By David Isaac
The AIPAC Policy Conference ended a couple of weeks ago. Americans and Israelis took the stage to pontificate about their countries’ shared values. Truth be told, the idea, repeated so often, has become trite.
But when those shared values are on display in surprising, less-considered ways, the truth is still arresting. We saw an example this week when Israel brought back the remains of IDF soldier Zachary Baumel, missing in action for 37 years.
First Sergeant Baumel was killed in the battle of Sultan Yaqub, which took place on June 11, 1982 during the First Lebanon War. The battle itself remains a painful lesson for the IDF, which hoped to control the route from Syria to Beirut. Operating on faulty intelligence that the area was clear, the Israelis entered a trap, found themselves surrounded on three sides by Syrian forces and bombarded throughout the night. Their losses: 20 killed, 30 wounded, 2 captured and 3 missing. Baumel was one of the missing.
Americans don’t need to be told how seriously they take bringing the remains of their missing soldiers home. Black POW flags with their silhouette of a prisoner of war before a guard tower still fly for those lost in the Vietnam War. Israel takes it equally seriously, and after the return of Baumel an argument can be made even more so – perhaps because of the constant state of low-level warfare in which it finds itself.
Israel never does give up on its missing in action. They say the effort to locate Baumel’s remains took years — 37 years to be exact — beginning the day after the battle of Sultan Yaqub ended.
The funeral itself was remarkable. Held on Thursday evening, April 4, on Mount Herzl in Jerusalem, it was broadcast live on radio and television. Most senior leaders were in attendance, including the prime minister of Israel, who had just flown back from Moscow, (Russia helped locate the remains). The families of other missing soldiers also attended.
Sadly, one who didn’t attend was First Sergeant Baumel’s father, Yona, who passed away 10 years ago, never having given up hope he’d see his son return. Prime Minister Netanyahu spoke of the father’s dedication: “His pain, his longing, his faith, his tireless devotion to bring Zachary home… How unfortunate that you’re not here with us to see the return of your beloved son.”
Zachary’s mother, Miriam, and brother and sister, Simon and Asna, did live to see it. The sister gave a moving eulogy.
“All the prayers have brought us here. I thought what I would do when you return, but now I can’t even hug you,” she said. “But the soil is hugging you tightly because there is nothing but love between the son who gave everything for this land and the land itself.”
“We are saying goodbye to you today. I am letting this land have you … Rest in peace, my dear brother,” she said.
As forces within the U.S. seek to divide America and Israel, it pays, at moments like these, to think just how similar Americans and Israelis really are.
Photo Credit: Courtesy Miriam Baumel