netanyahu: Baumel’s father traveled around the world to find his son

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu recalled Zachary’s father, Yonah, during his surprise announcement that the young soldiers body had been returned to Israel.

Yonah Baumel holds a picture of his son Zachary, in 1999 (photo credit: ARIEL JEROZOLIMSKI)
Yonah Baumel holds a picture of his son Zachary, in 1999
(photo credit: ARIEL JEROZOLIMSKI)
Until his last breath 10 years ago, Yona Baumel believed that his son Zachary was alive – and for 27 years he traveled around the world to try to find him.
Indeed, the numbers of years he searched for Zachary exceeded the number of years he had known his youngest son, who was declared missing at age 21 in the aftermath of the June 1982 battle at Sultan Yacoub in Lebanon’s Bekaa Valley at the start of the first Lebanon War.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu recalled Zachary’s father, Yona, during his surprise announcement that the young soldier’s body had been returned to Israel.
“I remember Zachary’s father, Yona,” Netanyahu said. “I remember well his pain when he spoke about his son, about his yearning, about his longing. He traveled the world in order to locate any piece of information about his missing son. Many times Yona told me with tears in his eyes that he had one prayer: to find Zachary before he himself passed away. To our sorrow, Yona passed away about a decade ago and is not with us today at this wrenching moment.”
The prime minister explained that just hours earlier, he had informed Zachary’s mother, Miriam, and his sister, Osna, and brother, Shimon, that their long years of uncertainty were over.
“They and the entire people of Israel will escort Zachary to his eternal resting place, his final rest in the soil of the Land of Israel,” Netanyahu said.
“In his last words to his parents, which he wrote on a postcard before the battle at Sultan Yacoub, Zachary wrote ‘Don’t worry, everything is okay, but it looks like I won’t be home for a while.’ It took the State of Israel 37 years to bring him back home,” Netanyahu said.
He pledged that the State of Israel would continue to search for the remaining missing soldiers, including Zvi Feldman and Yehuda Katz, who, like Baumel have been missing since that battle.
“We will not cease from this sacred mission,” he said.
Later he met with Osna, Shimon and their children. Generally, he said, among bereaved families, “life is divided into two parts: the before and the after. But in your case, life is divided into three parts: before, during and the here and now,” Netanyahu said.
Osna Haberman told the prime minister: “I told my mother years ago that it’s not enough that people desire [to find him] and are searching. What is needed is someone with the winning card such as the one that you used. I told my mother years ago that it was not enough that people wanted to look for someone to come with the trump card – and now you brought it.”
Baumel was born in Brooklyn, New York, and immigrated to Israel with his family when he was 10 years old. After graduating from high school, he entered the Hesder program at the Har Etzion Yeshiva in Gush Etzion.
Throughout the years, his family had relied on small tidbits of information that seemed to indicate Zachary was alive, including initial reports from journalists from Time magazine, The Associated Press, and La Stampa, as well as the Syrian media, that three Israeli soldiers from a tank crew were paraded through Damascus in a “victory march.” Visual images from this parade were too unclear to allow for a positive identification.
Reports also surfaced from other sources, including Rifat Assad (brother of former Syrian president Hafez Assad), ex-Syrian defense minister Mustafa Tlass, French president Jacques Chirac, East German intelligence, Christian clergymen, the Arab and Western media, Amnesty International and even Hafez Assad himself.
Yona sought the active involvement of both the US and the Israeli government. During the presidency of Bill Clinton, Congressional act H.R. 1175 was passed to ensure that the US government would continue to search for Zachary.
Zachary’s father also became an international detective, interviewing hundreds of people in the search for additional clues. He spoke with European politicians and the Vatican to solicit their help.
In 2003, in an article for The Jerusalem Post, he wrote, “To this day we continue to receive reports that Zecharia is alive. I know one ultimate fact: that after so many years and having been through so much, we want closure. We want the truth.”
In describing the particular kind of hell he had been living through, he wrote, “You can’t imagine what it’s like to wake up in the middle of the night thinking about your kidnapped son. All the time, when you’re not thinking about something else, you are thinking about your son.”