Judge: State Was Right to Declare MIA Soldier 'Slain'

The Jerusalem District Court last week rejected a negligence suit filed against the state of Israel, the chief rabbi of the IDF and the former commander of army headquarters, by the family of Yehuda Katz, who went missing in the battle of Sultan Yakoub during the First Lebanon War in 1982 and was officially declared slain only 20 years later.

Katz's parents and two siblings claimed that recognition of Katz as slain after such a long time was carried out negligently, and caused injury to them, for which they asked to be awarded compensation. In support of their claim, they offered evidence that after the change in status was declared, Katz's mother suffered a stroke.

The court rejected the suit, but awarded damages in the amount of NIS 60,000 and court costs of NIS 20,000, because the family had not been offered the right to appear before the court that determined the fate of its relative.

The family also claimed that the decision to declare Katz a casualty was received without sufficient factual basis, and that such a declaration after 20 years demanded new evidence, which was not offered. According to the family, the declaration lacked proper authority and the issue was decided by a specially-appointed court of three rabbis charged with investigating the fate of soldiers missing in battle, but who, the family said, were not authorized by law to change Katz's status from "missing" to "slain" in the absence of the family's appearance before them.

Judge Joseph Shapira rejected all the claims, except for the right to be heard by the special rabbinical court. He ruled that there was no impropriety in the chief IDF rabbi's consultation with the members of the special court, and that the special court's decision was valid. About the charge that new evidence was called for, Shapira wrote: "The opposite is the case, and exhibits the high degree of sensitivity shown toward the complainants by the defendants."

The judge added that "There is a basis to assume that the emotional stress the proceedings would have caused the mother would have befallen her even if the state had granted the Katz family an opportunity to plead before the IDF chief rabbi before the decision was made. No damage was incurred by the loss of this right, but rather by the state's intention to declare that Yehuda was slain."

Nonetheless, he wrote, "I am of the opinion that infringement of the right to plead [before the court] caused injury to the plaintiffs," and award NIS 20,000 to each parent and NIS 10,000 to each sibling.