[Congressional Record: June 11, 2002 (Senate)]
Mr. SCHUMER. Mr. President, I rise today to ask my colleagues to join
me in remembering the Israeli soldiers captured by the Syrians during
the 1982 Israeli war with Lebanon. It is with great sadness that we
mark today 20 long years of anguish for their families, who continue to
desperately seek information about their sons.
On June 11, 1982, an Israeli unit battled with a Syrian armored unit in the Bekaa Valley in northeastern Lebanon. Sergeant Zachary Baumel, First Sergeant Zvi Feldman, and Corporal Yehudah Katz were captured by the Syrians that day. They were identified as an Israeli tank crew, and reported missing in Damascus. The Israeli tank, flying the Syrian and Palestinian flag, was greeted with cheers from bystanders.
Since that terrible day in 1982, the governments of Israel and the United States have been doing their utmost by working with the office of the International Committee of the Red Cross, the United Nations, and other international bodies to obtain any possible information about the fate of the missing soldiers. According to the Geneva Convention, Syria is responsible for the fates of the Israeli soldiers because the area in Lebanon where the soldiers disappeared was continually controlled by Syria. To this day, despite promises made by the government of Syria and by the Palestinians, very little information has been released about the condition of Zachary Baumel, Zvi Feldman, and Yehudah Katz.
Today marks the anniversary of the day that these soldiers were reported missing in action. Twenty pain-filled years have passed since their families have seen their sons, and still Syria has not revealed their whereabouts nor provided any information as to their condition. One of these missing soldiers, Zachary Baumel, is an American citizen from my home of Brooklyn, New York. An ardent basketball fan, Zachary began his studies at the Hebrew School in Boro Park. In 1979, he moved to Israel with other family members and continued his education at Yeshivat Hesder, where religious studies are integrated with army service. When the war with Lebanon began, Zachary was completing his military service and was looking forward to attending Hebrew University, where he had been accepted to study psychology. But fate decreed otherwise and on June 11, 1982, he disappeared with Zvi Feldman and Yehudah Katz.
During the 106th Congress, I co-sponsored and helped to pass Public Law 106-89, which specifies that the State Department must raise the plight of these missing soldiers in all relevant discussions and report findings to Congress regarding developments in the Middle East. We need to know that every avenue has been pursued in order to help bring about the speedy return of these young men. Therefore, I strongly feel that we must be sure to continue the full implementation of Public Law 106- 89, so that information about these men can be brought to light.
Zachary's parents Yonah and Miriam Baumel have been relentless in
their pursuit of information about Zachary and his compatriots. I have
worked closely with the Baumels, as well as the Union of Orthodox
Jewish Congregations of America, the American Coalition for Missing
Israeli Soldiers, and the MIA Task Force of the Conference of
Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations. These groups have
been at the forefront of this pursuit of justice. I want to recognize
their good work and ask my colleagues to join me in supporting their
efforts. For two decades these families have been without their
children. Answers are long overdue.
I am not only saddened by the plight of Zachary Baumel, Zvi Feldman, and Yehudah Katz, but I am disheartened and angered by the fact that even as we
have continued to search for answers about their welfare, we have been
forced to add more names to the list of those for who we have no
knowledge of their location, health, or safety.
IDF Soldier Guy Chever disappeared without a trace from his army base in the Golan on August 17th, 1997. Almost three years later, Colonel Elchanan Tanenbaum was kidnapped by Hezbollah while on a business trip in Europe on October 15th, 2000. Left behind are two more families who simply do not know what has become of their loved ones.
And at this time, I feel it is also appropriate to speak not only of those who remain missing, but for those who were unfairly taken from their families never to return. I am speaking of course of Sergeant Adi Avitan of Tiberias, Staff Sergeant Binyamin Avraham of Bnei Brak, and Staff Sergeant Omar Souad of Salma.
In a clear-cut violation of international law, these three Israeli soldiers were abducted by Hezbollah on October 7, 2000 while on operational duty along the border fence in the Dov Mountain range along Israel's border with Lebanon. It is believed that they were wounded during the incident.
According to an investigation by the IDF Northern Command, Hezbollah terrorists set two roadside bombs, then crossed through a gate near the fence, pulled the three soldiers out of their jeep and fired anti-armor missiles at the empty vehicle. The soldiers were then taken by the terrorists to the Lebanese side of the border. Although the United States called on Syria to assist in the timely release of these three soldiers, no information was given as to their conditions or whereabouts. The International Red Cross had also been requested to intervene by attempting to arrange for a visit with the three kidnapped IDF soldiers in order to ascertain their status.
After much soul searching and heartache, it was determined that the return of these men to their homes and loved ones could no longer be hoped for. Their families have grieved, and my heart goes out to them. The hope I hold now is that we will not allow the families of those who remain missing to suffer in the same way.
The agony of the families of these kidnapped Israeli soldiers is extreme. They have not heard a word regarding the fate of their sons who are being held captive for political ransom. We must pledge to do our utmost to bring these soldiers home, for the same of peace, decency and humanity.
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