Eighteen years ago, in June of 1982, Zachary Baumel, Yehudah Katz, and Tzvi Feldman were captured during a battle with Palestinian and Syrian forces near the Lebanese town of Sultan Yaqub. Baumel, an American citizen, and Katz and Feldman, the children of Holocaust survivors, remain unaccounted for despite evidence that they were captured alive.
In 1986, Israeli Air-Force navigator Ron Arad was captured as he parachuted from his stricken aircraft. He is also unaccounted for after having been captured by Amal militia and transferred to different organizations.
Since 1982, Yassir Arafat and other Palestinian officials have made many references to information in their possession regarding the missing men, but were unwilling to disclose that information to Israeli or American officials. On May 26, 1994 Prime Minister Yitzchak Rabin, of blessed memory, said “Arafat had promised…more information about the MIA’s, but has not been forthcoming fearing it would complicate his relations with Assad.” This was said in view of a promise that Arafat had made that more information would be forthcoming.
Syria, which bears responsibility under the Geneva Convention for the well being of the soldiers, has also made statements regarding information on the MIA’s. For fifteen years the late Syrian President Hafaz El Assad claimed that he had no knowledge of the missing soldiers and later admitted that he did have some but that the time was not yet right to divulge it.
With the signing of the Oslo Accords in 1993, the families of the MIA’s had hoped that their ordeal was finally coming to an end. At that time Yassir Arafat returned half of Baumel’s military ID tag to Prime Minister Rabin, promising that within two weeks he would disclose critical information regarding the MIA’s of Sultan Yaqub.
Since that promise was made Israel has released thousands of Palestinian prisoners. Yet no substantive information has been coming forth from the PA, despite Arafat’s signed commitment in the 1994 Cairo Accords to disclose all information in his possession regarding the missing Israelis.
As Israeli and Palestinian leaders are now in the throes of another summit, we again hear the Palestinian demand to release yet more imprisoned terrorists but do not hear anything about a request for or the promise of the release of the Israeli MIA’s. Since the passing of Hafez El Assad, Arafat no longer has to fear that it would complicate Palestinian relations with Syria if he would fulfill his promise to Prime Minister Rabin regarding the fate of the Israeli MIA’s.
The resolution of this matter should be of particular interest to the American government. Zachary Baumel is an American citizen and Israel, as America’s only reliable Middle East ally, played a critical role in securing the release of Terry Anderson and the other American hostages who were being held by terrorists in Lebanon in 1990.
The Orthodox Union, the largest mainstream Orthodox Jewish organization in the United States, calls on Prime Minister Barak and the Israeli negotiating team attending the Camp David summit to put the issue of the Israeli MIA’s on the table and insist on its resolution. The American facilitators should also see to it that this issue is raised in keeping with the Lantos-Gilman legislation that mandates it.
As we know all too well, the bitter legacy of missing soldiers can haunt a nation and interfere with efforts to build better relations between former enemies. Clearly, resolving the issue of the Israeli MIA’s can only strengthen efforts to make true Middle East peace a reality.