'We'll finally know what happened'

Regev and Goldwasser families wait in anticipation, hoping prisoner swap will end in reunion, not burial.

Goldwassers 224.88 (photo credit: AP)
Goldwassers 224.88
(photo credit: AP)
Tzvi Regev, 63, marked the 10th anniversary of his wife's death from cancer on Tuesday night as he sat in his Haifa apartment and waited for the dawn, which would tell him if his youngest son, Eldad, was alive or dead. "It's a coincidence," said the soft-spoken, gray-haired man, that these two events - the yahrzeit of his wife Tova and his son's return from captivity - have now become intertwined. At 9 a.m. on Wednesday, after two years of silence on the fate of Eldad Regev, 28, and Ehud Goldwasser, 33, the two men are due to be handed over to Israel. For weeks the army, politicians and the media have speculated that the two men are dead. Then, on Tuesday, information surfaced in a Lebanese paper that one of the two had died, but that the condition of the second man was unknown. So tension was high for the Regev and Goldwasser families as they suffered through the final hours of their long wait for answers, hoping it would end in a reunion rather than a burial. Both families planned to spend the morning in seclusion. The Goldwassers will gather in their hometown of Nahariya and the Regevs in Kiryat Motzkin, where Eldad grew up. "The critical thing is tomorrow, when we will finally know what happened to our sons," Tzvi Regev said. "This final waiting period has been very hard. The tension of the last week has been difficult," he went on as he sat in the small living room of his apartment, where he moved after he remarried eight years ago. He has not been sleeping well. "I wake up several times, and when I do sleep, it's more like dozing," he said. Wearing glasses and a knitted kippa, Tzvi kept glancing at the photograph of his son that stands in his living room. He smiles easily at the thought that Eldad, the youngest of his four sons, might be alive and on his way home to him, but he sobers up just as fast at the thought that Wednesday might bring bad news. He knows it might be a very hard day. "We don't know what will happen," he said. "My feeling is that my son is alive," he said. "I remain hopeful even though there are all kinds of rumors that he is not." He takes comforts in the knowledge that the reports of Eldad's death are unconfirmed rumors. But his imagination can only take him to the moment when he hears the final news about his son. He cannot imagine the moment beyond. After that, "it will be what happens in the moment," he said. Nevertheless, in down moments, he has steeled himself for the worst. "I am prepared to accept what is not easy, that they are not alive," Tzvi said. So he is as scared as he is eager for Wednesday. He comforts himself with the bottom line, that at least he will know what happened. For two years, he has been haunted by the story of missing IAF navigator Ron Arad, whose plane was shot down over Lebanon in 1986. Arad was taken alive, but nothing has been known of his fate since 1988. Determined not to suffer the same fate as Arad's family, Tzvi, a retired Bezeq worker, joined the Goldwassers in lobbying Israeli politicians and world leaders to pressure Hizbullah to return the two young men. It was an endeavor that stretched him in ways that he could not have imagined. A son of Holocaust survivors who never spoke of their experiences, Tzvi came to the Haifa area from the Ukraine in 1948 at age three and has remained there ever since. While Eldad traveled to Thailand for a short while after his army service, Tzvi had never left Israel until the kidnapping. In fact, he said, he rarely traveled outside of Haifa. "I am a very simple man, but in the last two years, I had to speak with people, to run from one parliamentarian's office to another. I didn't imagine it in my worst dreams. I did it for Eldad," he said. It was comforting to feel the support of people from around the country, including the radio newscasts each day that counted the number of days the two men had been missing, he said. Until the kidnapping, one of the hardest moments of Tzvi's adult life was the death of his wife in 1998. Days before he was abducted, Eldad was released from reserve duty to attend a memorial service for her. It was the last time Tzvi saw his son, who had just been accepted to law school. It never occurred to Tzvi to worry about him until the morning of July 12, when he received a phone call from his oldest son, Beni, who told him that an "incident" had taken place in the area where Eldad was serving. Still, Tzvi wasn't worried until Eldad failed to answer his cellphone. Eventually, he went to Haifa's IDF Liaison Office to find out what they knew. He had no idea when he walked in the door that the major in charge had been looking for him in Kiryat Motzkin. It was there in the office that he first heard that his son was missing. "You don't expect that this will happen to you," Tzvi said Tuesday. When Ehud "Udi" Goldwasser was taken, his parents, Shlomo and Miki, were living temporarily in South Africa. They have since returned to Israel. Like Tzvi Regev, they and Ehud's wife, Karnit, have devoted much of the past two years to lobbying for the release of the two men. Last year at this time, Miki addressed a rally in Haifa, with no hope that the end was in sight. In two years she gave countless interviews to the press, but now, in the final hours, she found that she was short of public words. She sat Tuesday at her home in Nahariya, where photographs of the two missing men hang from the fence by the public beach, and gave limited interviews. Like the Regev family, she remained optimistic about her son. "I expect to hug my son," she said. Since there is no proof that he and Regev are dead, she is going on the assumption that they are alive. Like Tzvi Regev, in dark moments she has feared the worst. But she is comforted by what other parents of slain children have told her - that there is life around the edges of the black hole of loss. No matter what the outcome, Miki said, "we are looking forward and with hope. We have two more sons. We have to hug them and walk them down the aisle at their weddings." She acknowledged that the past two years have irrevocably changed her family. "Our lives won't be what they were, whether they [Ehud and Eldad] are alive or not." One of her sons summed up the last two years best when he said, "We are scarred," Miki said. She then shook off the dark thoughts to state once again her conviction that on Wednesday she would see her son for the first time in two years. But that, she said, would not end the story, because she and her family were determined to continue to battle on to help the Schalit family, whose son Gilad has been a captive in Gaza since June 2006. "We won't rest until all three men are home," Miki Goldwasser said.