Israeli Jailed in Libya Praised for 'Cool' Demeanor Upon Return

The Israeli who was freed after five months in a Libyan jail arrived in Israel yesterday on a flight from Vienna with Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman.

Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman, left, and Rafael Haddad at a press conference at Ben-Gurion Inte
Nir Kafri

The foreign minister praised the man, Rafael Haddad, for "so coolly coming through an experience that was apparently not at all simple."

At a press conference at Ben-Gurion International Airport, Lieberman thanked the Libyan government and his friend Martin Schlaff, the Austrian businessman who brokered the talks that freed Haddad, whom the Libyans had suspected of espionage.

"I want to thank everyone who helped," Haddad said after a reunion with his family, but he declined to answer questions from the media.

People close to him said he did not look traumatized but that he had lost plenty of weight.

In thanking the Libyans, Lieberman said: "I believe it was not simple, but they acted responsibly. Their demands were reasonable and logical to meet."

Lieberman said these demands involved measures to ease conditions for the Palestinians. "We will do everything we pledged to do," he said.

"We should be happy that an Israeli citizen came home safe and sound," he added. "Maybe that's a good reason today for him and his family to recite the Redeemer's Prayer."

Haddad, who also has Tunisian citizenship, was arrested in Libya in March. This came just before the end of a trip on which he had been sent by a Libyan Jewish heritage group, Or Shalom, to document buildings and remains of buildings from the heyday of the Libyan Jewish community.

Haddad's family began working for his release shortly after the arrest. Libyan-Jewish organizations in Italy got involved in the efforts, as did the Jewish community in Tunisia. But Schlaff's contribution proved decisive.

Or Shalom had sent two other people before sending Haddad to document the buildings in Libya.

"Development in Libya is huge and every day buildings are being destroyed," said Or Shalom's chairman, Pedatzur Ben-Atia. "As long as we can physically get there we have to document what's left."

Born in Djerba

Haddad, 34, was born on the island of Djerba off the coast of Tunisia. He has organized culinary trips to Tunisia for Israelis and is a member of the international Slow Food movement.

He studied in the high school yeshiva in Efrat and was a Military Police investigator during his army service.

Haddad made the connection with Or Shalom at the end of 2009, when he was asked to reach the places where smaller Jewish communities had existed and his predecessors had been unable to reach. Ben-Atia said Haddad had fulfilled this task.

Haddad's family found out he was arrested from another prisoner, a young French citizen who was released about two weeks after Haddad was imprisoned. The family then began working toward his release.

Or Shalom accused the Foreign Ministry yesterday of having leaked the arrest of "an Israeli in North Africa." But the Foreign Ministry said the leak had come from Haddad's family.

Either way, the military censor did not allow details of Haddad's arrest to be reported, at the request of the Foreign Ministry.

"We will certainly continue to try to get there," Ben-Atia said. "There are plenty of people who want to close their eyes only after they've seen the synagogues."