Yonah Baumel, Father of Soldier Missing in Lebanon, Dies at 82

Cnaan Liphshiz
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Cnaan Liphshiz

The father of a soldier missing in Lebanon since 1982 died Saturday at age 82. Relatives said Yonah Baumel's health deteriorated as hope faded that he would ever see his son Zechariah, who has been missing for 27 years.

Zechariah Baumel, a combat soldier in the Armored Corps, disappeared during the battle of Sultan Yakuoub against Syrian forces, at the beginning of the First Lebanon War. Twenty Israel Defense Forces soldiers were killed in the battle, and six were reported missing. The whereabouts of three are still unknown: Baumel, Zvi Feldman and Yehuda Katz.

"Two things kept Yonah Baumel alive: the belief in God and the hope of seeing his son again, or at least knowing what happened to him. In the last years, he realized that this was not going to happen," his granddaughter, Shifi Haberman, said.

"He lived in a world of uncertainty; that is the hardest of all," said another relative.

Baumel, who had seven grandchildren, was harshly critical of the IDF's conduct toward his family. After years of lobbying to locate his son, Baumel accused commanders and the country's leaders of whitewashing the case and of heartlessness. In October 2007, Baumel said in an interview that IDF commanders "place greater value on the life of a pilot than on the lives of those who crawl on the ground."

Yonah Baumel was born in New York and moved to Jerusalem many years ago. His granddaughter said that on Saturday, a few hours before he pased away, "he asked us in English to put on his Sabbath shirt. We told him it was a bit complicated because of his condition, but he insisted, and would not rest until we did so. He gave his son that determined look of his, a look that the army saw as a sign of stubbornness, but for us was always a sign of the strong faith that lived in him."