Israel's forgotten man?


By Marcus Dysch
August 17, 2011
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Travelling around northern Israel a couple of weeks ago something caught my eye.

Along the motorways, in the shopping malls, in villages, I saw dozens of posters and billboards featuring a man's face and offering a $10,000,000 reward.

It was a face I was entirely unfamiliar with. “Who,” I asked my Israeli friend, “is that?”

The answer shocked me. “He’s a missing IDF soldier,” he said. “Majdi Halabi. He’s a Druze soldier who has been missing for six years.”

While we are all (rightly) well aware of the campaign urging Hamas to release kidnapped Gilad Shalit, Private Halabi’s name meant nothing to me, and I doubt many of you were familiar with his plight either.

Returning to England I looked online to find out more about him. (Completely coincidentally my first search uncovered this story by my colleague Jennifer Lipman, written on the very day I had been near Halabi's home village and first learnt of his disappearance.)

Halabi was last seen near Mount Carmel on May 24, 2005. At the time he was 19. This was a year before Gilad Shalit’s kidnapping.

Volunteers searched for Majdi but after a fortnight with no new information and no leads, the Israeli government declared him missing.

His parents believe he was kidnapped, and were told three years ago by a prisoner that their son had indeed been abducted and taken to the West Bank.

But no more has ever been found out, and other than a smattering of news stories about Majdi, usually around the anniversary of his disappearance, coverage of his case has paled in comparison to that of Gilad.

Four years ago one Israeli news site said he had been “all but forgotten, nationally and internationally”.

The only previous mention of him in the JC came in a short story last September confirming that Orthodox rabbis had been informed it was possible to pray for the Druze soldier, and a one paragraph letter from a congregant at Mill Hill Synagogue who pointed out that while others were unaware of Halabi’s disappearance, those davening at the shul were already regularly including him in their prayers.

Perhaps the lack of definitive information about what happened has made it difficult to raise the level of awareness or orchestrate a campaign to keep him in the national conscience.

But my Israeli friend raised another, more concerning point – has Halabi been forgotten because he is a Druze? Would Gilad Shalit have been forgotten if he were not a Jewish IDF soldier?

I hope not.

Druze soldiers make up around one per cent of the IDF’s total number, but there is a Druze reserve battalion – the Herev – and young Druze soldiers have volunteered to fight alongside Jewish colleagues to defend Israel since the birth of the nation.

According to the American Enterprise Institute’s Center for Defence Studies, around 83 per cent of eligible Druze men serve in the IDF, compared to only 72 per cent of eligible Israeli Jews.

Israeli’s Druze community – which numbers around 125,000 – has seen 369 people fall in Israel’s wars and conflicts. A strong bond has developed between Druze soldiers and their Jewish comrades.

I’d be amazed – not to say disgusted – if the Israeli public was prepared to discriminate, on religious grounds, between those who defend the country.

Dozens of initiatives continue to work hard to encourage Gilad’s release – while in Israel I also visited his family’s stall outside Bibi Netanyahu’s house in Jerusalem and saw the truly international scale of the appeal.

Credit is due to the Zionist Federation for attempting to raise awareness of Halabi in this country. Time will tell whether their efforts are successful.

Today marks the 2,276th day since Majdi Halabi disappeared. Let’s hope he, and Israel’s other missing soldiers, are not forgotten and can soon be reunited with their family and friends.

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