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Families of Kidnapped Soldiers Still Hopeful, Ask for More Help

November 1, 2001
See Original Daily Bulletin From This Date

The parents of Israeli soldiers kidnapped a year ago by Hezbollah are asking the World Jewish Congress to help press their case.

The parents of Benny Avraham, one of three soldiers kidnapped along Israel’s northern border in October 2000, met Tuesday with WJC members attending the organization’s plenary assembly here a day after Israel Defense Force officials announced that the soldiers most likely are dead.

Saying the family needs concrete evidence and not just words, Chaim Avraham asked the WJC to “push the government to release our children in whatever condition.”

The other two soldiers are Adi Avitan and Omar Souad.

“What happened yesterday is ridiculous,” Avraham said, referring to Israel’s surprise announcement. “I asked our prime minister, ‘Why do you come to us to tell us information that we already have, without giving us evidence, without the judgment of a rabbi, without real evidence that you can believe as a father and a mother that your son is not alive?’ “

The fate of a fourth victim, Israeli businessman Elhanan Tannenbaum — who was kidnapped around the same time as the three soldiers, apparently in Europe — remains unclear.

The IDF chief rabbi, Brig.-Gen. Yisrael Weiss, met with the families Wednesday to discuss his expected declaration that the three are fallen soldiers “whose burial place is unknown.”

“I am still dealing with other components that will give me the maximum information to make a decision that is 100 percent certain,” Rabbi Weiss told the Israeli daily Ha’aretz on Tuesday after meeting with Israel’s chief rabbis, Yisrael Lau and Eliyahu Bakshi-Doron. “Therefore I request that time not be a factor that influences the decision.”

Weiss also met with the spiritual leader of the Shas Party, Rabbi Ovadia Yosef, and Rabbi Shalom Elyashiv, a leading rabbi in the Ashkenazi Orthodox world. Islamic religious leaders also will be consulted because Souad, a Bedouin, is Muslim.

“It is more important to make the correct and desired decision that is acceptable to religious leaders in Israel,” Weiss said.

All three of the families, however, have indicated that they don’t accept the IDF’s assessment, which is based on classified intelligence information apparently received in the last two weeks.

“Until we know it, our son is alive. We want to bring him back in any way that Israel can bring its children home,” Avraham said.

For months, the United Nations denied Israeli allegations that the organization had a videotape, shot just after the incident, of blood-stained vehicles used in the kidnapping. Israeli officials ultimately were given limited access to the U.N. evidence.

The United Nations is “a joke,” Avraham said. “And this is an organization that received the Nobel Prize.”

On Wednesday, WJC members submitted a resolution calling on WJC members to urge their governments to press for information on the soldiers’ fate, and work for their return.

The WJC also proposed a resolution condemning the United Nations for withholding information about its videotape — in order, U.N. officials explained, to maintain neutrality between Israel and Hezbollah.

The chairman of the Jewish Agency for Israel, Sallai Meridor, told JTA that Israel should continue making every effort to bring the soldiers home or, if they are dead, to receive their bodies from Lebanon.

He also said Israel should publicize the fact that Hezbollah is a terrorist organization, not a legitimate political party.

“I don’t want to advise the Israeli government on military issues, but the lesson should be taught that all free nations recognize that terror is a threat to us all,” Meridor said.

Hezbollah refused to allow intermediaries or international organizations to visit the kidnapped soldiers, and demanded that Israel release all Lebanese and other Arab prisoners it holds in exchange for information on the soldiers.

Hezbollah dismissed the Israeli claim Monday that the soldiers were probably dead, saying it was an attempt to squeeze information out of the Islamic fundamentalist group.

Knesset member Avshalom Vilan, of the Meretz Party, said Israel should try to strike a deal with Hezbollah to exchange the Israelis’ bodies for corpses of Hezbollah fighters in Israel’s hands.

A military strike against the Hezbollah would be “playing into their hands,” Vilan said.

“They behave like animals. They knew from the very beginning that these three soldiers are dead, but they tried to play a psychological game and force us to pay a heavy price just for the information,” he said. “They abused the feelings of the three families and of Israeli society.”

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