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Home > News & Politics > Israel > Op-ed: More efforts needed for Israeli captives

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Op-ed: More efforts needed for Israeli captives

Dear Editor:

"Pidyon Shvuyim" (literally "ransoming of captives") as many are aware, is the positive commandment-or "mitzvah"-of redeeming the imprisoned. The concept of Pidyon Shvuyim, is based on the deeply grounded concept of the concern of each Jewish person for his or her fellow religionists. "Every one of us," declares the Talmud, "has a direct responsibility for the well-being of all the others." According to Jewish law, "Helping the imprisoned is the loftiest of all charitable acts, superseding all other forms." The Babylonian Talmud in Masechet Baba Batra calls this commandment a 'Mitzvah Rabbah' (i.e., a great commandment). The Rambam, (Maimonides) wrote that charitable funds must actually be diverted from Hebrew schools, synagogues and other community needs to physically and spiritually help the imprisoned.

These precepts were once so paramount in Jewish life that some communities without available funds actually had to sell their Torah scrolls-the synagogue's most precious objects-to assist Jews from their communities who were enduring captivity.

No Jew should idly by while his or her fellow is held against their will. This tradition of caring for one another keeps the Jewish people alive. It is this sensitivity for the other's welfare that characterizes t'zedakah (charity).

While several Jewish publications have published limited articles about Jewish individuals who have been taken captive and are currently held hostage, it shocks me that we do not continually see or hear mention of these captives in Jewish media outlets.

For those unfamiliar, brief details of the captives follow.

On June 11, 1982, five Israeli soldiers went missing in a battle with Syrian and Palestinian forces near the Lebanese village of Sultan Yaqub. Several years later, two of the captured soldiers were returned to Israel in prisoner exchanges with Syria and Achmed Jibril's PFLP-GC (Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine-General Command). Three soldiers-Zachary Baumel, Yehuda Katz, and Tzvi Feldman-are still missing.

On October 16, 1986, Israeli air-force navigator Ron Arad was taken captive after his F-4 Phantom warplane went down over Lebanon. One of the jet's bombs exploded under the wing and sent it into a tailspin. Both Arad and the pilot parachuted safely to the ground. The pilot was flown to safety under fire, holding on to the bottom of an Israeli helicopter in a spectacular rescue operation. Ron was taken captive by Amal, a Lebanese Shi'ite militia group lead by Nabih Berri, who today is the speaker of the Lebanese Parliament.

On October 7, 2000, three Israeli soldiers were abducted by Hizballah while on operational duty along Israel's border with Lebanon. The soldiers are Sergeant Adi Avitan of Tiberias, Staff Sergeant Binyamin Avraham of Bnei Brak and Staff Sergeant Omer Souad of Salma. They are believed to have been wounded during the incident. Shortly thereafter, the Hizballah abducted Elchanan Tenenbaum, an Israeli citizen.

Israel has embarked on intensive diplomatic efforts to bring about the release of the soldiers in cooperation with the United Nations, the United States, Russia and Germany. Requests have been made to United Nations Secretary General Kofi Anan and to the leaders of the International Red Cross to help receive information about their condition and whereabouts and to assist in the timely release of the three soldiers. While media outlets, including the various Jewish media outlets, are quick to inform the public that Israel is criticized for allegedly using excessive force, they fail to remind the public, that no outside organization, including the International Red Cross or Amnesty International (both of which are always allowed to interview Israeli prisoners), is permitted to see these prisoners.

For the families of Zachary Baumel, Yehuda Katz, Tzvi Feldman, and Ron Arad, Israeli soldiers who have been missing-in-action for over a decade, this horror is a reality as they wait day after day, month after month, and year after year for strands of information about their sons, whom we pray are still alive. For the other families, this process is, unfortunately, merely beginning.

The obligation to fulfill the commandment of pidyon shvuyim, redemption of captives, falls on all Jews.

Accordingly, to redeem our brethren, the following actions are implored.

Media outlets should publish articles describing the stories of the captives along with the captives' respective biographies. The publications should regularly include a reminder of how many days these individuals have been in captivity. Furthermore, the publications should provide details of any correspondence with national and international officials regarding these individuals. Finally, the publications should provide information as to where correspondence should be sent regarding these individuals and where donations may be sent to help redeem these captives.

Individuals should call, write, or e-mail their senators and congressmen and US and State Department officials, urging them to take up the cause in discussions with Syrian, Lebanon, Palestinian, and United Nations' officials. Letters should be also written to local and national media outlets to remind them to keep this issue alive until the captives have been returned. A petition to help publicize the issue should be signed. The petition is available at Letters of support may also be sent to the families, in care of the American Coalition for Missing Israeli Soldiers (ACMIS), 3 West 16th Street, New York, NY 10011, or Yaron Zeidman, Consul for Information, Consulate of Israel, 800 Second Ave., New York, NY 10017. Additionally, donations may be mailed to ACMIS or other national charities to assist in the cause. Finally, tefillot, or prayers, should be encouraged to include the mention of these captives (individually or collectively), whether it be public or private prayer.

The captured soldiers gave the best years of their youth to protect Israel for us. It is our responsibility and privilege as free Americans and our obligation as Jews to participate in this struggle. Please don't let them down.

Jerry Glazer
Passaic, NJ


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