Close the Arad File

The time has come to say this out loud: There is virtually no chance that Ron Arad is alive.

The time has come to say this out loud: There is virtually no chance that Ron Arad is alive. Only Japanese soldiers emerge from the thick of the forest after 21 years. We should fold the flags of this struggle and lower our heads in sadness, and focus all our efforts on those who still have a chance of returning. As the struggle for Arad has become not only hopeless but is liable to undermine the effort to return the others, we must make the painful and unavoidable choice to give up on his case.

The state should free itself from hollow declarations and fulfill its real mission - to bring back Gilad Shalit, Udi Goldwasser and Eldad Regev. Those who wish to continue to hold rallies, off-road races and flyovers, to roam the world or distribute rewards to anyone providing information on the fate of Ron Arad, are welcome to continue doing so, of course. But the state should focus on the others so that they do not become Ron Arads.

The Arad file should be closed. Samir Kuntar and other prisoners should be released in exchange for the two soldiers captured by Hezbollah, without conditioning this on receiving information on Arad. It will not lead to anything other than more and more fateful delays. Arad's mother has passed away. His daughter, who was an infant when he fell into captivity, is already the third generation of searchers for him. Their personal pain touches the heart, but it can no longer engage the teams of negotiators, who should focus on the main issue. What value was there in the much-publicized trip by Yuval and Chen Arad to meet with Germany's general prosecutor? "Raising the awareness of Arad's case," in the words of his brother Chen. It is already too late for this, and it bears no significance.

The State of Israel has invested a lot in searching for the navigator, even if we accept the statement of his wife, Tami, who years ago called the country's efforts a "disgrace." Arad became a legend in arousing conflicting sentiments: On the one hand, it is emotionally moving to see how an entire country mobilized on behalf of one of its sons. On the other hand, it is infuriating to witness the way the state discriminates. Was Arad only "born for freedom?" The fate of Zecharia Baumel is no less compelling. The chance of him being alive is similar to that of Arad, but there are no flyovers or rewards for him. "One who crawls on the ground is worth less than a pilot," his father, Yona Baumel, said bitterly at the end of the week, and he was justified in saying this. And we have said nothing about Gabriel Dawit, the Ethiopian, or about our callous attitude toward the fate of the prisoners we are holding.

We have chosen a symbol, one of the "best and brightest for piloting." The family's activity has added its own aspect, and we have invented a legend for ourselves. Educational institutions have invested in Ron only because it was easy to unite around him. "Ron Arad, we're hoping for you, Ahmed and Salim," screamed one ridiculous sign. His 40th birthday was celebrated in about 800 places throughout the world. And what came of this? Nothing. Just as nothing came from all of the "negotiating chips" who, in simple language, are hostages we snatched and held in prison for years, in flagrant violation of the law and human rights and in a way that made us comparable to the terror organizations. When Mustafa Dirani, one of the most important "chips" was released, Arad's daughter Yuval said: "This is the end of the struggle." And her mother added: "Tomorrow, Ron's funeral procession begins." But the family did not stick to its word and two years later again traveled to Germany in a futile effort to prevent the release of another "chip."

In Israel, a state that has experienced considerable bereavement, there are quite a few fallen soldiers whose burial site is unknown, and this is an unending nightmare for their families. Arad is apparently one of them and perhaps will remain such forever. Someone who was declared dead back in 1999 by the former commander of the air force, Avihu Ben Nun, cannot continue to shake an entire society and, in particular, cannot endanger its other sons who are being held in captivity. Let us put Ron's case aside and instead display some generosity to achieve the release of the others. If there is a campaign that needs to be waged now, it is one calling on the government to release anyone necessary to allow Shalit, Goldwasser and Regev to return.