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Captive’s father clings to hope


JERUSALEM, Oct. 24 (JTA) – The middle-aged man would be forgiven if he never again wore the silver dove pinned to his lapel.

It’s a badge that identifies him as a supporter of Israel’s peace movement. In fact, he is a longtime activist.

But this man has more reason than anyone to be anti-peace: His son was one of three Israeli soldiers kidnapped Oct. 7 by Hezbollah while patrolling the Israel-Lebanon border.

But the man has not lost faith.

“I don’t think peace is hopeless; even now, we believe in it,” says the man, who asked that he not be identified for fear his son’s captors might single him out for additional torture.

Details about the captives, their backgrounds and their families have not been reported in the Israeli or international media for the same reason.

This man, who has become the unofficial spokesman for the three families involved, was initially reluctant to even talk to a reporter.

But he consented as he came forward to tell his story to last week’s “solidarity mission” of Diaspora Jews, which brought some 80 federation and organizational leaders from across North America and elsewhere to stand with Israel during the current crisis.

He appealed to mission members to return home and exert pressure on their respective governments, to press for the release of the soldiers.

“Your family is our family,” said Stephen Solender, the president and chief executive officer of the United Jewish Communities, the umbrella for the federation system, which sponsored the mission.

“Your pain is our pain. Your hope is our hope.”

The man’s son and his two comrades were abducted into Lebanon by Hezbollah guerrillas while making a routine check of the border fence near the Shabaa Farms enclave, a stone’s throw from an outpost of U.N. peacekeepers.

It was an elaborate operation, as Hezbollah reportedly used remote- controlled bombs, shoulder-fired missiles and tear-gas grenades to disorient the Israeli soldiers and force the U.N. peacekeepers to duck back into their post.

To date, Hezbollah has not released any word of their health.

Earlier this month, U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan reportedly tried to negotiate the release of the hostages, apparently without success.

Hezbollah wants Israel to free 19 Lebanese prisoners in return for information on the soldiers and a reserve colonel the group kidnapped last week. Sheik Hassan Nasrallah, the group’s leader, told Saudi Arabia’s al-Watan newspaper that there has been no serious effort to negotiate the Israelis’ release.

The Oct. 14 issue of The Economist, a British newsmagazine, quoted Hezbollah sources as saying that the trio’s release would come at a steep price.

The magazine says the kidnappers have been contacted by the Palestinians, Jordanians and Syrians, who want Hezbollah to add hundreds more names to a prisoner-exchange list with Israel.

Yuli Tamir, a member of Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak’s Cabinet, is working closely with the families of the captives.

When JTA asked the man whether Israel should meet the kidnappers’ demands, Tamir broke in: “We won’t negotiate through the media.”

However, she asserted that the fate of the three was also on the shoulders of the international community.

For 22 years, the United Nations demanded Israel’s withdrawal from southern Lebanon, she said. When Israel finally did, in May of this year, Israeli and U.N. officials demarcated the border together.

“We feel the U.N. deluded us to believe that this was a protected border,” said Tamir, “and we feel they haven’t fulfilled their responsibility.”

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