February 1, 2004

Four Israelis, three of them dead, in return for 494 Arabs, 435 of whom are alive.
Interviewing Yonah Baumel last week I was struck by two things: his bitterness and anger towards Israel and the fact that his son’s case has been seemingly overlooked once again.

Baumel’s son Zachariah was captured in 1982. It is widely assumed that he is no longer alive. At the time Zachariah was a young soldier. Had fate held a different future for him, right now he would possibly be living close to his American-born parents in Jerusalem, with a wife and several children.

But Baumel is no longer even a cause celebre.

That is the fate of missing airman Ron Arad.

There are those, including the Baumels, who maintain that Arad’s name is known by every Israeli because his family made the right connections and perhaps fits in better with the country’s elite.

Others maintain there is a simple difference between their cases: Arad was known to be captured alive.

There is one argument made by Yonah Baumel that is most convincing, and questions the wisdom of last week’s prisoner exchange between Israel and the Hizbullah terror organization. He maintains that many of the 435 prisoners and 59 bodies Israel is handing over to the Hizbullah should not have been the bargaining chips for the release of one living Israeli and three presumed dead. Baumel says a large proportion of them should have been used to help free his son and one other soldier also taken in 1982.

Yossi Fink’s sister Osnat also has a valid concern. Her brother was captured in 1986 and sent back to Israel in a body bag a decade later. She is concerned about precedent setting. She fears that whatever Israel does or does not do in the current exchange will set the guiding principles for any future deals.

The families of the POWs and MIAs are, if they will forgive me for saying, a fascinating sociological experiment. They have all suffered perhaps the worst fate of any human – the loss and the consequent uncertainty, not for a week or a month but for years. They all cope in their own ways: some shout, others enter their shells. One will say they fully support the government of Israel while another will be a public-relations nightmare for Jerusalem.

Some of the families will hardly say a word to the others, while another group has become friends for life, fate bringing them together, forcing them to share a hobby, a passion: coping with loss.

They are all trying to cope, the Arads with Ron, the Baumels with Zachariah, the Finks with Yossi, the Tennenbaums with Elhanan, and so the list goes on.

Yet through it all, whether you agree with the views of one family or another the Israeli government, torn in two with indecision, not knowing what to do, has finally decided to act.

Four Israelis, three of them dead, in return for 494 Arabs, 435 of whom are alive and many of whom are sworn enemies of Israel and some could well be about to return to the ways of terrorists.

Is this the right deal?

Only fate knows the answer.

(Originally appeared on The Media Line)

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Jason Harris

Jason Harris

Executive Director

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