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Campaign for Downed Israeli Pilot Travels Along a California Highway

Motorists traveling along the Pacific Coast Highway, skirting the ocean near Malibu, may be puzzled by an official state sign along the roadside bearing the legend “RON ARAD — IDF”.

Not many of the drivers whizzing by will connect “IDF” to the Israel Defense Forces. Even fewer will identify Ron Arad as the Israeli air force navigator shot down over Lebanon in 1986, whose family and government has been trying to determine his fate and whereabouts for the past 13 years.

The man behind the campaign to find and free Arad is as unlikely as the sign along the California coastline.

He is Mark “Moshe” Hardie, a 27-year old African-American lawyer, who converted to Judaism — Orthodox style — and has become one of the most fervent champions of Israel — Benjamin Netanyahu style — in Los Angeles.

Hardie said he got the idea for his campaign while watching Steven Spielberg’s “Saving Private Ryan.” The ad for the World War II movie reads, “The mission is one man,” and Hardie’s mind immediately applied the slogan to the search for Arad.

With characteristic fervor, Hardie said, “Ron’s freedom is our freedom.

“If Hashem (God) could free me from a violent ghetto youth, then Hashem can also free Ron Arad.”

The type of sign bearing Arad’s name is a fixture along most California highways and freeways. The blue-and-white signs are put up by the California Department of Transportation as part of its “Adopt-A-Highway” program.

The top of the sign reads “Litter Removal — Next 2 Miles,” followed by a name, usually of a commercial enterprise or Hollywood star, who has pledged to keep a stretch of the road free of trash.

In almost all cases, a sponsor pays the Transportation Department to pick up the debris along the designated stretch, but Hardie does it the hard way.

Once a month, he drives his car along the two miles of the “Ron Arad” highway, collecting bottles, cans and other junk along the roadside.

So far, Hardie has adopted four signs in Arad’s name. Two, one facing north, the other south, are on the Pacific Coast Highway. The other two, also facing north and south, are on the Harbor Freeway, near Torrance.

Hardie has spent two summers in Israel, one studying at a yeshiva, another at the Hebrew University. He served as a special assistant to California Gov. Pete Wilson during the latter’s just completed administration.

As part of the Arad campaign, Hardie hopes to mobilize the entertainment industry to bring Arad’s plight to public attention through a documentary film, “Liberation Concerts” and celebrity spokesmen.

Hardie’s Arad campaign can be reached by e-mail at ronarad@hotmail.com.

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