Jacob Fattal, whose son Josh was one of two American hikers released last week after spending two years in an Iranian prison, has told Haaretz that his son is faring well.
Jacob Fattal said in a conversation with Haaretz yesterday in a mix of Hebrew and English, that Josh is currently avoiding the media, but is improving every day, although people who know him say he is thin.
Josh Fattal and Shane Bauer, both 29, along with Bauer's fiancee, Sarah Shourd, were arrested by Iranian soldiers in 2009 as they were hiking near the unmarked border between Iraq and Iran. Shourd was released about a year ago, but Bauer and Fattal were only freed last week from the notorious Evin prison in Tehran, the Iranian capital, after the sultanate of Oman, a country on the Arabian Peninsula, intervened on behalf of the pair and posted a $1 million bond for them.
The released prisoners were flown on an Omani government plane to Oman's capital, Muscat, where they were reunited with family members and with Shourd last Wednesday.
On Monday, Jacob Fattal returned to his publishing firm in Philadelphia after being away from the office for 10 days. Awaiting him were hundreds of e-mails from well-wishers, and television crews were parked outside seeking his comments.
From the beginning, Jacob Fattal said, he viewed his son's detention as a political act, but tried not to highlight that in view of the fact that the three detainees were student hikers without any connection to American intelligence services. He called his son's case a matter of bad timing.
Fattal said he never had concern that the Iranians would harm his son, because of the further damage it would do to American-Iranian relations, but he was concerned that Josh would remain in an Iranian prison for many years. In addition to all the other circumstances of Josh Fattal's imprisonment, his family was concerned that the Iranians would learn he has family in Israel. Jacob Fattal immigrated to Israel in 1951 as a 3-year-old child from Basra in Iraq and lived in a transit camp in Kiryat Ono and then in Pardes Katz. His brother and two sisters still live in the Tel Aviv area and were aware of Josh's arrest from the beginning.
Jacob Fattal's sister, Yael, said she last saw Josh a few months before his arrest. "He's a smart boy who made a mistake that cost him two years," she told Haaretz yesterday. When asked how it was possible to keep his Israeli family ties a secret, she said: "Those who knew understood the great danger. We only told people who could pray for his release. We didn't ask for anyone's intervention."
Jacob Fattal expressed surprise and gratitude that the Israeli press did not report on his son's Israeli connections.
In an effort not to draw attention to the ties with Israel after Josh's arrest, the family decided that rather than having his father involved in public efforts for Josh's release, the task would go to Josh's brother, Alex, a doctoral student at Harvard University and to Josh's mother, Laura, who was born in the United States.
Josh's years of imprisonment in Iran began, his father said, with a trip to Syria to meet up with Bauer and Shourd, whom he knew from his college days at the University of California at Berkeley. From there, he planned to go to Petra in Jordan and then to visit his aunt, Jacob Fattal's sister Yael, in Israel, the father recounted.
Due to the heat in Syria, Jacob Fattal said, they decided to hike through Kurdistan, a region that transects Iraq, Iran, Turkey and Syria. The father said he had not been aware of his son's plans to hike through Kurdistan. After their arrest in the Iranian border region, they were brought to Tehran and charged and convicted of spying and illegal entry into Iran. They were sentenced to eight years in prison.
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