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article imageOp-Ed: The 'other' Gilad Shalits

By Sam Halaby     Oct 19, 2011 in World
With the public eye on recently-released Israeli Defense Forces soldier Gilad Shalit this week, Israel's government and media should now focus attention and resources on other cases of their missing soldiers.
Shalit had been held in the Gaza Strip since he was kidnapped by Hamas militants in a cross-border raid on June 25, 2006. After multiple failed attempts by the Israeli government to conduct prisoner exchanges and secure Shalit’s release, the IDF soldier spent 1,940 days in captivity until being freed earlier this week in exchange for 1,027 Palestinian prisoners.
The highly publicized story of the young captive soldier drew thousands to a national movement campaigning for more to be done to secure his release. His parents Noam and Aviva Shalit, who had been at the forefront of these campaigns, can finally have their happy ending with their son home.
The story of another young Israeli Defense Forces soldier gone missing is Druze soldier Majdi Halabi. In contrast to Shalit, the Israeli government has neither done nearly enough to locate him, nor has there been the same level of publicity.
On May 24, 2005, Halabi, then a 19-year-old private who was still undergoing basic training in the IDF, was hitchhiking from his hometown of Daliyat al-Carmel in northern Israel to his military base at Tirat Carmel, near Haifa.
According to a report by the Jerusalem Post, Halabi left his house in Daliyat al-Carmel on May 24, 2005, stopped at an ATM that Tuesday afternoon to pull out 50 NIS, and waited at a hitchhikers’ station near the city’s exit.
Since then, Halabi had vanished without a trace, and was officially declared Missing in Action (MIA) on June 6, 2005.
A reward $10 million is being offered for evidence leading to the whereabouts of Halabi, along with all other missing Israeli soldiers, by the Born to Freedom foundation.
Indication of a reward for Shalit’s release has been since removed from Born to Freedom’s website.
Following a visit to the Halabi family’s home from then-IDF Chief of Staff Dan Halutz, a search spread all across Israel for Halabi. The family had “combed the entire mountain range”, according to the missing soldier’s uncle Samih Halabi, a retired colonel in the IDF.
Given the geographic location of Daliyat al-Carmel to the base which he was headed to, the soldier had to have been travelling north, through Isfiya via route 672 (Haifa-Isfiya). The only other possible route was route 721 through Beit Oren, as the Ofer Forest surrounds most of the region and many options are not available for travel in the direction.
In June, Adwan Yehiya Farhan, a man convicted in the murder of Israeli-American teenager Dana Bennett back in 2003, was investigated in connection with Halabi’s disappearance, according to Ynetnews. Farhan confessed to Bennett’s murder in 2009, six years after her disappearance in 2003.
Farhan, who hails from Hamaam, a small Bedouin town near Tiberias in northern Israel, has a rap-sheet a mile-long; murder, kidnapping, rape, weapons possession, armed robbery and fraud to name a few.
In 2010, Farhan was also convicted in of killing Czech tourist Sylvia Molrova in July 2003. She was allegedly choked, with rocks placed on her body so that it would sink to the bottom of the stream in Nahal Tzalmon, approximately 25 km northwest of Tiberias.
Halabi’s father Nazmi had received a phone call in 2008 from an inmate from Damon prison (בית סוהר דמון), located at Beit Oren, indicating that Halabi had been kidnapped and had been taken to the West Bank, near Nablus. He had even confirmed the brand of cigarettes that Halabi allegedly smoked.
According to a timeline released by Haaretz, Farhan was between serving a 20-month jail sentence for illegal arms possession and only released in August 2005 before he was jailed for armed robbery in September.
What additional information would Farhan have about Halabi’s disappearance? Is there a connection between the two?
If it is indeed discovered that Halabi is being held captive by militants as Shalit was, it would be in the kidnappers’ best interest to declare their demands, and begin negotiating for his release.
Whatever the answer, attention and focus should never be diverted from the other missing soldiers in accordance with the IDF’s tenet of “no soldier left behind”. The Israeli government should do more to locate and retrieve all missing soldiers.
There are still six soldiers missing in action, according to Born to Freedom's website.
The list includes Ron Arad, a fighter pilot in the Israeli Air Force who went missing October 16th, 1986, has been missing 25 years this month. OneJerusalem.com reported in 2009 that Arad's daughter Yuval, who had helped campaign for Shalit’s release, was just a baby when her father went missing.
Whether or not there is sufficient information to continue investigating, it would be in the Israeli government’s best interest to allocate resources and campaign locating the missing Druze soldier, as well as other missing soldiers.
The Israeli media should also focus attention, spreading public awareness of missing soldiers like Halabi in the same manner that they had with Shalit, with hopes of their eventual return.
This opinion article was written by an independent writer. The opinions and views expressed herein are those of the author and are not necessarily intended to reflect those of DigitalJournal.com
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