“The new information we have been given [indicating Zachary is being held in Syria] is very compelling that Zachary is alive,” Ditchek said. “We will get this resolved one way or another.”
JERUSALEM – The father of a Brooklyn-born Israeli soldier who was captured by Syria 27 years ago died last week at age 81 having never learned the fate of his son.
Yona Baumel’s main quest in life was to discover what had happened to his son, Zachary, captured in Lebanon in 1982. Information emerged in the past few years that Zachary was still alive and being held in Syria. Yona Baumel had petitioned the Israeli government to do more to work for the release of his soldier son.
“We are just trying to bring Zachary home,” Yona told this reporter in a 2006 interview in Jerusalem. “I just want my son back. I wish the Israeli government would do more but so far they have largely done nothing.”
Zachary Baumel, a dual American-Israeli citizen, was taken along with two Israeli members of his tank crew, Yehuda Katz and Tzvi Feldman, during 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 time the soldiers were seen publicly.
In March 2005, Yona Baumel told WorldNetDaily 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 only have been written by his son.
Baumel showed WND pages from the book, a 1999 novel titled The Map of Love. The lettering was stained as a result of extensive Israeli forensics testing, but a series of marks are visible under the letters “BAZMUTACUMKCEL” which rearranged spell “ZACK BAUMEL MTUC.” The MTUC, Yona explained, came from an old family joke.
“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 evidence gave him hope and a renewed sense of urgency in his campaign to find his son.
“The information continues to trickle in,” said Baumel at the time.
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 rebuffed.
“Over the years, a wealth of information has accrued that the Syrian Government is directly responsible in this case,” Baumel said.
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. He 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, Baumel 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’s capture, 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 those of three Arabs and one Israeli missing from the same battle.
Since then Syrian officials have given conflicting reports to the media, including statements claiming Baumel and his three Israeli crewmen were still alive.
In 2006 Israeli diplomatic sources told WND Syrian officials implied through third party messengers that 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.