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George Baumgarten, UN Correspondent for Winnipeg Jeiwsh Review, New York, May 10, 2011

Their names are known—and their photos posted-- in schools and synagogues throughout the world. They stare at us—the older ones from faded, sepia-toned photographs—from bookmarks, and from posters in countless synagogues. Katz, Baumol and Feldman—captive since the First Lebanon War in 1982. Arad—taken prisoner after parachuting in 1985, rumored to have been given to the Iranians, sent back to Lebanon, and then to have escaped. And Gilad Shalit—held nearly five years now by Hamas in cruel captivity. But there are two more, who are hardly known, and have been given far less publicity: Guy Hever, who disappeared in 1997; and Majdi Halabi, who likewise vanished, in 2005. Their cases are little-known outside Israel…and not widely-known even in Israel. In fairness, Hever’s photo appears on bookmarks—with five other captives—distributed by the National Conference of Synagogue Youth (NCSY)…one of which was placed by this correspondent into the hand of U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon.

Guy Hever is a soldier of whose disappearance there are varying accounts. He was on his way home on leave, or on his way back. He was alone, or with his patrol. What is incontrovertible is that he has been missing since 17 August 1997. There have been tantalizing reports about Hever: An Israeli (doubtless a dual national) was questioned on some pretext in Damascus, and was provided with an interpreter. She later swore to Israeli authorities on her return to Israel that this “interpreter” was none other than Guy Hever, whose appearance she knew from news accounts. Hever has a website, lovingly maintained by his parents. There are photos of his father with Prime Minister Netanyahu, of his brothers with former Ambassador to the U.N. Dan Gillerman, and of his mother with Secretary-General Ban. But officially, or from any authentic Syrian sources…nothing. Nothing but silence. It is as though—to use Winston Churchill’s phrase—we are just “talking to the void”.

Majdi Halabi is a soldier whose case is—if anything—even less known. Even this correspondent had never heard his name, until it was included in prayers for the captives in a New York synagogue. Halabi is a Druze, a member of a relatively small Israeli minority group. Unlike Arabs, who are exempt, the Druze have for many years been accepted into the Israeli Defense Forces. Halabi was in fact a second-generation soldier in the I.D.F. (His Uncle is a retired Colonel.). Born in 1985, Halabi was from Daliyat al-Karmel, on the slopes of Mt. Carmel, near Haifa. Like Hever, he appears to have disappeared into a vast void. In 2008, Halabi’s family received a phone call from an inmate in Israel’s Damon prison. He claimed that Halabi had been abducted, and was being held near Nablus (Shechem), in the northern West Bank. The police concluded that he had “no substantial information”, and was therefore not credible, as a bearer of any sort of information, but the Halabi family dispute this judgment.

Are these soldiers captives? Have they just vanished? And if so, how and why? What these stories have in common is that they are both characterized by a murky—and sometimes tantalizing—lack of information. Or will someone ever throw some light on this mysterious and murky void?

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