Counterpoint: Forsaking both soldiers and the downtrodden

Our government neglects the MIAs as it neglects all social issues.

0606-forman.jpg (photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
(photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
In light of the release of Hizbullah spy Nissim Nasser, the possibility of a deal being struck for the return of Ehud Goldwasser and Eldad Regev, kidnapped at the start of the recent Lebanon war, is again dominating the headlines. It is a stark reminder that next week will mark yet another anniversary of the battle of Sultan Yakoub, when soldiers Yehuda Katz, Zvi Feldman and Zachary Baumel went missing during the First Lebanon War. After more than 26 years since that fateful day of June 11, 1982, they have essentially been forgotten. It was so long ago that no one gives a damn. For certain, their names are not raised in present negotiations. The only time recently that I have heard the name of one of these missing soldiers mentioned in public was at the wedding of Zachary Baumel's niece (whom he never met). A prayer for all the Israeli MIAs was included in metaphorical juxtaposition to that part in the wedding ceremony when Psalm 137 is recited, just prior to the breaking of the wine glass: "If I forget you, O Jerusalem, let my right hand wither; let my tongue stick to my palate, if I do not keep Jerusalem in memory even at my happiest hour." When the groom brought his foot crashing down on the wine glass, I had this sinking feeling that he was symbolically shattering any hope of our ever finding out what happened to Baumel, Katz and Feldman, as well as to Guy Hever and Ron Arad. (It has been rumored that Israel has agreed to take Arad's name off the table in the recent round of negotiations for Regev and Goldwasser.) IN AN act of desperation to call attention to the fate of Regev, Goldwasser and Gilad Schalit, a Pessah Seder with the appropriate theme "Free the Captives" was conducted in front of the prime minister's residence. During the First Lebanon War, a group of reserve soldiers returning from the field of battle stood in silence across from the prime minister's residence as they changed the numbers daily on a board of those who were being killed in the war. Whenever prime minister Menachem Begin returned to his residence, he walked across the street to where the reservists were standing and bowed his head in mournful contemplation. Why was there not one government representative at that Seder? Ehud Olmert tells us that there is not a day that passes that he does not think about all the missing soldiers and their families. I seriously doubt that Olmert and the rest of his ministers lose a minute's sleep over the matter. Despite the above-mentioned perennial announcements that an agreement for their return is at hand, they remain in captivity, as does Schalit. We can only pray that one day these recurrent reports turn out to be true, before our government loses interest in Udi, Eldad and Gilad, as it has with Zachary, Yehuda, Zvi, Ron and Guy. But what should we expect from Olmert, who inherited the mantle of leadership from Ariel Sharon, the architect of the first Lebanese fiasco? When Sharon became prime minister, he should have felt a moral obligation to find out about our MIAs from that war. He did nothing. Since the Second Lebanon War, our prime minister brashly states that he has learned from his mistakes. On the contrary, he has learned nothing from his predecessor's mistakes regarding the MIAs; otherwise, Eldad's and Udi's immediate return would have been part of the government-approved UN cease-fire with Hizbullah. None of this bodes well for Olmert to correct the severe errors in judgment whereby he led the country, like Sharon, into a disastrous war. THERE IS a severe crisis of confidence in our political leadership. In virtually all areas of governmental responsibility, we the citizenry have been sorely disappointed. Therefore, to compensate for the government's inertia, volunteer organizations and NGOs have assumed the role that the government should fill. Like those volunteer groups that seek to keep the cause of the missing soldiers in the public eye and travel the world to uncover any shred of information about them, as well as lend support to their families, there are manifold organizations and hundreds of volunteers involved in other social issues as well. They work in Israeli Jewish and Arab programs, help Ethiopian Jews, teach in Beduin encampments, establish shelters for battered women, manage rape crisis centers, serve hot meals for foreign workers, combat trafficking in women, protect Palestinian farmers from settler hooliganism, advocate for the rights of gays and lesbians, promote religious pluralism - to name but a few. Economic policies over the past years have witnessed a widening gap between the haves and have-nots. To aid those who have been relegated to the margins of Israeli society, dozens of organizations do the work of the government by aiding the elderly, the poor and the needy - setting up soup kitchens, dispensing heating oil, delivering blankets and clothes, distributing food packages. There is a direct paradigmatic link between the manner in which our government relates to the missing and the way it relates to all who suffer neglect. If our leaders would fulfill the Jewish ethic that instructs us not to abandon our soldiers on the field of battle, no matter how long ago the battle ended, then they would not discard the weaker elements in our society. But until this happens, it will continue to fall to us to become the proponents of all our MIAs; and consequentially the moral spokespersons for all the disenfranchised who, like the missing and their families, have been callously forsaken.