Sultan Yakoub captive's family turns to court

After waiting 26 years to see her baby brother, Yehuda Katz, a soldier believed to have been kidnapped by Syria during the 1982 Sultan Yakoub battle, Peirhiya Heiman has learned not to leave anything to chance when it comes to the Israeli government. In response to the news that Syria and Israel are now engaged in peace talks, Heiman along with her parents and older brother turned to the High Court of Justice to demand that Katz's return, dead or alive, would be part of the negotiations. "The feeling is, and I'm not ashamed to say it, that he is alive," Heiman said. The family filed their petition on the June 11 anniversary of his capture. The following day the court gave the government 21 days to respond, according to Tel Aviv attorney David Shrem who along with Yishai Sarid represents the family. "This is the last chance to bring him home, either alive or dead," argued the lawyers in the petition, pushing the point that if the state fails to take advantage of it, his fate may never be known. The lawyers wrote that the petitioners are not trying to dictate the diplomatic agenda, but rather they want the court to insist the government fulfill its basic responsibility to their family's loved one. Katz was supposedly taken by the Syrians along with two other soldiers, Zachary Baumel and Tzvi Feldman, during a battle for the Lebanese village of Sultan Yakoub. The Baumel and Feldman families did not want to be a part of the petition, Shrem said. The seven page document refers almost exclusively to Katz, even though the exact fate of all three is still unknown. However, several hours after the battle, Western journalists from Time Magazine, The Associated Press, La Stampa, and the Syrian media, reported that three Israeli soldiers from a tank crew were paraded through Damascus in a "victory march." Katz's tank was identified in the visual images taken from this parade, but the soldiers in the pictures could not be identified. Over the years there were continuos reports that the men were still alive, including telling comments from the late Syrian President Hafez Assad and his brother Rifat, ex-Syrian defense minister Mustafa Tlass, French President Jacques Chirac, former East German intelligence, Christian clergymen, the Arab and Western media, and Amnesty International. But stronger than any physical or verbal evidence said Peirhiya, is her own feeling that her brother is alive and stuck, forgotten in some prison at age 49. Her feelings have proven to be accurate barometers of his fate, she said. For no reason that she can put her finger on, she became very nervous the morning after his capture. She did not know that he had been in a battle, but still, that Friday morning she sat glued to the radio waiting to hear from him on a program where soldiers left messages for their families before cellular phones were available. Even though her family is religious, they left the radio on during Shabbat in hopes of hearing from him. Tuesday, the army let them know he was missing. Since then they have refused to mourn and have fought tirelessly for information about him. "We are most veteran at this," said Peirhiya, who is a mother of four and lives in Jerusalem. On Sunday, she and her older brother, Avraham Ze'ev met with Defense Minister Ehud Barak to tell him that solving the question of their brother's whereabouts should be an issue of utmost priority. Siblings "that are fighting 26 years [for their brother] is the most powerful thing that he could rely on," Peirhiya recounted. He told them he was convinced Yehuda's fate would be included in the talks, she recalled. However, just to make sure these were not empty words, the family is pushing forward with the petition, she said.