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With Son Held Prisoner in Lebanon, a Soldier’s Family Hopes and Waits

November 21, 2006
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Shlomo Goldwasser knew his son, Ehud, was in trouble on the Lebanon border in July, even though he himself was several thousand miles away in Namibia at the time. “As soon as the news alert about two Israeli soldiers being kidnapped on the Lebanon border flashed up on CNN, I knew I was in the game,” Shlomo Goldwasser told JTA this week during a brief visit to London.

Goldwasser and his wife, Malka, and their daughter-in-law Karnit, Ehud’s wife, were in the British capital for meetings with officials and legislators and to take part in an annual British Friends of Technion talk on terrorism.

Childhood sweethearts, Ehud and Karnit Goldwasser are both Technion students, on the verge of finishing masters’ degrees in environmental studies.

Shlomo Goldwasser works in shipping in Durban, South Africa. A small and intense man who is a former ship’s captain, Goldwasser seems worn down by the family’s ordeal.

“Until now, we have had no proof, no real proof, that Udi is still alive. No tapes, no photos, no DNA. Nothing,” he said wearily.

Six weeks ago, Karnit Goldwasser met Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov at the European Parliament in Strasbourg, France, but he was vague about Ehud’s condition.

“He told Karnit that Udi is alive and in good condition, but that’s about all,” Shlomo Goldwasser said.

The family received the same message from Italian officials. As far as Goldwasser is concerned, Hezbollah “is planting the message that Udi and Eldad Regev,” the other soldier nabbed in a July 12 cross-border raid that sparked a monthlong war, “are alive, for whatever reason. I suppose he won’t be useful to them if he’s dead.”

Without wishing to be publicly critical of the Israeli government’s handling of the episode, Goldwasser makes his feelings clear.

“They went to war immediately after the kidnapping with the stated aim of getting the boys back. But the war is over and our sons are not here,” he said. “Then there was the blockade of Beirut and its airports and Lebanon’s ports. But that’s over and our sons are not back. Then the last Israeli soldier left Lebanon and still our sons are not home.”

“We haven’t even received any information about our sons,” he continued. “Hezbollah is playing its cards very close to their chests.”

Malka Goldwasser was more critical.

“For the past six years, since Israel withdrew from Lebanon, they haven’t prepared properly for this situation, even though we knew it was likely to happen,” she said. “We didn’t plan a war, we planned for peace. We set up small hotels and we developed tourism in the North. We were preparing for peace. They were preparing for war.”

Malka Goldwasser recalled how the family’s life changed beyond recognition in one day.

“Five days beforehand, Shlomo and I were sitting on the balcony in Durban, looking at the bright lights of the casino, sipping wine and talking about our good life and our wonderful children. We hadn’t a care in the world,” she said.

Now the family is back in Nahariya, Israel, six miles from the Lebanon border, waiting.

During the London visit, Karnit rushed to the British Parliament to raise her husband’s plight with legislators.

She has been described as a latter-day Avital Sharansky, the wife of the former Soviet dissident, who fought tirelessly for her husband’s release from the Gulag.

“I have heard that said,” Karnit told JTA with a shy smile. “But I’m me. I’m his wife. I want him back. He’s No. 1 in my life and I need to work for him. Udi is my job right now. I will talk to anyone who wants to listen and people who don’t want to listen.”

Malka Goldwasser is less comfortable with the comparison.

Avital Sharansky “was dealing with a country, with a government that, bottom line, was rational,” she said. “Hezbollah aren’t like that.”

Malka Goldwasser grew up in Nahariya and “knows the Arabs well. I used to play with them in their villages. But Hezbollah is something else. Their mentality is hatred.”

The family describes Udi as mentally strong.

“He’ll know what to concentrate on inside his head, and what not to bother with,” Karnit said.

Malka Goldwasser says no obstacle will stop her from working on her son’s behalf.

“I even told Tony Blair when he was in Israel to take me to meet Hezbollah leader Sheikh Hassan Nasrallah,” she said. “I’ll go on my knees just to get my son back.”

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