The plight of Israel’s “Missing in Action” soldiers has never been too far from the media headlines in Israel, particularly in recent years with the abduction of Gilad Shalit by Hamas and Ehud Goldwasser z”l and Eldad Regev z”l by Hezbollah in 2006.
One of the first principles of the Israel Defence Force is to never leave a soldier behind in the field. When soldiers enlist in the army, they do so with the belief that should something happen to them, the country will do whatever it can to bring them home. This has been the driving force behind the many prisoner exchange proposals over the years (all of them disproportionate but rarely is there any sympathy or respect given to the Jewish State in certain quarters in relation to such disproportionality), which have put forward the return of thousands of prisoners in return for the MIAs. In some cases, these exchanges have been for the remains of Israeli soldiers, as was the case in 2004 with the return of Adi Avitan, Benyamin Avraham and Omar Sawaid (see more) and in 2008 with the return of Ehud Goldwasser and Eldad Regev (see more).
I have often written about the plight of Gilad Shalit, and for many years I also wrote about the plight of missing in action IAF navigator, Ron Arad, whose plane was shot down over Lebanon in 1986. While he was believed to have been transferred to Iran, until this day his fate is unknown. I was reminded about Ron’s plight when I came across an article this morning about a decision by Reuven Rivlin to dedicate the lighting of the torches on the eve of Yom Ha’atzmaut to Gilad Shalit “and the rest of the IDF’s missing soldiers”.
This decision drew the ire of Ron’s wife, Tami Arad. In a newspaper article she declared, “in his speech, Rivlin honoured Gilad Shalit and the rest of the IDF’s missing soldiers, and I received a punch in the heart. This year, thanks to the Knesset speaker, we finally receive the unique name of ‘the rest’… How could I not understand that my Ron, Yuval’s father, Ron Arad, the man I have painfully carried in my heart for my entire adult life, would lose his name and become buried with the rest. How could I not understand that after 24 years, Ron has expired just like Yehuda Katz, Zvi Feldman, Zacharia Baumel, Guy Hever and Majdi Halabi” (see more).
The article upset me too, for another reason as well. For years I have been writing about the plight of Israel’s Missing in Action soldiers. We even have a page dedicated to the soldiers on the Zionist Council of Victoria’s website, but I had never heard the name Majdi Halabi. A quick google search took me first to a Wikipedia page and then to a 2007 report on him from Jerusalem Post.
Majdi Halabi is a Druse, who had been serving in the IDF for five months, when at age 19 on his way back to his army base he disappeared. This occurred on 24 May 2005, just over a year before the kidnapping of Gilad Shalit. At first, the army believed that he had simply deserted the army, and it was only a few days later that they realised that there could be something more sinister involved. His family believe that he could be held in Syria, Lebanon or the West Bank, to ‘be used as a bargaining chip in the future’ but until this day, no group has ever even claimed responsibility for his disappearance.
Thinking about Madji’s plight, made me feel personally ashamed. As his family has stated, “one would expect that if something physically harmful had happened to him, there would have been some evidence of this, somewhere an item of clothing, something… It is not possible for the earth to have swallowed him up – to have vanished without a trace”.
So why have so few people even heard the name Madji Halabi? Perhaps it is because there is no official idea as to where and by whom he is being held, but the same can be said for Guy Hever, who went missing in 1997.
Is it because Halabi’s family has not campaigned as hard as other families? I would like to think it has nothing to do with the fact that Halabi is a Druse. As one member of the Druse community put it, we are “not Jews, we are Israelis. We believe in a strong Israel and the Druse soldier today is no different from his Jewish comrade in commitment and fighting ability. We feel we are together with the Jewish people, like brothers. We are patriotic and live this country and all its people”. The Druse give theirs lives to the IDF in the exact same way that Jewish soldiers do, and when they enlist, they do so with that same belief that the army will never leave a soldier behind in the field.
And so, when I think of Israel’s Missing in Action soldiers, I will now add another name to the list. Please hold Gilad Shalit, Ron Arad Yehuda Katz, Zvi Feldman, Zacharia Baumel, Guy Hever and Majdi Halabi in your hearts and keep the hope alive that their families will one day receive the closure that they have been searching for. As Tami Arad put it, “anyone who has any doubts about any prisoner exchange deal should try substituting Gilad’s name with that of their child. That will solve any dilemmas (see more).