Advice from a father who's been through hell

When I heard about the soldiers kidnapped I felt like a scab was being taken off an old wound.

baumel picture 298 (photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
baumel picture 298
(photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
As a parent who had his child taken, when I heard about the soldiers kidnapped I felt like a scab was being taken off of an old wound. I know what's coming for these families: a kind of hell. 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. There's no such thing as a blank thought for me, and I'm sure it's like that with the other families. It's the not knowing that is the killer. There is a constant bombardment of conflicting reports, and the media's need for a story is sometimes at the expense of the people we hold most dear. Closure is necessary, yet hard to come by. While I can't give the families of the recently kidnapped soldiers advice, I can relate my own experiences with the government and IDF. The story is as follows: Almost done with compulsory military service, Zack, a tank fighter, was called up to fight in Lebanon in 1982. Just hours before the cease-fire, Zack and his comrades faced heavy battle at the Lebanese village of Sultan Yaqub. Over 20 Israelis were killed, and six were missing - one of whom was Zack. All this was unnecessary: due to a breakdown of communications between senior officers, the tank battalion charged straight into a Syrian emplacement. When my son was taken prisoner in 1982, my wife and I were quite na ve about the whole situation. We believed the press about the invincibility of the IDF, and later on we found out that wasn't so. There were some officers in the government and military that worked day and night to get the boys back, and there were offices that didn't give a damn. Some members of military intelligence deserve to be hung by their fingernails for their lack of responsibility and action when the MIAs were taken. Unfortunately, it's not always the good guys who make it to the top in the government or military. Personally, I feel let down and betrayed by members of the army and the government. The IDF claims that it will do nearly anything to bring home an MIA, but the army has never lived up to that. It's a paper tiger - seeming potent, yet unable to act. The army claims to endorse the policy of "the truth, only the truth, but not the whole truth." There were times we found out the army wasn't telling us the truth, and we subsequently cut off connections with it. Recently, I have learned that because of competition between different government agencies all avenues to return my son may not have been explored. For example, the Mossad was only minimally involved in attempts to retrieve the MIAs. This was largely due to the fact that the IDF wanted the matter of the MIAs to stay within the army. The competition between different security agencies resulted in a chasm, not an united effort to return those missing. The IDF has also attempted on numerous occasions to write off my son and the other MIAs as dead. However, the fact remains that there has been no conclusive proof of this. None. In fact, new information continues to arise which suggests that some of the MIAs are alive. If the army can come up with proof that my son is dead, I would accept the closure. With this in mind, I would suggest the following to the parents of the kidnapped soldiers. First, be patient. On the one hand, it's too early for you to do anything of value. Despite the image that the prime minister has projected - namely, that he is unwilling to negotiate - I know from personal experience when he was mayor of Jerusalem that he cares very deeply. Second, continually yet quietly pressure the army to take all avenues necessary to return your child. Additionally, I would insist that the politicians keep their mouths shut. They do a great deal of harm with their efforts to grab headlines. Our enemy is sadistic and enjoys seeing us beg on our knees for MIAs. That does not mean we shouldn't do it, but it needs to be done privately and from within. Keep in mind, however, that I am the last person in the world who can give meaningful advice. If I was so smart, I would have Zack home. I feel that there is room for improvement in the negotiations process as well. In 1989, at PLO headquarters in Tunis, I negotiated a prisoner exchange that would send us one IDF soldier's body in return for one dying terrorist. The terrorist died before the deal occurred, but a different prisoner was given over instead, and the principle of "One for One" stood. The government doesn't have to make lopsided exchanges. I am still on good terms with the PLO members who negotiated the deal with me. There is mutual respect. Arafat hated me with a vengeance, which is why I never made any progress with the mainline PLO. As for the current situation in Lebanon, I feel sorry for the boys who are not going to come back. There is no such thing as a bloodless war, but this conflict was thrust upon us. If the conflict is put off, it will just be worse. The time has come for action, not words. I fear that something must be done; otherwise, it will become increasingly difficult for us to continue to live here.