Counterpoint: Still missing

david forman 88 (photo credit: )
david forman 88
(photo credit: )
Let's see, how many years has it been? Five, 10, 15, 20, 25? No, it has been more. Next week, on June 11, we will mark the 27th anniversary since the battle of Sultan Yakoub in southern Lebanon when three soldiers went missing: Zachary Baumel, Tzvi Feldman and Yehuda Katz. When Norman Mailer wrote his classic novel about World War II, The Naked and the Dead (1948), authors did not use the "F" word. Instead, writers like Mailer, who most certainly was known for his rough and salty manner, were restrained by the social temper of the times and thus substituted the word "friggin." Well, after 27 "friggin" years, how is it possible that a country which has one of the most sophisticated intelligence networks in the world has failed to turn up a shred of information as to the fate of these three soldiers? At the embryonic stages in the development of our intelligence apparatus, we managed to capture Adolf Eichmann in Argentina, clandestinely bringing him here. The Mossad successfully tracked down those Palestinians who hijacked planes in the 1970s, killing virtually all of them. The late prime minister Menachem Begin sent the air force to bomb the Osirak nuclear reactor in the heart of Baghdad with pinpoint accuracy. We managed a secretive operation that rescued more than 14,000 Ethiopian Jews from war-torn Addis Ababa in one weekend. More impressive than all the above mentioned adventures was Operation Jonathan, when the IDF liberated almost all the 200 Jewish hostages from Entebbe, Uganda, returning them to safety. And yet, regarding Baumel, Feldman and Katz, we have witnessed an intelligence failure of colossal magnitude. It is inconceivable that with all the collaborators we have among the Palestinian population, we do not know where Gilad Schalit is. And, of course, there are Ron Arad and Guy Hever. Because it was Ariel Sharon's trumped-up war that triggered the Sultan Yakoub calamity, one would have expected him, when he was prime minister, to have made the MIAs a major priority. He had a moral obligation to personally oversee the search for those soldiers whom he sent to fight his deceptive and idiotic war. But ethical commitments were never Sharon's strong suit. As for his successor, Ehud Olmert, he also did nothing. What could one have expected? After all, he led the country into a second military fiasco in Lebanon. As for Tzipi Livni, who presented herself as one who walks the moral high ground, in her short term in office she too accomplished nothing, as was the case with her other predecessors: Begin, Yitzhak Shamir, Yitzhak Rabin, Shimon Peres, Binyamin Netanyahu (his first time around) and Ehud Barak. And now, if anyone again puts his trust in Netanyahu to pursue the cause of the MIAs, don't hold your breath. This alleged staunch defender of our soldiers' welfare fashioned a Likud platform and coalition charter that does not relate to the Sultan Yakoub fighters. Discerning the manner in which all our political leaders have behaved, one could draw the conclusion that, after a certain amount of time, they have applied an arbitrary statute of limitations to soldiers missing in action. OVER THE YEARS, different governments, in coordination with the army, have tried to declare the three soldiers dead, their burial places unknown. However, because the army could never supply concrete evidence to that effect, the High Court rejected the claim. Frankly, I am friggin furious - pardon the continual use of the F-word substitute, but the situation cries out for such expletive deleted outrage - that our governments have peddled the notion that the three victims of the battle of Sultan Yakoub are dead. The attempt to do so is simply an admission of intelligence incompetence, and borders on a classic cover-up for military ineptitude. However, it is not only our governments and the army that have failed; human rights organizations seem not to deem the plight of the MIAs a human rights issue. Are the demolitions of Palestinian homes in east Jerusalem or the torment of Palestinian farmers in the southern Hebron Hills more of a human rights consideration, worthy of persistent attention, than the emotional devastation and anguish of the families of the MIAs? Why has the Association of Civil Rights in Israel never taken up the case of the missing soldiers, petitioning the High Court to demand that the government and the military set as a priority the cause of the MIAs? What is the worst aspect of this tragic affair? It is the emotional turmoil that the families experience every day. It is impossible to fathom their pain. The prayer Shema Yisrael is one of the most sacred entreaties of our liturgy, as we recite: "Set these words that I command you this day upon your heart... Speak of them in your home and on your way, when you lie down and when you rise up." One of those commandments that necessitate this 24-hour-a-day concentration relates to those held in captivity (which also should require our religious leaders - the Chief Rabbinate - to be at the vanguard of the struggle on behalf of the missing soldiers: "The sword is worse than death, famine is harsher than the sword, but captivity is the worst of all" [Baba Batra 8b]). The families of the missing soldiers live 24 hours a day with the aching uncertainty of what happened to their captive sons. Hence, one would expect our elected representatives, if not 24 hours a day, then at the very least to display an increased measure of concern and pursue a heightened course of action on behalf of these MIAs. Such a commitment might comfort the families and make them feel that having sent their children to defend the country was worth the sacrifice they made. The families need closure to their seemingly never-ending pain. I use the word never-ending because for 27 agonizingly long years, Zachary Baumel's father, Yona, who passed away last week, explored every avenue and turned over every stone, along with his wife Miriam, hoping to solve the mystery of what happened to their son. Sadly, Yona Baumel, who was one of the gentlest, most compassionate and positive persons I have ever known, went to his death having been denied that closure. One can only hope and pray that the Schalit family will not experience the same interminable wait. Therefore, it is out of frustration and anger that I want to scream at all our political, military, spiritual and human-rights guardians: Frig the whole bunch of you; shame on each and every one of you. But, above all, to Yona Baumel we turn, as we must also turn to his family and to the Katz and Feldman families, and say: Shame on each and every one of us for not having held our leaders and ourselves accountable - shame, shame, shame. (Dedicated to the memory of Yona Baumel)