There are more men missing: this isn’t over

By Nathan Jeffay, October 27, 2011
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A mother and father in northern Israel panic about the fate of their soldier son. Years since they last saw him, siblings, cousins and friends still dwell daily on the question of his whereabouts.

You could call him the "Gilad Shalit" that everyone has forgotten. Like Shalit, Majdy Halabi is fresh-faced and - like Shalit was - he is a missing-in-action soldier (MIA).

Israel is in euphoria over the fact that Shalit is home; diaspora Jewry is delighted, too. This distressing chapter can now be closed.

But many people are confused about precisely which chapter it is appropriate to shut. The Shalit affair is over - Gilad is back home and will hopefully make a good recovery. Yet the general question of Israel's MIAs is not.

Having such a high-profile MIA meant that everybody cared about his plight. The downside is that now that he has finally walked free, people feel that the MIA problem has been "solved". Gilad became regarded as the nation's son - but to continue the metaphor, he is not an only child and others are missing.

Four have been missing since the 1980s and it is thought they likely to be dead. They are Zecharya Baumel, Zvi Feldman, Yehuda Katz and Ron Arad. But it is probable that two others - Guy Hever, missing since 1997, and Majdy Halabi, who disappeared in 2005 - are alive.

The message of hope embodied in Shalit's return should embolden campaigns for their return, especially that of Halabi, who disappeared just a year before Shalit. Instead, in Israel and the diaspora alike, we are breathing a collective sight of relief.

In many synagogues last Sabbath, the prayer for MIAs was said with a touch less fervour and it would not be at all surprising if it starts to be omitted altogether in some congregations. Every era has its cause and, after this saga, Jewry seems ready to move on.

But this cannot happen. Though we know less about what happened to Hever and Halabi than we did about Shalit, they still deserve efforts to be made on their behalves.

Campaigning for Halabi, the most recent disappearance now that Shalit is back, would be especially poignant. He is an Arab man - a Druze - who was serving in the Israeli army at the time of his disappearance.

The Druze give their loyalty to the Jewish state, and campaigning by Israelis on his behalf would forcefully make the point that Arab citizens who commit to Israel have the country's loyalty in return. And if diaspora Jews took up his cause, it would really show that we apply Jewish ethics to wider society, and that the idea of being a "light unto the nations" is alive and well.

Last updated: 11:16am, October 27 2011