The fate of Private Majdi Halabi, who vanished in 2005, was finally learned on Thursday when authorities confirmed that bones found in the Isfiya forest matched the DNA of the missing soldier.
“A sad end to the mystery,” reads the front-page headline of Israel Hayom. Halabi’s mother told the paper, “How long have I dreamed that he would return and call me ‘Mother’ again? How much can we suffer?” Aside from this tragedy, the Halabi family lost another son in a traffic accident last year. “This situation is very difficult, but we are people who believe in fate,” said Mazmi Halabi, the father of Majdi.
Included in Israel Hayom’s coverage is a short, two-paragraph piece written by Kadima Knesset member, and Daliyat al-Karmel resident, Akram Hasson. “For seven years we dreamed of finding Majdi home, safe and sound. […] Today is a difficult moment for all of us and a tough moment for the IDF.” Hasson goes on to extol the Druze community’s service to the IDF and concludes by saying, “[The Druze] Community which believes in reincarnation and destiny, knows how to weather this difficult test and will continue to contribute and sacrifice without fear.”
The headline of Yedioth Ahronoth reads, “The bitter end for Majdi Halabi.” The paper also focuses on the pain of the family, as well as on how Halabi’s body was found. A childhood friend of Halabi, Ibrahim Kozali, was clearing out the forest when he found the remains of a skeleton with a rope tied around the neck. The body was apparently well hidden and Kozali credited the Carmel fire of 2010 for aiding the discovery of the body. “There is no doubt that if not for the fire, we would have never found him. We stood 10 meters from the body and never saw it. It was only when I moved the branches and pulled them away that we did find him.”
Haaretz also follows a similar pattern as the other papers, but includes an article on the soldiers who remain missing and how their families wait for any sort of a sign. The article discusses the five soldiers — including Ron Arad, Guy Hever and a tank crew of three from the First Lebanon War — who have disappeared, but whose fates are unknown. The article discusses how the families of all five have had no signs, no good news or bad, in years.
Gilad Shalit speaks
In what can only be coincidence, the day that Halabi’s body was identified was also the day that Channel 10 aired Gilad Shalit’s first interview about his time in captivity. Maariv puts a photo of a smiling Shalit on its front page under the quote, “I feared they would forget me.” Inside, the article quotes Shalit on how he dealt with life in captivity: “I would play with them [the Hamas guards] all sorts of games: chess, dominoes, and would also play games on my own, odd sports-like games.” When asked how it felt to return to Israel, Shalit said, “That moment I arrived I felt that was that, now that whole experience has ended.”
Save the date
Mark your calendars because it looks like January 22 will be the date for Israeli elections. While the date has yet to be approved officially and there’s always the chance of another preelection trick, it seems that this one might go through (even Ehud Barak thinks so: He’s placed two half-page ads in both Maariv and Haaretz for his fledgling Independence party). Israel Hayom seems a day late on the survey front (as most papers published their results yesterday), but its results are mostly in line with that of everyone else. The paper found that Likud would win 29 seats in the Knesset if elections were held today, Labor 20, Yisrael Beiteinu 13, and Yair Lapid’s new “Yesh Atid” party would also win 13 seats. Perhaps more surprising were the results to the survey question “Who should be the next prime minister of Israel?” The winner? Undecided with 37.6%, followed by Netanyahu with 33.9%, and Labor’s Shelly Yachimovich at a distant 9.5%.
While elections seem pretty far off in Syria, Yedioth reports that, in 2010, peace with Syria may have been closer than previously thought. The paper reports that Netanyahu and Barak opened secret, indirect negotiations with Assad, and that Netanyahu agreed in principle to a full withdrawal from the Golan Heights to the shores of the Sea of Galilee in exchange for a full peace deal. The negotiations were conducted under the guidance of the Americans, including US Special Envoy for the Middle East George Mitchell. Yedioth includes in its report that Netanyahu had Israeli officials who were involved in the negotiations sign confidentiality agreements to guard the secrecy of the negotiations, which also meant the government didn’t know about it. The negotiations ended in early 2011, when the first demonstrations against the Assad regime began. The Prime Minister’s Office responded by stating, “We did not agree to this American initiative.”
So peace with Syria may not be in the cards after all, and it looks that way with Lebanon, too. Syria’s good friend Hassan Nassrallah took credit for sending a drone into Israeli airspace last week. “This is not the last flight,” Maariv quotes Nasrallah in its headline. In the article, the daily reports that Hezbollah took credit for flying the drone into Israel and that it photographed secret military bases, including Dimona. He also responded to the Israeli claim that the Israel Air Force detected the drone over the sea by saying, “That’s a lie.”
In the opinion pages, Haaretz guest commentator Mickey Herzog writes about red lines and Iran in his piece, “Beyond the red line.” In the piece, he comments that Israel weakened its case for red lines by being so public about them. “The public demand for US President Obama to define red lines made Obama reject it publicly and highlight a division between Israel and the United States.” Herzog acknowledges that Israel will wait until springtime to reevaluate its options on the Iranian nuclear program but, in the meantime, “Israel will succeed in formulating quiet understandings with the United States about multidimensional red lines that are not made public.”