The parents of a Brooklyn-born Israeli soldier who was captured by Syrian forces 23 years ago solemnly marked the birthday of their missing son this weekend, petitioning the Israeli government to do more to work for the release of the soldier, whom they believe is still alive.
Zachary Baumel, captured in Lebanon in 1982, turned 46 on Friday, surpassing the milestone at which he has spent more time in captivity than in freedom if he is indeed still alive.
"We are just trying to bring Zachary home," said Yona Baumel, Zachary's father. "I just want my son back. I wish the Israeli government would do more but so far they have largely done nothing."
As WND reported last year, new information was released indicating Baumel is being held in Syria.
Baumel, a dual American-Israeli citizen, was taken along with two Israeli members of his tank crew, Yehuda Katz and Tzvi Feldman, during Israel's foray in the Lebanon War. All three were photographed in Damascus on the day of their capture, and several eyewitnesses, including a Time magazine reporter, said they watched a parade in which the tank and crew were led through a major street in Damascus and flaunted to cheering crowds. The ceremony was the last occasion the soldiers were seen publicly.
In March 2005, Yona Baumel told WND that sources he cultivated in Syria told him they visited his son that year at a Syrian military installation just north of the border with Iraq. Baumel was also given a book from a confidante of a family in Syria that contains coded messages Baumel says could have been written only by his son.
Baumel showed WND pages from the book, a 1999 novel titled "The Map of Love." The lettering has been stained after extensive Israeli forensics testing, but a series of marks are visible under the letters "BAZMUTACUMKCEL" – ZACK BAUMEL MTUC.
The MTUC, Yona explained, came from an old family joke that outsiders would not be in a position to know.
"It had to have been written by Zack," said Baumel. "It refers to an old joke he was told from a long time ago when his mother, whose maiden name was Miriam Turetsky or MT, was a kid. The other children would point at her head and say 'it's empty you see,' or MTUC."
Additionally, phrases throughout the book were underlined or circled, including "A child forsaken," "I have hope" and "help me."
Baumel said the new evidence has given him renewed hope and a sense of urgency in his campaign to find his son. He told WND yesterday he received more information the past few months from Syrian sources his son is still alive.
"The information continues to trickle in," said Baumel.
He and Stuart Ditchek, Zachary's childhood friend and the founder of the Committee for the Release of Zachary Baumel, attempted several times to petition the Syrian government to release Zachary or to set up a personal meeting with President Bashar Assad. Their efforts were ultimately rebuffed.
Baumel family sues Syrian government
In April, the Baumel family filed a lawsuit in the US against the Syrian government and its top officials for Zachary's abduction and illegal imprisonment. Syria has yet to respond to the suit, which may result in a default judgment against Damascus.
The lawsuit, filed in US District Court in Washington, D.C., utilizes a section of the US Foreign Sovereign Immunities Act, which contains a provision that allows American citizens to sue governments supporting terrorism and collect judgments from any foreign governmental assets on US soil. Syria publicly hosts the leaders of Hamas and Islamic Jihad, and has been accused of supporting Palestinian terrorism and allowing insurgents to cross from its border into Iraq to commit acts of terror.
The Baumel lawsuit marks the first time the Syrian government has been sued under the Immunities Act, which has been successfully used in the past to prosecute the Palestinian Authority and Iran.
The suit names the Syrian government and several officials including Assad, Foreign Minister Farouq al-Shaara and former Defense Minister Moustapha Tlaas. It seeks a judgment against Syria collectible against the country's assets in the US
"Over the years, a wealth of information has accrued that the Syrian Government is directly responsible in this case," said Yona Baumel. "Our aim is not to obtain a financial judgment, but to get access to the MIAs. By hitting the Syrians where it hurts, in their pocketbooks, we hope to obtain positive results where all other methods have failed."
"After many years of efforts to resolve this tragic case it is a sad time for the Baumel family to have to resort to legal action against President Assad and the government of Syria," said Ditchek. "The message that we are sending the Syrians is that this case will not fade away with time."
'We will get this resolved'
Ditchek said the civil lawsuit "is only the beginning. It will also result in criminal action against Bashar Assad and his government should they not resolve the issue of Zachary Baumel. We will ensure that Zack's case will follow Assad whether as a private citizen or the president of Syria."
Zachary Baumel was born in Brooklyn, N.Y., and attended yeshiva until his family immigrated to Israel in 1970, where he graduated high school and enlisted in the Israeli army. Baumel nearly finished his military service when he was called up to serve in the Lebanon War. Just hours before the declaration of a cease-fire, Zachary was sent into battle near the Lebanese village of Sultan Yaqub and subsequently captured. That day, 21 Israelis were killed and many more were injured.
Several weeks after Baumel was captured, Syrian officials said they buried four bodies in a Jewish cemetery. Baumel was thought to have been among the dead. But a year later, the Red Cross exhumed the graves and found the bodies were that of three Arabs and one Israeli missing from the same battle.
Syrian officials since have given conflicting reports to the media, including statements claiming Baumel and his three Israeli crewmen still were alive.
Also Israeli diplomatic sources told WND Syrian officials have implied through third party messengers Baumel is still alive.
Prior to the signing of the Oslo Accords in 1993, PLO leader Yasser Arafat presented Israel with half of Baumel's dog tag and claimed he had information on the missing soldier's whereabouts. Arafat later refused to release further details.
"The new information we have been given (indicating Zachary is being held in Syria) is very compelling that Zachary is alive," said Ditchek. "We will get this resolved one way or another."
Reprinted by permission of WorldNetDaily