For more than two years, relatives of Josh Fattal, one of the two American hikers freed from prison in Iran last week, managed to hide a vital piece of information from his captors: Fattal's family is Israeli.
Jacob Fattal, Josh's father, immigrated to Israel from Basra, Iraq in 1951. He lived with his parents and siblings in the Kiryat Ono transit camp, and later in Pardes Katz. After his military service, he left for the United States, where he studied engineering and raised a family. Today, he is the publisher of a high-tech magazine distributed in the United States, Europe and Asia.
"We're very happy; it's the greatest gift we could have dreamed of receiving for Rosh Hashanah," Jacob Fattal told Haaretz yesterday.
Jacob's two sisters and his brother, who live in Israel's central region, knew about the arrest from the first day.
"The problem was their being American, not Jewish," Fattal said of the freed hikers. "The Iranians used them as a political weapon for two years."
To avoid drawing attention to the family's background, Josh's brother and mother led the campaign to free him, while Jacob refrained from giving media interviews.
"I want to thank the media in the United States and Israel for cooperating with us," Fattal said.
Now that his son is back home in a Philadelphia suburb, Fattal can contact the family of another Israeli captive.
"I listen to Israeli radio here and every now and then I hear Aviva Shalit talk," he said, referring to the mother of kidnapped soldier Gilad Shalit. "I wanted very much to call her and encourage her, tell her my heart is with her and [her husband] Noam, but I stopped myself because we were making a special effort not to make a big deal of it. Now I can talk to her."
Josh Fattal and Shane Bauer, both 28, and Bauer's girlfriend Sarah Shourd, 32, were arrested by Iranian soldiers in 2009 as they were hiking near the unmarked border between Iran and Iraq. Shourd was released about a year ago following heavy international pressure. Fattal and Bauer were freed last week on $1 million bail, following mediation by Sultan Qaboos of Oman.