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According to reports published in the press, Elhanan Tenenbaum, the Israeli citizen who has been held in captivity by the Hezbollah organization for the past 10 months, recently turned 55. The reports were initiated by his family, which wants to keep the issue in the news and ensure that it is not forgotten by the public.

The report about Tenenbaum's birthday was only one element in an extensive publicity campaign in Israel and abroad. Members of his family meet with cabinet ministers, Knesset members, officers of the Israel Defense Forces, heads of state, leaders of churches, scientists and human rights groups. They also take part in well-publicized events and in concerts by popular singers that have the same goal of keeping Tenenbaum's name before the public.

It is obvious to everyone that the family's activity is not only their right but their obligation. At the same time, however, this activity, however well-intentioned, involves the violation of gag orders imposed by the courts.

On many occasions the Magistrate's Courts in Petah Tikva and Tel Aviv, and the District Court in Tel Aviv, too, have stated explicitly that, apart from his name and photograph, the media may not publish anything about Colonel (Res.) Elhanan Tenenbaum. Not even his age. Even matters that were reported in the first days after he disappeared have been strictly barred for publication by the courts.

A reminder: Elhanan Tenenbaum, an Israeli businessman from Tel Aviv who is also a colonel in the reserves, disappeared from Israel under mysterious circumstances at the beginning of October 2000. Some 10 days later, the secretary-general of the Lebanon-based militant Islamic organization Hezbollah, Sheikh Nasrallah, announced in a Beirut press conference that "Colonel Tenenbaum" had been taken captive by his organization and that he had reached Beirut "by himself." Nasrallah said Tenenbaum was a "Mossad agent," referring to Israel's espionage agency.

In the days following the press conference, a number of articles about Tenenbaum appeared in the the Israeli press, describing his background, his way of life and his business affairs. His family - his wife, Esther, his sister, Rachel Limon, and his children - featured prominently in these articles.

Within a short time, though, the media in Israel were gagged by means of court orders. The only statement that was permitted for publication was an official one issued by the Israeli authorities that Tenenbaum was not a Mossad agent. The silence that was forced on the Israeli media is all the more galling because various reports, most of them inaccurate, continue to appear about the case in the international media, both in the Arabic-language press that is published in Arab capitals in Western Europe and in the Western media in general.

Initially, the gag orders were issued at the request of the Israeli legal authorities, who claimed that publication of reports in Israel would adversely affect the investigation in the country to uncover the circumstances of his disappearance. Subsequently, however, the State Attorney's Office said it was ready to lift some of the gag orders.

Then the family entered the picture. With the aid of their lawyer, Eli Zohar, who is well-connected in the defense establishment, the family succeeded in getting the authorities to take two steps. The first was to ensure that Tenenbaum's case would not be separated from the case of the three soldiers who were kidnapped on the Lebanese border shortly before his disappearance. Until the family intervened, the Foreign Ministry had been dealing with the case, since Tenenbaum's status was that of a civilian who had disappeared abroad. The case of the three soldiers was dealt with by the IDF and the Defense Ministry. Now all four families - of Elhanan Tenenbaum, Benny Avraham, Adi Avitan and Omar Sawad - are conducting their campaign together.

The second step taken by the Tenenbaum family was to get the court to issue a sweeping gag order on the affair. This is the great difference between the Tenenbaum family and the three other families. The press can publish any and every detail about the background of the three missing soldiers and the families were even willing to put up with stories they found hard to swallow. They gritted their teeth but did not try to block reports, which were based on rumor rather than on hard fact.

It is not easy to take issue with a family in distress, which is doing everything in its power to get the father of the family released. Still, court orders should be carried out to the letter, the more so because the orders were issued at the initiative of the family. Keren Tenenbaum said in reaction: "We are trying not to violate the gag orders substantively and are not saying a thing about the circumstances of the kidnapping or about his past, for fear his captors will abuse such information."